Maine PERS May Issue RFP Within 3 Months

The $11 billion Maine Public Employees Retirement System is mulling over whether to hire a private equity staff or hire outside advisers to reach its new 5 percent allocation to private equity, said CIO Andrew H. Sawyer. The board in mid-June approved the target allocation, which is expected to be reached over the next two to five years.

Maine’s entry into private equity came about through educating the board about asset allocation. “Prior to my arrival, I have no idea why [private equity] was not added to the asset allocation,” said Sawyer, who joined in February. At one of his first board meetings, Sawyer gave a presentation on asset-allocation theory, and over the following months, the board considered new asset classes, reviewed an asset-liability study and evaluated various asset allocation scenarios. The result was the new target allocation, as well as a 10 percent allocation to real estate, up from 5 percent, and a 5 percent allotment to infrastructure, up from 4 percent.

“We know we need to have more experienced investment talent to properly implement the program,” said Sawyer. “Whether we build an internal team or buy external advice is an ongoing discussion. Over the next several months we are going to develop a strategy as to what we might be doing, and it’s possible we might put out an RFP in the next three months.”

The new program will likely be diversified to include venture capital, buyouts, distressed specialists and mezzanine, but no ranges have been discussed or set because it is still very early in the life of the program.

Sawyer previously worked as a vice president for the Stratevest Group, an investment advisory and financial planning subsidiary of Banknorth Group based in Portland, Me. In his role as portfolio manager, he was responsible for conducting investment research and analysis for clients throughout Maine. Before that, Sawyer served as manager of pension and investments at Raytheon Co. in Lexington, Mass.

Sawyer is the third head of investments at Maine Public Employees Retirement System since 2005. Prior to Sawyer, the system had a director of investments, Michael Simmons, who served in that capacity for about a year. Simmons had earlier replaced Rex Holsapple, who was CIO for several years. “To the best of my knowledge, they both left for personal reasons,” Sawyer said.

Other relative newcomers to private equity at the state level include Arizona State Retirement System, with a 5 percent allocation to private equity; Public Employees’ Retirement System of Mississippi (5 percent); South Carolina Retirement System (5 percent); Vermont Pension Investment Committee (up to 3 percent); and West Virginia Investment Management Board (5 percent).Smaller pension funds that have recently entered the private equity arena include San Diego City Employees’ Retirement System, the Marin County Employees’ Retirement Association in California, which approved a 10 percent allocation this spring, and the Alameda County Employees’ Retirement Association, which recently approved a 10 percent allocation to private equity and alternative strategies.