ACEF News for 2020
DESPITE COVID AND A VOLATILE MARKET, ACEF PORTFOLIO REMAINS HEALTHY AND POSITIONED FOR GROWTH
New Board Members Bring a Wealth of Experience and Strategy For Future Profitability
By Steve Nigohosian
Shortly after the first case of Covid-19 in the U.S. was confirmed in January and quickly reached pandemic status, world financial markets reacted with worrying volatility. But while many investors around the globe were uncertain about the future of their financial assets, the Armenian Church Endowment Fund’s (ACEF) portfolio remained under the steady and capable guidance of its Board of Directors and Investment Committee. As a result of the Committee’s keen foresight and proven financial acumen, ACEF’s portfolio ultimately outperformed the market during the downturn. Toward the end of March when the S&P was down 21% year-to-date, ACEF’s portfolio only dropped an estimated 13.3% during that period. The portfolio’s hedge fund investments fulfilled their objective by providing a cushion during the decline, and the private equity investments softened the blow during the crisis and are now yielding a higher-than-market return on a mid- and long-term basis.
At the close of 2019, the Fund was valued at approximately $115.3 million, an increase of nearly 16% from the previous year. The Our Church Our Legacy endowment campaign, established to enable the Diocese of the Armenian Church to strengthen and support its vital partnership with local parishes and communities, continued to help increase the overall size of the Fund. Currently, the total portfolio is down approximately 1% to flat, year to date.
Among those who maintain and direct ACEF’s portfolio are the organization’s newest Board members, Nancy Berberian, Kirk Hachigian, Bryan Stepanian and Marie Vanerian, each bringing his/her unique skills and unparalleled experience in the financial sector to the group. “We are very fortunate to have such exceptionally talented professionals dedicate their time and expertise to ACEF’s Board,” says Chairman Charles A. Demirjian. “Their combined backgrounds in private equity, wealth management and not-for-profit organizations have proven to be the perfect fit for managing and directing the Fund.” Demirjian also expressed great appreciation for outgoing Board members Greg Bedrosian, Michael Dukmejian and Tom Garabedian, whose service and guidance helped the Fund reach an all-time high during their tenure.
Nancy Berberian, a certified public accountant and former auditor with Arthur Anderson & Co., resides in Chicago and has served on the Parish Council and Women’s Guild of St. Gregory the Illuminator Armenian Church. She received a Bachelor degree in Accounting from Michigan State University, and has also served in various Board positions in the Children Research Fund.
Kirk Hachigian earned a B.S. in mechanical engineering from the University of California at Berkeley and an M.B.A. from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. He has run and continues to sit on the boards of several Fortune 500 companies.. “I joined ACEF’s Investment Committee nearly one year ago, and I cannot think of a more qualified group of people to work with,” says Hachigian. “Based on our collective knowledge and experience, we are in the process of making changes to the portfolio in the coming year to further improve its performance.” Hachigian also adds, “ACEF can think really long term, 25 to 30 years from now, and can change the portfolio around to take advantage of opportunities, even during volatile times.” In addition, Hachigian is optimistic about the future for both ACEF and the Diocese, adding, “The Legacy Foundation and ACEF are there for the long haul to support the Armenian Church and our culture.”
Bryan Stepanian is Managing Director and Client Advisor for Alex. Brown in Greenwich, CT, where he manages in excess of $3.5 billion in assets and provides global advisory services to family offices, institutions and ultra-high net worth individuals. He graduated from Fairfield University with a B.A. from The Dolan School of Business, and serves on multiple boards of business-related and non-profit organizations. “Our decision to stay the course during the pandemic and not sell into a down market has proven to be the right decision,” Stepanian says. “The Investment Committee will make sure that the portfolio is well-diversified and positioned correctly, based on our market outlook and capital market assumptions.” He emphasizes the Board and Investment Committee’s responsibility as stewards of church capital as a fiduciary duty that requires particular sensitivity to market volatility. Further, he is confident that the investment strategy implemented by the Committee will achieve further growth. “Our allocation to alternative investments should reduce volatility in the portfolio, and smooth out returns for ACEF going forward,” he says.
Marie Vanerian is Senior Vice President at Merrill Lynch, where she provides wealth management and investing advice to a global roster of individual and institutional clients, including St. John’s Armenian Church (Detroit) and the Holy See in Etchmiadzin. In addition to majoring in Economics at Michigan State University, she is a graduate of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and is a Certified Investment Management Analyst (CIMA).
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The Armenian Church Endowment Fund is an independent, separately incorporated, non-profit entity whose mission is to provide professional, highly disciplined, tightly controlled and cost-effective asset management services to the various constituent parts of the Armenian Church, parishes and individuals who are creating a legacy through endowments.
The investment objective of ACEF is to earn sufficient returns through time to support stable and growing income distributions for each individual endowment fund to its designated beneficiary, while preserving and enhancing the principal balance of each such endowment fund. ACEF seeks to accomplish this objective by aggregating the individual endowment funds and investing them collectively in a broadly diversified portfolio managed by institutional quality investment managers.