Jasmine Nachtigall-Fournier is a Co-Founder and President of GovInvest Inc., a government technology company focused on solving one of the biggest fiscal challenges at every level of government: unfunded pension and OPEB liabilities. We asked her to talk about her GovInvest, and what makes it unique.
In 2014, GovInvest began building software that visualized all the complicated information in actuarial valuation reports and allowed agencies to do analysis they would normally have to hire an actuary to do.
Nachtigall-Fournier first became aware of the magnitude of this challenge when she worked at California Common Sense, a non-profit that focused on visualizing government data sets to provide insights to citizens.
“One issue that came up a lot was the issue of unfunded pension liabilities,” Nachtigall-Fournier said. “It’s a multi-trillion dollar problem across the US. Our CEO Ted Price and I wanted to learn more about the issue, so we opened up an actuarial valuation report and quickly realized this was a big part of the problem: the reports are hundreds of pages long, written in dense actuarial terms, and based on outdated information. Further, the reports are static and aren’t actionable. We saw this as an exciting opportunity to reinvent the way agencies interact with this information to develop funding policies for their pension and OPEB plans.”
Nachtigall-Fournier and Price recruited a team of actuaries, engineers, and designers to build their Pension and OPEB modules, which have been used by agencies across the state to drive funding policy decisions. The modules also assist in labor negotiations, where agencies can calculate the impact on salary increases and workforce growth on their pension costs at the bargaining group level.
It seems that pension systems like CalPERS are catching on to the need for this kind of analysis. CalPERS recently released a tool that does some basic modeling.
“We see this as a major validation for the work we’ve been doing over the last five years,” Nachtigall-Fournier continued. “The biggest difference between our tools is that our software is running live actuarial calculations and our projections take into account demographic and economic experiences, while the CalPERS tool is simply rolling forward the costs based on the last valuation’s data. Our software can also do analysis at the bargaining group level and is available for both pooled and non-pooled plans, while the CalPERS tool is only available to non-pooled plans. It’s critical that agencies have a full suite of solutions.”
GovInvest’s software takes agency data to the next level of comprehensive and accurate information for policy development:
- GovInvest provides more accurate projections based on more up-to-date data.
- GovInvest allows agencies to drill down to finer levels of detail: tier and bargaining group level analysis.
- GovInvest allows agencies to adjust all the necessary assumptions, variables, and actual experiences that have a significant impact on their liability.
- GovInvest allows agencies to develop real funding policies by being specific about how they apply additional payments and/or set up a 115 trust.
- GovInvest allows agencies to model paying down specific amortization bases.
- GovInvest allows agencies to calculate pension benefit enhancement due to accrued sick leave.
- GovInvest provides actuarial valuations in tandem with the software to help agencies comply with GASB requirements like GASB 68 and GASB 75.
- GovInvest’s service includes experts who can assist in a timely manner.
- GovInvest’s modules are designed to be very user friendly and easy to use.
- GovInvest’s pension module is one component of a broader suite of services that help with long-term financial planning.
In addition to providing technology, GovInvest is focused on supporting agencies in using these tools to implement funding policies.
“GovInvest software is invaluable because it helps us to understand and manage our pension and OPEB liabilities,” said client of the company and Senior Management Analyst at the City of Cupertino, Thomas Leung, said. “The software puts complex analysis at our fingertips, allowing us to quickly model the effects of scenarios and communicate the results to stakeholders. When we established a Section 115 Trust, the software helped us to develop a funding strategy that would reduce our long-term pension costs.”
“We’ve learned that it’s really important to be involved with our clients every step of the way,” Nachtigall-Fournier added on client relations. “Actuarial information is complicated. It’s not enough to just hand someone log-ins to the software and say, ‘Go figure it out’ and that’s not our intention. We want to have a real impact.”
Dane Hutchings, Director of Government Affairs at the Renne Public Policy Group is regarded as an expert in California pension policy. Often asked to consult with local governments on addressing their pension issues Hutchings recommends that any local government trying to understand the fiscal impacts that pension liabilities are having on service delivery work with GovInvest.
“I’ve worked with countless local agencies across California who are trying to make sense of their pension and OPEB liabilities,” Hutchings said. “GovInvest’s suite of products have proven to be some of the most critical resources for California local governments. Their team has helped hundreds of agencies fully understand the impacts that pension, OPEB and labor costs have on agency budgets—enabling local leaders to find collaborative solutions to highly complex fiscal challenges.”
Through their work with their clients, Nachtigall-Fournier and Price asked GovInvest clients for feedback on the other major challenges they were facing.
“The one issue that came up over and over was the difficulty of labor costing in negotiations,” said Nachtigall-Fournier. “So we took that feedback and built a Labor Costing Module that allows agencies to instantly cost out proposals they receive from bargaining groups and once they came to an agreement, they could translate those costs directly to their budget.”
The Labor Costing Module takes into account all the different categories of pay and clearly shows the fiscal impact of the proposals being considered. It calculates all roll-up costs, and shows how the negotiation is progressing by tracking all the proposals discussed. The Labor Costing Module is having an immediate impact – helping agencies get through what can be a contentious and painful process.
GovInvest’s innovative approach to unfunded liabilities is impressive. They are fighting the good fight, bringing excitement and energy to the difficult challenges agencies face with their unfunded liabilities and personnel costs.