“It was not glamorous or religious 99.9% of the time,” one of the former employees said. For most, working at the firm was “a religious calling,” he said.
Executives used to share information about the assets under management with employees. That changed in recent years; now few employees are explicitly told the number, according to Mr. Clarke and some of the former employees.
The firm also created a system of more than a dozen shell companies to make its stock investments harder to track, according to the former employees and Mr. Clarke. This was designed to prevent members of the church from mimicking what Ensign Peak was doing to protect them from mismanaging their own funds with insufficient information, according to Mr. Clarke.
Neuburgh Advisers LLC, one of the shell companies, held hundreds of stocks, including Apple Inc. shares valued at more than $175 million and Amazon.com Inc. shares worth more than $70 million, according to a recent regulatory filing.
From time to time, church leaders in the ecclesiastical arm that oversees Ensign Peak arranged lunch meetings with Ensign Peak employees. During Q&A sessions at the end, employees sometimes asked what the money might be used for, according to one of the former employees, who attended.
Church leaders responded by saying they wanted to know that, too, according to this person.
“It was so amorphous,” the former employee said. “It was always, ‘When we have direction from the prophet.’ Everyone was waiting, as it were, for direction from God.” The prophet is the president of the church.
The Quiet Giant
Ensign Peak’s scale went relatively unknown on Wall Street. The firm doesn’t tell business partners how much money it manages, an unusual level of secrecy in the financial world.
One outside expert said the financial industry didn’t suspect it might be approaching $100 billion. “People thought it was between $30 and $40 billion,” said Michael Maduell, president of the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute, which tracks large pools of money.
Employees in the fund rarely shared with outsiders much of what they did, even to friends in the same line of work. A person who worked at a money management firm said when that firm sought an investment from Ensign Peak, officials at the Mormon fund declined to share how much money they managed. Ensign Peak told this person that a small investment for the fund would be about $30 million and a large investment about $350 million.
The fund invests conservatively, Mr. Clarke said, in part because it has “a longer term horizon” than many other firms. In recent years, Mr. Clarke developed a quantitative stock trading program, incorporating one of the hottest recent trends in finance.
On his office bookshelf, Mr. Clarke keeps a copy of “Principles” by Ray Dalio, the founder of Bridgewater Associates. He said Bridgewater deputies have visited in the past, and that Mr. Dalio’s firm “helped us think about what’s happening kind of in the broader economy.” Bridgewater declined to comment.
Mr. Clarke also keeps an ancient Roman coin in his office, a reference to the biblical story of the widow’s mite, in which a poor widow donates to the temple treasury.
Click to next page to continue reading