Perspectives

Spotlight: Ken Bugayong, CFA, Treasurer, Minds Matter Seattle

Published: Sep 2020

Ken Bugayong, CFA Mind Matters Seattle

Time to make a difference

What is it like to adapt from the treasury of a global corporate, to that of a non-profit organisation? Ken Bugayong, CFA of Minds Matter Seattle tells Treasury Today about his long journey to help students from low-income families prepare for a better life.

Ken Bugayong, CFA

Treasurer

The Minds Matter mission is to transform the lives of accomplished high school students from low-income families by broadening their dreams and preparing them for college success. Mentees attend academic, cultural, or leadership programmes throughout the United States and the world, all funded by Minds Matter. Minds Matter of Seattle is 100% volunteer-run.

Over the past few locked-down months, many professionals will have taken a moment or two to reflect upon and re-assess their role in the world. For some, it may be time to venture from the rarefied world of corporate life, and into the non-profit sector.

After all, by bringing well-honed commercial skills to this environment, it is possible to bring about a much-needed change of fortune for organisations that, frankly, increasingly struggle to survive financially, despite the good work that they do. But what is it like to venture from corporate to non-profit?

For Ken Bugayong, assuming the pro bono position of Treasurer, Board of Directors, at Minds Matter Seattle, a non-profit educational organisation that seeks to transform lives of accomplished students from low-income families and preparing them for college success, it has been a decision that he describes as “a meaningful career experience”.

Transitioning from the treasury of a central bank, via technology firms Amazon and Expedia, to a non-profit educational foundation of Minds Matter, Bugayong, a 2019 Adam Smith Awards winner, now presides over the precious financial resources of an organisation that promotes social equity through education by providing academic support, skills-building, coaching and mentoring, financial stipends and aid.

“I manage the Seattle chapter’s financial resources, overseeing various initiatives including budgeting, forecasting, endowment planning, fundraising, grants and sponsorships,” he explains. He fully believes that the work he does here has real long-term social value, supporting students from low-income families and preparing them for college.

Although now armed with treasury skills honed in the cut and thrust of global business, Bugayong sees his own arrival in the non-profit sector as a natural progression. Even in his formative professional years, he was keen to put something back into the community.

Education is paramount

Education has always been important to Bugayong. Having grown up in the Philippines, a developing nation, and starting his career in the country’s central bank, he had a first-hand macroeconomic view of some of the nation’s biggest challenges. Being based in Manila, a densely-populated city where poverty is an “elevated factor”, he could see that one of its root causes was lack of access to formal education. This, he noted, confined many talented individuals to a state of poverty.

Understanding that with access to education comes social mobility, during his five-year term with the central bank, Bugayong decided to make a difference. “It was inspiring that within the treasury department I was helping the broader economy by managing the bank’s reserves and undertaking FX and open market operations,” he explains. “But I also wanted to help the nation at the level where individuals directly experience poverty.”

At some point I knew I wanted to find an avenue where I could contribute my professional skills and continue making a difference to society.

He found himself volunteering as a mentor within the non-profit Pathways to Higher Education which identifies talented but financially underprivileged high school students. In doing so, it aims to equip them with the necessary academic and soft skills to become future leaders, or ‘Trailblazers’, who can help positively transform the nation.

Following their educational path, the two mentees under Bugayong’s guidance developed into successful professionals (one a dentist, one an engineer). In line with the programme’s goal, both now act as mentors to other young, talented students from the same difficult background.

Making a move

For his own development, Bugayong moved to the US to pursue a graduate degree at MIT, eventually moving to Seattle and joining the technology sector as a Senior Financial Analyst at Amazon before moving on to become Treasury Manager at Expedia Group.

“At some point I knew I wanted to find an avenue where I could contribute my professional skills and continue making a difference to society,” he says. Mindful of his previous work in the Philippines, and firm in his view that education is “a great equaliser”, joining Minds Matter was an obvious choice, its mission “very much aligned with that of Pathways”.

With the Seattle chapter looking to bring more organisation and structure to its finances, Bugayong stepped up as treasurer towards the end of 2019. “Often, non-profit organisations have all the soft skills but their professional capacities in areas such as law, marketing and treasury are lacking,” he notes.

