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Pension funds, managers avoid large disruptions from Hurricane Irma, put continuity plans to use

Hurricane Irma has created some headaches for pension plans and money managers in South Florida, but emergency preparedness has prevented too much disruption.

St. Petersburg, Fla.-based Eagle Asset Management said in a Sept. 7 statement on its website it had activated its "business continuity plan" and elected to send essential personnel such as senior management, equity and fixed-income traders and compliance personnel to the company's backup location in Memphis, Tenn.

"There will be no disruption in day-to-day operations. The Memphis facility can provide resources for a period of time sufficient to allow for any kind of hurricane recovery. We will continue to monitor the storm to make additional arrangements as necessary so our operations and clients will not be affected by the storm," the company said in the statement.

Liz Gunning, company spokeswoman, could not be immediately reached to provide further information. Eagle Asset Management had $32.9 billion in assets under management as of Dec. 31, according to Pensions & Investments data.

Boca Raton, Fla.-based Polen Capital Management, in anticipation of the hurricane, engaged its business continuity program and "maintained regular business operations," the company said in a news release emailed by spokeswoman Michelle Beracha.

"The safety of our employees is always our primary concern in these types of events," said Stan Moss, Polen's CEO, in the release. "The firm uses leading-edge, cloud-based technology so that our employees are able to work from secure locations while our clients receive the highest level of uninterrupted client service. This allowed us to implement our business continuity plan seamlessly and without impact to our clients during Hurricane Irma as expected while maintaining our employees' security."

Members of the operations and trading team traveled to the Boston office, while other employees "operated from secure locations with Internet access," according to the news release.

Polen had $11.3 billion in assets under management as of Dec. 31, according to P&I data.

Orange City, Fla.-based ZPR Investment Management's office is closed on Monday. Mark D. Zavanelli, ZPR's president, said in a telephone interview both the office is currently out of power and employees' residences are without power.

"There was also a travel curfew until noon," Mr. Zavanelli said. "One thing we've done is posted on our website that we will be closed, (and we've also) transferred our phones to one of the employee's cell phones; email is done via cloud server and that's working." Mr. Zavanelli said since he works from New Jersey, remote capabilities are also worked in, and that helps with disaster preparedness as well.

On Sept. 8, rather than letting servers run through the weekend as they normally do, the staff shut everything down in the office and said "let's come back whenever we can," Mr. Zavanelli said.

"Until that point you're operating on this limited capability," he said. "In terms of your everyday functionality, you're working on a little more limited basis. Certainly clients understand that."

Since power is out at the office location, Mr. Zavanelli said he doesn't know when the office will be able to reopen but "hopefully reasonably soon."

ZPR Investment Management has $122 million in assets under management.

Some pension fund offices were closed in anticipation of the storm and in its aftermath.

"The city of Tampa closed early on Friday and is also closed today for the storm," said Natasha Wiederholt, pension plan supervisor of the $706 million Tampa (Fla.) General Employees' Retirement Fund, in an email. "The city has established several (emergency operations center) teams to ensure business continuity of critical operations during emergency situations. My team is able to work remotely and we have a plan in place to ensure our retirees are paid timely and accurately this month. We are planning on holding our regularly scheduled board meeting next Tuesday (Sept. 19)."

Fred Nesbitt, spokesman for the $858 million Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Police and Fire Retirement System, said they were lucky "because we just got the side effects of the storm." Fort Lauderdale, on the east coast of southern Florida, avoided the brunt of the hurricane's impact, which hit the west coast hardest.

"We got a lot of rain, a lot of wind, but the damage is minimal," Mr. Nesbitt said. While trees are down and roads have been flooded, "we're in pretty good shape," he said. The pension fund offices, currently closed because of the flooded roads, should be open within the next couple of days. Staff are working from home in the meantime. Mr. Nesbitt also added that the pension fund's Sept. 13 board meeting has been rescheduled to Sept. 20.

The $637 million Fort Lauderdale General Employees' Retirement System moved its board meeting to Tuesday from Sept. 7 because of the impending arrival of the hurricane, and the website noted "high degree of probability that Hurricane Irma may affect our area resulting in the cancellation of the meeting." Pension administrator Nick Schiess could not be immediately reached to provide further information.

The $537 million Miami Beach Employees' Retirement System's board meeting is scheduled for Wednesday. Whether the meeting will be canceled or postponed could not be immediately learned. Pension Administrator Rick Rivera could not be immediately reached to provide further information.

Florida State Board of Administration, Tallahassee, among the $195.4 billion in assets it oversees, manages the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund, which the Florida Legislature created in 1993 following the prior year's Hurricane Andrew. The creation of the fund addressed insurers leaving the market after that hurricane, creating what is "essentially reinsurance of the property insurance industry," said John Kuczwanski, SBA spokesman, in an email.

"The fund has a statutory cap of $17 billion and its liability is either the cap or resources it has and can bond for in order to reimburse insurance companies," Mr. Kuczwanski said. "Given we are fully liquid for the $17 billion statutory cap, there are no concerns with our ability to pay. We will start working with insurance companies this week."

The fund currently has $18.6 billion in cash, reinsurance and pre-event bonds, Mr. Kuczwanski added.