At the end of April, Patrick Lane will officially start his work as PERA’s next Chief Benefits Officer. He will provide management and strategic direction of: PERA’s retirement, disability, and survivor benefit payments; member account services; benefit counseling; and customer service programs. Prior to joining PERA, he was Director of Member Services for the Oklahoma Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS).
We spoke with Patrick to learn more about his background and to hear firsthand about his future at PERA.
PERA On The Issues: Welcome to PERA, Patrick! Tell us a bit about where you’re from.
Patrick: Have you heard the John Mellencamp song Small Town? That describes where I’m from. I was born and raised in a small Indiana town. I played basketball, read Kurt Vonnegut, and went to Indiana University. I’m a proud Hoosier!
PERA On The Issues: Moving your family to a new state is never an easy task, but you must do it during some unusual times. How is your move going?
Patrick: I will be moving near the end of April, officially beginning my work with PERA on April 30. My wife is a teacher, so she’s wrapping up the school year and assisting our girls with remote learning. They’ll be joining me in Colorado in early June.
PERA On The Issues: At first, why did you choose to work in public service?
Patrick: An uncle planted the seed of public service in me. He was a fun, dynamic individual. He was a police officer before becoming city manager and ultimately a New Mexico state senator. He showed me public service was an honorable profession. One of the best schools in public administration was in my backyard, so I chose to attend IU’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs.
I first thought I would go into city management like him. But, after a brief moment working on political campaigns after college, I joined Indiana’s state pension system as the executive assistant to the director. Now, here we are, three decades later.
PERA On The Issues: What made working in public pension administration compelling?
Patrick: A lot of it was good timing. When I started, there was a referendum on the ballot that lifted a prohibition on investing in equities. Indiana was the third to last state to lift this ban. The very first thing my boss, who was previously an investment banker, assigned me to do was to draft a letter for his signature authorizing our first investment into the S&P 500 and Russell 2000. It was a letter authorizing $80-million dollars being transferred from one account to another.
As a kid from small town Indiana, this was an eye-opening experience. I never dreamed of doing anything that involved billions of dollars. I was lucky to have such a wonderful mentor who provided me learning and growth opportunities. It was an exciting time, watching a $4-billion bond portfolio being transitioned into a $12-billion diversified portfolio when I left Indiana. Changes took place very quickly as the organization grew, and that is where leadership opportunities came for me.
PERA On The Issues: At PERA, the Chief Benefits Officer is responsible for an array of activities. How do you explain your new role to friends and family?
Patrick: I can count on one hand the number of times people ask a follow-up question when I tell them I work at a retirement system. All kidding aside, most of the time when I mention I work in retirement, I get asked if I’m in finance or investments. I explain that the investment team helps make the money, and I help get it to members.
PERA On The Issues: For an average PERA member or retiree, which elements of their PERA experience has the CBO’s fingerprints on it?
Patrick: There’s a quote from Dean Smith [legendary former men’s basketball coach at the University of North Carolina] about collegiate athletics being the front porch of a house (the university) with many rooms. That quote has stuck with me, and I use it often in our context. Complex organizations like universities or retirement systems have many equally important parts working together, but one stands as the public-facing image of the entire enterprise. Member services, customer service, communications—together, are the front porch of retirement systems.
I love knowing that if we do our job well and deliver on the promises we make, then we’ll have the reputation of putting our members first. We can give them the dignity that their public service deserves.
PERA On The Issues: You were most recently Director of Member Services at the Oklahoma Public Employees Retirement System. How will your experiences there inform what you do at Colorado PERA?
Patrick: My time as director of member services was focused on pursuing operational efficiencies to tackle backlogs in our benefits processing practice, which we were able to eliminate before I left. However, going into it I didn’t know how long it would take. Each plan is different with its own economies of scale. I don’t think there are too many “best practices” that you can just lift and insert in another plan. The improvements we made in Oklahoma were the product of incremental change. I’m proud of what we were able to do.
PERA On The Issues: How much did you know about PERA going in to the interview process? When you think about PERA, what are the defining characteristics?
Patrick: I’ve admired PERA from afar for some time. It goes beyond high scores in the annual CEM benchmarking. In my years on the National Pension Education Association Board of Directors, I met many PERA staff members. I found them all to be very intelligent and engaged, open to learning from other systems as well as willing to share their strengths. This position represented an opportunity to join that group. There’s a lot to learn! I’m very excited and very humbled by the opportunity.
PERA On The Issues: How will your role contribute to PERA’s overall plans for the future?
Patrick: The Board has created a very clear strategic plan that serves as a road map. I’ll be deeply involved with three of the four primary goals, including: finding ways to enhance our role as a partner with our members in their pursuit of retirement security; improving PERA’s organizational health and performance; and offering products, services, and education that respond to our member and employer needs.
What that means in practice is making sure our members have the information they need to make sound decisions for themselves, not just financially but also the social and emotional factors of a rewarding retirement. Fostering strong partnerships with external service providers, providing exceptional service, and expanding member and employer engagement are important aspects of this, as well.
Working with staff to continue building a strong culture at PERA is also important. There’s very little that any one person does on their own; we’re only as good as the people around us. That requires ensuring that we are attracting and retaining the best talent we can and developing those people along the way.
PERA On The Issues: Thanks for your time, Patrick, and again—welcome to PERA! We look forward to hearing more from you in the future.
Patrick: Thank you! It was a pleasure.