Mutual Fund & ETF Awards 2024: Small Board Trustee of the Year

Recognizing excellence in oversight of small funds at Green Century, Angel Oak, FundX

Every year, Fund Directions’ annual awards recognize achievements in the world of fund oversight.

This year’s nominees for the Small Board Trustee of the Year, for members of boards overseeing less than $30bn in assets, include trustees from Green Century Funds, Angel Oak Funds Trust and FundX Investment Trust.

The winners will be announced the night of June 18 at the Mutual Fund & ETF Awards in New York City.

Look for more awards coverage, including a profile of our soon-to-be-announced Lifetime Achievement Award winner, in the June digital issue of Fund Directions.

Congratulations, and good luck to all the nominees.

Small Board Trustee of the Year

Daniel Kern, Green Century Funds

Daniel Kern, 62, has been an independent trustee at Green Century Funds since 2015. He is chair of the two-person investment oversight committee that is specifically responsible for oversight of fund subadvisers and for reviewing the performance of the funds, evaluating changes in the regulatory environment and for consulting as needed with the fund adviser on new product development.

Green Century Capital Management is a non-profit-owned investment adviser focusing on fossil-fuel-free sustainable investing. It maintains an active shareholder-advocacy program and hires primarily staff with a background in advocacy as well as investing.

The Green Century fund board is also made up largely of trustees with non-profit professional backgrounds.

Kern, according to his colleagues, is the most experienced investor and 1940 Act executive on the board, “making him the go-to person for management and fellow trustees for investment and governance issues.

That role has been particularly important during the past year or two, which have been roiled by political controversy over climate issues, ESG and sustainable investing, pressured by regulatory scrutiny of mutual funds as well as turbulence in investment markets.

Kern leads many of the investment committee’s discussions with sub-advisors and helps guide fund management on best practices in investment oversight.

He also serves as a thought leader for board and management on issues relating to existing funds and the launch of new ones.

Kern has been chief investment officer of Nixon Peabody Trust since February of 2023 and previously served as managing director and CIO at TFC Financial Management from 2015 to 2023.

Before working at TFC, Kern was president and CIO at boutique asset manager Advisor Partners in San Francisco.

He is a former head of asset allocation at Charles Schwab Investment Management and was CFO of Laudus Funds.

Kern is a board member and chair of the investment committee for the Cambridge Community Foundation in Massachusetts and also sits on the boards of Brandeis International Business School, Wealthramp, and the Lown Institute.

Ira Cohen, Angel Oak Funds Trust

Ira Cohen, 65, has been the independent chair of the board overseeing the 10 funds of the Angel Oak Funds Trust since 2017, having joined the board as an independent trustee in 2014.

He joined the board while Angel Oak was preparing to launch its first proprietary public funds trust in 2014 after previously outsourcing board oversight of its funds to a multi-series trust service provider.

The list of Angel Oak funds has since expanded to include open-end mutual funds, a closed-end fund, an interval fund and several exchange-traded funds, including two that were converted earlier this year from mutual funds: Angel Oak High Yield Opportunities ETF and Angel Oak Mortgage-Backed Securities ETF.

Cohen is a member of the audit committee and, along with all the other independent trustees on the board, is also a member of the financial and administrative oversight, nominating and governance, compliance oversight and valuation and risk management oversight committees.

Colleagues nominating Cohen for the Small Board Trustee of the Year Award cite his sure hand guiding the board through a period of “unprecedented regulatory change,” which has been instrumental in helping both trustees and management executives understand the big-picture impact of regulatory changes.

His nominators also cited his willingness to contribute his mutual-fund-industry expertise to educational efforts benefiting the trustee community in which he demonstrated mastery “at connecting people and building relationships.”

Cohen has more than 42 years of experience in the investment industry, including a position as executive vice president of investment-industry semantic-data analysis firm Recognos Financial from 2015 to 2021.

He has served as an independent financial services consultant since 2005 and has served as an independent trustee of the Valued Advisers Trust since 2010 and the Apollo Diversified Real Estate Fund since 2014.

Jeff Smith, FundX Investment Trust

Jeff Smith, 49, is president of the FundX Investment Trust, which recently converted all its existing funds into ETFs – a process it completed without support from outside consultants or white-label service providers, according to his nomination. The conversion stabilized fund flows in the ETFs, which had been dropping 10% to 30% annually before the conversion, according to nominating materials.

FundX was successful in converting some shareholders to private clients during the conversion, which helped encourage the company to plan the launch of two more ETFs during the coming year to support a growing wealth-management business.

Smith is a managing director of One Capital Management LLC following its acquisition of FundX Investment Group in March 2022. Smith had served as managing partner of FundX Investment Group, which was founded in San Francisco in 1960, from January 2016 until the acquisition was completed in January 2023. He joined the firm in 2001 as director of publications and has served as interested trustee since 2018.