As the name of the conference implies, the Institutional Investor Education Benefit Forum, to be held in early May in San Antonio, Texas, seeks to build a foundation of new talent by getting the investment community to give back.

The conference, produced by Opal Financial Group, will bring together representatives of US public, corporate, Taft-Hartley pensions funds, endowments and foundations to discuss and educate on topics covering a wide range of subjects and discussing timely issues impacting the investment community.

Opal Financial Group will donate a significant portion of the profits from the conference to the Hispanic College Fund and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, which provide scholarships and financial assistance to qualified Hispanic and African-American students who otherwise could not afford a college education.

Dennis Cotto, a partner with the law firm Lovell, Mitchell & Barth, a trustee for the Hispanic College Fund and a former trustee for the District of Columbia Retirement System, assisted in co-ordinating the event.

'As a former trustee and someone who has looked at the advanced wealth that exists in the public pension fund space, I realised there was an opportunity for the investment community to give back,' Cotto says. 'One of the most painful ironies is that trustees running billions of dollars in pension funds sometimes lack the funds to send their kids to college, as do their members.'

'I thought it would be a great opportunity to get the working-class people involved in these pension funds together and leverage their assets so the investment community could give back and serve the very members they represent.'

The college funds were selected through a series of defined criteria. Both programmes award scholarships and grants based on need, student accomplishments, and performance, and devote only 10 per cent of the funds to administrative costs; the other 90 per cent directly funds scholarships.

The Hispanic College Fund and Thurgood Marshall College Fund help qualified students through scholarships, symposiums and professional mentoring. One mentoring programme includes a program with NASA, where prospective aerospace engineers can meet and network with individuals for his or her professional career.

Almost half the proceeds of the conference will go to the college fund charities, but there will also be further charitable components to the conference. Cotto has assembled fiduciaries from across the US and trustees and fiduciaries will be asked to make contributions to both plans. An awards luncheon during the conference will acknowledge the largest donors.

'We look forward to providing a great conference for the further education of investment plan managers and trustees,' says Opal Financial Group chief executive Abe Wellington. 'We are even more proud that at the same time we're helping to contribute to these two great charities.'

The conference will include an evening fundraising event where investment managers will have a chance to mingle with representatives from different public plans. Again, all benefits will go directly to the charities.

All proceeds donated to the college funds will serve to increase the amount of scholarships awarded. Speaking of reviewing applications from students for the Hispanic College Fund, Cotto says: 'I realised we just don't have enough dollars. There are so many talented kids; we just don't have enough dollars to fund all of their scholarships.

'The need is there, the talent pool is there, what we're missing are the additional funds to make these kids' dreams come true. It's heartbreaking to look at a poor kid, who is well qualified and has the abilities to be very successful, and say we just don't have the funds to help you.'

He hopes that as a lasting legacy the conference will forge new relationships between the charities and the investment community. Cotto and Opal Financial Group plan to build an infrastructure for the financial community that will help to produce qualified people to lead successful emerging managers.

Cotto says of a friend currently running a large Hispanic-owned money management firm: 'He doesn't know who will inherit his firm. He wants to bring in other Latinos to take his place, but there is currently only a small pool to draw from.' The contributions from the conference seek to ensure that there will be a more diverse range of emerging managers and investment professionals in the future.

The conference will take place at the Westin Riverwalk Hotel in San Antonio on May 5-7. The three-day event will revolve around discussions on a broad range of investment topics, challenges and strategies and topics will include investing in infrastructure, indexing trends, real investments, developments in the fixed income sector, and emerging managers.

Established in 1998, Opal Financial Group produces educational conferences for the institutional investment community worldwide, bringing together industry leaders for the meaningful exchange of information and networking opportunities. Further information is available from Ashley Carter at Tel. +1 212 532 9898 extension 281 or by email at acarter@opalgroup.net.


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