WRS News Online

SWIB Will Continue to Be Innovative, Agile and Work for WRS Members

Michael Williamson

by Michael Williamson, SWIB Executive Director

In 1976 I accepted a job with the town of Waynesville, N.C., obtaining rights-of-way from property owners so the town could build a sewer line. It was my first job after college and it began a 41-year career in public service. This December, that journey will draw to a close when I retire from the State of Wisconsin Investment Board. Over the course of four decades I have been blessed with opportunities to serve at numerous levels of state and local government as well as in higher education. It has been quite a ride.

My time at SWIB started not long after our country experienced the worst financial downturn since the Great Depression. Like every other public pension system across the country, the Wisconsin Retirement System experienced significant losses. Because of the unique design of the system, all WRS members felt the impact of those losses through increased contribution rates and decreases in annuities.

When measuring the success of the WRS, many will immediately point to investment returns. After all, making money is one of our top priorities. But what is sometimes overlooked is how we make the money and how we help protect the funds from another financial crash. Since my arrival at SWIB five years ago, many of you have read or heard me talk about our investment strategy and how we have built in increased protections to help keep annuity adjustments positive and contribution rates stable.

While our strategy is important, it alone is not what makes money. In today's highly sophisticated financial world, remaining at the forefront requires highly qualified people with access to the tools they need to make decisions and implement complex investment strategies that will benefit the WRS.

SWIB just put the finishing touches on a pioneering technology upgrade that is focused on ensuring staff continue to have the tools, processes and data needed to better manage the retirement assets. The implementation of the new technology is significant, not only for SWIB, but also for our industry. The new state-of-the-art technology improves our access to high quality and timely financial data. It will also help us implement more complex investment ideas in our overall investment strategy. Combining the technology with highly qualified staff is critical to SWIB remaining competitive and making informed investment decisions as we manage increasing amounts of assets internally.

I am grateful for my time at SWIB and I am proud of the work we have accomplished. SWIB is more innovative, agile, and integrated as an organization and in a better position to optimize investment returns while navigating the choppy financial waters around us. You can rest assured that SWIB will continue to invest first to help protect you from another financial downturn and then to earn reasonable returns.

The new tools we have put in place will help keep SWIB in the forefront. I am going to miss being part of this great organization and working for you. I have greatly enjoyed traveling the state and getting to meet and talk with many public employees and retirees. But I am also looking forward to joining you as a beneficiary, while knowing that SWIB and the WRS are well positioned for future success.