Howa Black-Owned OCIO More Than Doubled Its Assets in a Year

Leveraging its strength in finding diverse asset managers, Disciplina has won large mandates and is building up its team to meet surging demand.

(Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg)

(Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg)

Allocators are serious about diversity and inclusion.

Take minority-owned Disciplina Capital Management, which is an outsourced chief investment officer. The firm is flourishing after landing two large mandates from foundations in the past six months.

On Tuesday, the firm announced its newest client — the Community Foundation of Atlanta — which has hired the OCIO provider as an adviser for its investment pool in part because of its strength in finding high-performing, diverse investment managers in different asset classes.

The win comes after the Nashville-based firm announced in March that it had been hired by the National Philanthropic Trust, a nonprofit with $14.3 billion, to advise on certain asset pools, Institutional Investor reported at the time.

Disciplina was founded in 2013 by Matthew Wright, the first African American to start and lead an OCIO firm, according to the company. Wright is the former Vice Chancellor for Investments and CIO of Vanderbilt University. He built and led a twenty-person team at Vanderbilt, which was responsible for investment oversight of the university’s $4 billion long-term investment portfolio that included the university’s endowment. Before Vanderbilt, Wright was the Director of Investments at Emory University. He was a portfolio manager with Bank of America Capital Management’s Quantitative Strategies Group earlier in his career.

Disciplina has recently entered a growth spurt, with assets swelling to $1.6 billion. That’s quadruple the firm’ s assets as of June 2020, when it stood at $400 million, according to an annual list on OCIOs from executive search consultant Charles Skorina.

Wright said that Disciplina’s growth was organic, coming from new mandates from new clients. He added that existing clients also invested enough additional assets that the firm was able to hire new team members late last year.

Disciplina hired Aon’s Jimmie “Duke” Williams in November to become a managing partner and has recently completed its search for a new operations hire. Williams, who previously led Aon’s Insurance Solutions Investment Consulting Practice for North America, now heads Disciplina’s efforts to offer investment solutions to high-net-worth individuals, small family offices, foundations, and plan sponsors.

According to Wright, Disciplina’s target number of client additions per year is five, with the “ultimate goal” of limiting the number of clients so that its senior partners can be the primary point of contact for all those on their roster.

This week the firm won the mandate from the Community Foundation of Atlanta.

The $1.2 billion foundation hired a new chief executive officer in 2020, which prompted it to look at its partnerships and agreements, including with its former consultant. The foundation has been increasing its focus on racial, ethnic, and gender diversity in recent months, and wanted a consultant that could help it find diverse investment managers.

“Their primary initiatives are finding diverse-owned managers, through gender, ethnicity, and race. That’s a natural extension of what we’ve always done,” Wright said.

Disciplina was one of 17 firms that responded to the foundation’s request for information, which was facilitated by search consultant Alpha Capital Management.

“Matthew and his team just had a phenomenal presentation,” said Diana Champ Davis, the foundation’s chief financial officer. “You could tell that they paid attention to the factors that we highlighted were important to us — everything from how we approached the investment philosophy to the investment team... They just checked all the boxes.”

According to Wright, finding diverse managers is an important part of Disciplina’s work. “First and foremost, we are a diverse team,” Wright said of sourcing managers. “Therefore, we take away a lot of artificial constraints.”

Disciplina runs its own due diligence process to identify investment talent, which includes extensive reference checks and portability of track records, among other qualities, according to Wright. The team doesn’t focus on the number of years a firm is in business or its assets under management. “That opens up the playing field to a lot of firms and diverse-owned firms,” he said.

According to Davis, Disciplina has “hit the ground running” with its work. The firm has completed a full review of the foundation’s portfolio, met with all of the fund’s managers, reviewed the investment policy statement, and it has started looking at how the fund can bring environmental, social, and governance factors into its investment process.

“They’re making quick work of it,” Davis said.