Ometer helps families save for college expenses
It’s doubtful that many college freshmen know Gary Ometer, but without his financial acumen, some of them might not have been able to afford higher education.
As CFO of the Virginia College Savings Plan (also known as Virginia529), Ometer is responsible for the financial operations of the largest 529 plan in the country, with more than 2.2 million accounts and $42.5 billion in assets under management as of last year. Authorized by Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code, a 529 plan is a tax-advantaged way to prepay or save for future college expenses.
“The nice thing about coming into work every day is that I’m not trying to make quarterly numbers to satisfy stockholders,” Ometer says. “I’m trying to provide a diverse set of savings options for parents to help them save for college. That, to me, is a pretty good mission. We take it very seriously.”
Since 2008, when Ometer joined the Virginia529 team, the growth of new accounts and assets under management have surpassed the national average. Virginia529’s assets rose by nearly $6 billion last year — an increase of about 18 percent.
Ometer, a Certified Public Accountant, came to the Virginia College Savings Plan when the nation was in a financial crisis. One of his first projects was to undertake an 18-month asset liability study of the organization’s prepaid program, which allows families to pay tuition and fees at Virginia public colleges and universities in advance of a student’s enrollment.
“[When] someone buys a prepaid contract, they expect the money to be there [when it’s time for their child to attend college],” Ometer explains.
Because of the volatility of the stock market, Ometer developed an asset reallocation strategy, putting more focus on international and emerging markets.
“We manage our portfolio [for the prepaid program] very conservatively,” he says. “We had a good portfolio, and we knew that portfolio would carry us through the storm if we could weather it.”
During his tenure, Ometer has participated in several other 529 program changes and enhancements, including redesigning and re-launching the CollegeWealth program with banking partner BB&T and improving investment portfolio options for the Virginia529 inVEST program. CollegeWealth provides an FDIC-insured savings option while Virginia529 inVEST offers portfolios of stocks and bonds.
Another focus for Ometer has been increasing public transparency and enhancing Virginia529’s financial reporting. In 2009, the agency added a Web-based system, which allows program participants to view account activity online. Online quarterly statements will be available within the next year.
“[Gary] exemplifies what it takes to be an excellent CFO in any organization of any size,” says CEO Mary Morris. “I depend on his judgment and counsel on a daily basis. We are a rapidly growing organization with a big public trust, and Gary is up to the challenge of the position. The citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia are lucky to have Gary Ometer on their team.”