Yoke San Reynolds, U-Va.’s retiring vice president, saved the university nearly $1 billion

Leaders of the University of Virginia are noting the retirement of Yoke San Reynolds, their vice president and chief financial officer, who is credited with generating savings for the university that will total as much as $1 billion in coming years.

Yoke San Reynolds and husband Bruce Reynolds. (University of Virginia)

“She is so creative in her approach,” said Pat Lampkin, vice president and chief student affairs officer at U-Va., in a news release. “She has quietly made a huge impact on the financial structure at the university, and I don’t think many people know the breadth of her contributions.”

Perhaps Reynolds’s most interesting innovation is an internal capital bank, launched in 2002. The university had pools of cash kept in various departments and was holding “more cash than it needed to,” Reynolds said, in a telephone interview.

She pooled that money and invested it, so that it generated more interest. The university now borrows money from that internal bank, and lends it to individual departments at a reasonable and predictable interest rate, who then repay the university.

Among her other achievements:

• More money from the feds. The university collects money from the federal government to cover administrative overhead for federally supported research projects. It’s an esoteric business; suffice it to say that Reynolds successfully negotiated the “recovery rate” upward from 48 percent to 58 percent of the money spent by U-Va. on the overhead. Total savings to the university: $11 million a year by 2015.

• Cheaper financing. Under Reynolds, U-Va. was the first non-government organization to issue federally subsidized Build America Bonds, which were offered in 2009 as part of the federal stimulus effort. The favorable terms of the bonds save U-Va. $105 million over the life of the bonds. “We were the first to tap into it,” she said. Other universities followed.

• More investment income. Reynolds worked with the state legislature and with university lobbyists to draft legislation that broadened investment rules for U-Va. The Investment of Public Funds Act restricted the university to invest in low-risk, fixed-income bonds. The 2007 legislation freed U-Va. to invest in stocks and longer-term instruments, greatly raising the potential interest rate. Other Virginia universities have followed suit.

Originally from Singapore, Reynolds earned a bachelor’s in economics at the National University of Singapore and master’s degrees from the University of Michigan and the State University of New York at Albany. She worked at the Albany institution and at Cornell University before joining U-Va.

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