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Permanent Fund internship paid lasting dividends

Trey Chenier
OPINION: Alaska's Permanent Fund provides much more than a dividend for a summer intern.
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There’s no doubt the Permanent Fund Dividend is appreciated by all that receive it -- valuable in both the short and long term (especially if you invest it). If my parents had put every PFD check since I was born in 1992 into an S&P 500 equity index fund, it would have grown to over $110,000 today. It has helped pay for my college tuition.

But the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation does more than pay dividends and manage a $53 billion portfolio. Since 1988, the Permanent Fund has coordinated an internship program for local college students to gain work experience in the financial sector. In fact, since the program’s inception, over 250 Alaska students have benefited from paid, investment-related internships across the country -- everywhere from local investment advisors like Alaska Permanent Capital Management (APCM) here in Anchorage where I just completed my internship, to GE Asset Management in Stamford, Conn.

One of the toughest industries to penetrate without personal connections, the financial sector is one where diligence can yield a fulfilling career and a sense of purpose -- not to mention financial security. For Alaska students the chance to pursue this career isn’t bountiful in our state, but this program helps a handful of students each year get real investment experience and gives them a leg up in the job market.

I jumped into the world of stocks and bonds in June at the top of the Fifth Avenue Building with APCM, an investment advisor which manages $3.5 billion for state, local, institutional and individual investment clients.

This was not my first summer job, but it was the first time I’d stepped into a new role since receiving my two undergraduate degrees in May of this year. Portfolio management has a steep learning curve, and I was quickly introduced to the “real world.” Detailed course syllabi were replaced by vague, yet complicated, project guidelines. Persistent academic oversight and direction was now a more hands-off, but results-oriented, management.

The distinctions were welcomed and the experience invaluable.

The job provided an element of independence that is rare in an internship. I was given assignments from the traders throughout my time and worked directly with the CIO, learning investment basics and discussing economic theories. I read papers and books by Nobel Prize winners and notable figures like Michael Lewis and David Swenson.

I was able to see every side of the process. I sat in on the firm’s investment strategy meetings and conference calls with the traders, worked with the fixed income division and a Bloomberg terminal to learn bond analysis, and was taught the real application of asset allocation decisions within the context of papers I’d read about the underlying theories behind them.

I learned the mechanisms behind actually executing and settling trades. I even had the opportunity to make several trades myself. One of them, made with a few clicks of the mouse, totaled $4.75 million. My request for a 10 percent commission was quickly dismissed.

I attended several client meetings and watched as presentations were prepared and delivered. I sat in and observed the deliberations of the Alaska ARM board at their quarterly meeting. They are responsible for the investments in Alaska’s public employees and teachers' retirement systems.

One of the most interesting experiences was attending a conference on “Angel Investing” sponsored by the Municipality of Anchorage. This is the initial early seed capital that helps entrepreneurs start a business. The city received a $13.2 million grant from the federal government to start the 49th State Angel Fund and has been encouraging others to get involved.

In a job market far from kind to recent graduates, actual experience in an applicant’s desired field can make the difference between a “Congratulations!” and a “Thanks, but no thanks.” I am off to the University of Chicago as a graduate student studying law and business. The Alaska Permanent Fund internship program has helped me prepare for this. It is much appreciated.

Trey Chenier is an Anchorage graduate student in business and law.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.