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A Mississippi Business Journal Q&A

PERS veteran takes helm of state’s retirement fund

Four weeks ago, Pat Robertson was charged to lead the nation’s 63rd-largest pension fund, the Mississippi Public Employees Retirement System, known as PERS.

No stranger to the agency, Robertson has worked for PERS since 1980 when she came on board as an investment accountant. In 1992, she was named director of finance, and then three years later, she was tapped as deputy director of administrative services, which put her in charge of PERS’ financial reporting, budgeting and accounting functions, information technology, human resources and facilities management.

With more than 150,000 active members and an investment portfolio of $17.5 billion, Robertson hit the ground running as PERS’ new executive director, but she took time out to give the Mississippi Business Journal an update on the agency and the challenges the PERS faces with the wave of older workers set to retire.

MBJ: You are just settling in as executive director. What was your first order of business?

Pat Robertson: My immediate focus includes obtaining the current status of pending issues within the agency, making contact with key agency and legislative leaders and formulating a working outline for the coming year as we review significant issues such as reemployment, funding and investments.

MBJ: Give us an idea of the size of the retirement system you are now heading.

PR: There are 69,288 retirees currently receiving benefits from PERS. In FY2005, PERS paid out $1.116 billion to these retirees ($1.169 for all plans administered by PERS). The average monthly benefit amount for retirees is $1,339.

As of June 30, 2005, there were 33,801 state employees. However, the plans we administer cover all public employees including state, city, county, public school, community college, institutions of higher learning, legislators and officers of the Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol. We provide benefit administration for 157,900 active members.

As of June 30, 2005, there were 124,386 inactive members, or people who have left public service but still have money in the fund.

MBJ: Who manages PERS’ portfolio? Are you satisfied with their performance?

PR: There are 28 professional investment managers retained to invest PERS’ assets. Investment performance is evaluated quarterly by an independent investment management consultant who reports to the Board of Trustees.

MBJ: Income from investments increased significantly from FY2003 to FY2004. In FY2003, the income from investments totaled $466 million, compared to $2.1 billion in FY2004. How did PERS fare in FY2005?

PR: Net investment income for FY 2005 was over $1.5 billion

MBJ: The system had an impressive rate of return in FY2004 with 14.6%. What was the return in FY2005, and how does this compare to past years?

PR: Overall PERS returned 9.8% for fiscal year 2005. Our three-year average rate was 9.2%, and the 10-year average was 8.4%.

MBJ: Tell us about the Deferred Compensation Plan. How did it perform last year and how many employees participate in this?

PR: This plan provides supplemental retirement benefits for those who desire to participate. Deferred Compensation Plan assets totaled $827.1 million at the end of FY2005, an increase of $79 million over 2004. We have 17 diversified fund managers from which plan participants may choose to customize their supplemental savings program.
Annual rates of return ranged from 14.95% to 2.24%. Participation in the plan increased from 36,029 in FY2004 to 36,778 by the end of FY2005.

MBJ: What is PERS doing to prepare for the large wave of people expected to retire over the next 10 years?

PR: We have a number of initiatives under consideration. Our primary focus at this time is on advancing the technology aspect of our operations which will allow us to continue to deliver the same exceptional service we currently provide to our members and retirees.

MBJ: What else does PERS offer its members?

PR: Over the past few years we have placed a great deal of emphasis on providing convenient access to information for our members and retirees. We have developed a number of full-day, half-day and after-hours seminars held throughout the state to help our members plan for their retirement. We also offer informative retiree seminars, handbooks and a user-friendly Web site with such features as an interactive benefit estimate calculator and links to information resources for retiree insurance and the Deferred Compensation Plan.

I am excited about leading PERS into the future and I look forward to serving our members and retirees, confident that PERS will see significant advances, meet new challenges and celebrate numerous success.

Contact MBJ Staff Writer Kelly Ingebretsen at kelly@msbusiness.com.

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