National Conference on Public Employee Retirement Systems

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Public Pension Profiles: Educational Employees' Supplementary Retirement System (ERFC) Executive Director & CIO, Eli Martinez

I was initially drawn to the public pension space because it gave me the ability to make a difference in my community while also doing something that I love,” said Martinez.
Public Pension Profiles: Educational Employees' Supplementary Retirement System (ERFC) Executive Director & CIO, Eli Martinez

By Lizzy Lees, NCPERS

As part of an ongoing series of public pension executive profiles, NCPERS spoke with Eli Martinez, Executive Director and Chief Investment Officer of the Educational Employees' Supplementary Retirement System (ERFC).

Please note: This interview has been edited for clarity. If you would like to participate in a public pension profile interview, please contact

Tell me a little about the Educational Employees' Supplementary Retirement System (ERFC) and the members you serve.
We're a $3 billion pension plan, and we serve teachers and support staff for Fairfax County. More specifically, we serve over 22,000 hardworking and dedicated teachers who spend their days focused on improving the future for all of us. We also cover more than 12,000 happily retired members.
What initially drew you to working in the public pension space? And what do you enjoy most about working for ERFC?
I was initially drawn to the public pension space because it gave me the ability to make a difference in my community while also doing something that I love. And it didn't hurt that the stability and the defined benefits were there, which were especially important for me at the time coming out of retail sales as an investment advisor with a young family.

When I joined public government it was definitely a mindset change, but in a good way, because it gave me the ability to serve people in a different way. ERFC has allowed me to take an organization with a purpose and create an organization with both purpose and results. Over the last five years, we've been able to improve risk adjusted returns and our member services, cutting down the time it takes to serve our members by almost 50 percent. We've created an organization that is the recognized for operational excellence, starting with the United States Senate Productivity and Quality Award (SPQA) and working toward the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.

How have the ERFC's investing strategies shifted since you joined in 2017?
In 2017, ERFC was a very good fund and it was well diversified. But there were some areas of the portfolio that were nascent still—specifically, the private market side of the portfolio was very much dominated by secondaries and fund of funds. While those are not necessarily bad things, they do represent higher costs. We've definitely improved the private markets program with further diversification, not only by exposure to GPs, but we've also been able to truly diversify the portfolio by vintage over the last five years and have added additional asset classes (for example, private natural resources, private infrastructure, and private credit).

We've focused our efforts, our active management dollars, in the places where we feel like it's going to make the biggest difference and we have the highest opportunity to succeed—selecting a top performing manager and then having top performing investments within that portfolio.

Since the ‘Great Resignation,' staff recruitment and retention has been a challenge across industries. How important do you think offering retirement and health benefits—such as a defined benefit program—are for retaining and attracting quality employees?
Retention and recruitment has definitely been a challenge in the industry. By and large, things are getting more competitive, especially if you're a smaller fund like ERFC. Having a purpose by itself is no longer enough, and we find ourselves competing against much larger funds for talent.

Our benefits are a key to staying competitive, though. We've been successful at attracting people from the private sector by virtue of the fact that we have great health benefits and a defined benefit plan, which is something that is not really present in that world anymore.

As a public pension CIO, what issues are you watching in the coming year?
I'm focused on inflation and its impact on our portfolio. More specifically, I'm thinking about how we're going to deal with the rising interest rates and whether we're going to take this environment as an opportunity to de-risk or as an opportunity to lever up our risk. I'm also watching what the Fed is doing. We've all seen what's happened recently in the news with the banking sector—and I don't think we've seen the last of it—so that's also top of mind.

In a nutshell, I'm thinking about looming government regulation and its impacts on the investment industry.

As a faculty advisor for the 2023 Chief Officers Summit, what are you looking forward to most at this year's event?
Public pension executives often don't have the opportunity to exchange ideas with other people who are going through similar situations, and the Chief Officers Summit gives you that. I think the approach NCPERS has taken is top notch. I don't see a lot of organizations putting the practitioners in the center of the stage, which gives us the ability to exchange information freely.
I can't think of another conference that I would rather attend than one that gives you the opportunity to part of a group of industry experts who are not trying to sell you something, but instead are trying to learn from each other, exchange ideas, talk about what's worked and what hasn't worked, and really have candid conversations about how we as an industry can improve.


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