It’s been more than a year since Ken Fisher, head of Fisher Investments, uttered inappropriate comments at a now infamous conference in October 2019.
The Tiburon CEO Summit was closed to reporters, but an uproar quickly spread over social media and was soon amplified in mainstream media. Within a month, nearly $4 billion in assets was pulled from the company, as Bloomberg reported, and for a time it seemed the carnage might never end.
But now, some pension funds have removed the investment manager from their watch lists, ending a probationary period and indicating all may be forgiven. Is Fisher Investments really out of the woods?
Watch List Removals
Among the pension funds that have restored Fisher Investments is the $28 billion Public Employees’ Retirement System of Mississippi. It placed Fisher on its watch list in October 2019, then removed it from the list a year later.
“As fiduciaries, we must always act in the best interest of the [Employees' Retirement] System and our membership,” says Executive Director Ray Higgins.
Similarly, the Kansas City [Missouri] Public School Retirement System (KCPSRS), which has nearly $700 million in total invested assets, placed Fisher on watch in January 2020, and requested regular updates on the firm’s task force on diversity and inclusion, among other measures.
“Fisher Investments fully complied,” confirms KCPSRS Executive Director Christine Gierer. In September, the KCPSRS board removed Fisher Investments from its watch list and returned it to good standing.
The $1.9 billion East Bay Municipal Utility District Employees’ Retirement System (EBMUD), in Oakland, California, recently followed suit. It had put Fisher Investments on watch status in November 2019 after 15 years as its sole active equity manager, managing some $144 million, according to press reports.
At its board’s bimonthly meeting on Jan. 21, 2021, it took Fisher off the watch list, according to Sophia Skoda, EBMUD’s finance director.
‘Made Me Nauseous’
Sonya Dreizler was one of more than 200 financial executives at the October 2019 conference. The head of Solutions with Sonya, a financial consulting firm in San Francisco, she says she was one of only 17 women present, and Fisher’s remarks “made me nauseous.”
Now she says she may be willing to put that behind her, without totally letting it go.
“I’m happy to forgive when I see that someone who has caused harm has done all they can to repair the harm, and that they are taking steps to continue learning and doing better,” Dreizler said. “Though I wish that threshold was a standard practice in finance, I don’t believe it is.”
For those who have forgiven Fisher, the reasons may be many.
While it’s been on EBMUD’s watch status, Fisher supplied the board with updates on its environmental, social and corporate governance practices; its internal diversity and inclusion task force; and an outside consultant it hired to aid fairness initiatives. It even conducted “listening tours” to learn more about specific issues and concerns.