In looking for ways to better manage a growing endowment fund, the CU Foundation ended its search at Wall Street.
Chris Bittman, chief investment manager for the CU Foundation, joined a financial services firm in July called Perella Weinberg Partners. With him, he brought the foundation under the umbrella of his Wall Street firm.
“We were looking for a way to have more resources, but not lose Chris Bittman in terms of leadership and personnel,” said Jeremy Simon, communications manager for the CU Foundation.
Simon said the switch is meant to improve the management on the account so the funds can be paid more individual attention and invested-in more successfully.
For a staff between two and four people, Simon said, managing such a large fund made for a “pretty complicated investment landscape. . . [It] requires a lot of independent due diligence, which is hard for the staff.”
Under Perella Weinberg, the manpower that will be monitoring CU’s investments has increased to 15 investment managers. With a larger staff, Simon said the foundation will be able to respond more quickly to investment opportunities without increasing the cost of research or sacrificing its own policies and goals.
Potentially, he said this could lead to growth for the CU Foundation.
“We definitely have a better opportunity to grow than with in-house resources,” Simon said. “But with the market right now, one never knows.”
The endowment that Bittman manages is called the Long Term Investment Pool, which is a pool of hundreds of smaller endowments that each go to different departments of the university—for example, to a scholarship fund or an academic department.
In this pool, Bittman and his team manage $825 million in funds; $600 million make up the CU endowment alone.
“Having greater resources does make it easier to monitor our investments and hunt for new ones,” Bittman said “I’m confident that this approach will serve CU well over the long run.”
Shannon Brunston, a senior majoring in Spanish and finance, has a different outlook.
“I am kind of interested in this, because the environment for an endowment is much less risky than a firm. . . it’s a little bit worrisome, because I would think there would be some kind of conflict of interests in that,” Brunston said. “If you’re doing a lot of investment, you have to look at what exactly you’re investing to make sure it’s not some crazy Madoff fund.”
An endowment, she said, might have longer-term goals, while a financial firm might have shorter ones.
Simon, however, said that the goals of the foundation and Bittman are compatible.
“There is no conflict of interest,” Simon said. “He will still manage the portfolio according to the policies and asset allocation . . . overseen by CU Foundation leadership. Chris Bittman’s goal is to grow our portfolio for the long-term benefit. . . This is directly aligned with our own interests at the CU Foundation–to raise, manage and invest private support for the university.”
The university as whole, he said, will probably not notice any change.
“To sum it up, this is a technical change to improve abilities. But fundamentally, little is changing,” he said. “It’s business as usual.”
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Ana Romano at Ana.Romano@Colorado.edu.