In Minds Matter Seattle, he saw an opportunity to help deliver far greater impact from its hard-won financial resources. Initial treasury-level challenges were operational, centred mainly on establishing an infrastructure that could allow different stakeholders to interact effectively, improving cash flow management, and creating a more efficient accounting regime. And then came the pandemic.

The impact of COVID-19 on working practices across the organisation, including the administration of the programme, has been challenging. “Lately, we have transitioned into a virtual approach, where we are co-ordinating coaching and academic sessions online,” admits Bugayong.

Funding gap

As with most charities, funding presents the greatest concern now. In particular for Minds Matter, the postponement of its lucrative benefactor events, where vital patronage is both earned and reinforced, is a major worry. And with the pandemic now ushering in a global economic recession, balancing the books is increasingly tough.

With economic and financial pressure mounting, the value of professional treasury is coming to the fore. One of the main treasury practices from which Minds Matter is benefitting is efficient forecasting. Bugayong’s specialisation in digital transformation and analytics at Expedia has proven invaluable, forecasting variable revenue streams amidst the pandemic proving problematic for many similar organisations.

“We have had to adapt our forecasting model as we try to align our revenue forecasts with where we see the economy going,” he explains. In the longer-term, any revision today will need to feed into the multi-year vision of establishing a sustainable endowment framework around Minds Matter as it is this that will allow continued regular scholarship funding.

For Bugayong, the experience and expertise gained in central bank reserves management – also executed on a not-for-profit basis – has proven to be “very transferable”. Indeed, he says, a similar approach is required for his vision on endowment planning.

“We will have to forge more alliances and partners, in both education and business sectors, with those who are aligned in terms of where we see the need in our society,” he explains. And although he feels the rate of success has been good to date at Minds Matter, the need to promote awareness of its mission needs “renewed focus”, especially with funding coming under such unprecedented pressure.

Here, Bugayong has been able to demonstrate through a remarkable set of data what the return on investment is for Mind Matter’s students.

A closer look at the impact of Minds Matter over three years

In-person time investment over the course of the three-year programme 300 hours per student
Total amount of merit-based financial aid secured by class of 2020 US$2.3 M
Total amount of financial aid secured by class of 2020 US$7.2 M
Examples of schools where students were accepted or waitlisted
Harvard University
University of Pennsylvania
University of Michigan
Washington State University
Whitman College

Ultimately, “substantial impact” is seen several years down the road, with immense returns to society for every dollar invested.

“What we’re trying to do here is initiate a virtuous circle,” says Bugayong. “Once we uplift our beneficiaries from their situation, eventually they become stable and successful professionals who we then encourage to come back to the programme and give a little back. It’s the multiplier effect.”

Tools for the job

The transition from central bank, to corporate, to non-profit has seen Bugayong absorb a wealth of knowledge and experience, not least in the sphere of financial technology. The technological approach is something that Minds Matter is definitely benefiting from, he notes, “especially in how we administer modern cloud-based systems: CRM, accounting, fundraising, and analytics in treasury, and how we can prudently deploy for-profit industry best practices, tailored for our non-profit setting.

I manage the Seattle chapter’s financial resources, overseeing various initiatives including budgeting, forecasting, endowment planning, fundraising, grants and sponsorships.

“Our aim is to ensure that 80% of our funding stream goes to the student programmes and expenses that will eventually further our mission. The remainder is set aside for operations and investment in technologies that allow us to perform more efficiently.” Investment guidelines have now been set by the Minds Matter Board and benchmarked with sister organisations.

With particularly effective results so far in Mind Matters’ technologically-driven approach to liquidity management, cash flow forecasting and analytics, the next generation of students can look forward to a better future for themselves, as can society in general.

Time to volunteer?

With many more professionals having had the time under lockdown to think of moving towards a position that, as Bugayong says, “gives something back”, the advice of one who has made that move should resonate. “In your profession, it’s great if you enjoy your job; it’s even better if you find meaning in it. If you can combine the two, you will find much fulfilment.”

Achieving fulfilment does not necessarily demand leaving the for-profit sector, he says. Volunteering professional services – especially, in the current economic environment, by those with financial expertise – is very much welcomed by organisations in the non-profit sector.

With treasurers being uniquely skilled to fill a void that many such organisations face as they come to terms with the financial fallout of the pandemic, maybe it is time to make a difference.

Ken Bugayong pic 2

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