Top Women in Asset Management shift strategies amid pandemic
Every year, Money Management Executive recognizes women who are making meaningful contributions to asset management. This year, that recognition comes at a time of serious crisis, as the global economy weathers the deep impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
We asked this year's Top Women in Asset Management honorees to discuss how their firms are coping with the crisis, and how this period may reshape the industry.
Several executives note the sudden shift to a fully virtual business model, and the challenges and opportunities that come with the forced adaptation.
"We have effectively gone all digital in many aspects of our work lives at an unprecedented pace," says Ankur Crawford, portfolio manager at Alger. "I believe this change ... could lead to more efficient and productive organizations over the long term."
Lisa Jones, head of Americas and CEO at Amundi Pioneer Asset Management, says, "Our industry has been built on face-to-face meetings, traveling afar to conferences, and meeting with company management and clients." This, she says, will have to be re-examined.
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Eileen Storz-Salino, vice president and director of mutual fund services reporting at Eaton Vance, says technology teams supporting asset managers face added pressures: "There has been stress in finding tools that keep the lights on, but — even more important — allow employees to be productive, creative and engaged.
“Keeping the more critical upgrades to systems and projects going will continue, while looking for areas to reduce cost because of the pressure on margins,” she adds.
Melissa Kurtz-Anderson, VP and head of business innovation and strategy at AllianceBernstein, says, "I think we're going to see continued reliance on our ability to digitally connect with clients [and] a greater focus on leveraging data to create impact."
Sheri Hawkins, head of product management at Northern Trust Asset Management, says the industry is embracing technology in ways other industries may be ahead on. "That is certain to drive new ways of interacting with clients and business partners," she says.
Anita Baldwin, head of sustainable investing at Hartford Funds, says, “We are in the sixth week of working remotely … and it seems to me that we were very well prepared for this new world. Specifically for me and my team, it has been very much business as usual.”
Firms that were well-prepared will have a clear advantage in crisis circumstances, says Kelly Young, EVP and CMO at Acadian: “Asset management firms that have invested not just in strong investment teams … but also in technology, communications and thought leadership to better meet client needs will ultimately come out of this crisis stronger.”
The executives also foresee changes to investment strategies.
Marty Willis, CMO at Nuveen, says, "Brands that are purpose-driven and stand for something other than profits will be more desirable to investors."
Jennifer Abate, managing director at Lazard Asset Management, concurs. The crisis, she says, "is going to force investors and allocators of capital to lead with investment solutions that go beyond the traditional style boxes."
Jessica Elengical, head of ESG strategy, alternatives at DWS, says the pandemic has increased a focus on investments with a social focus, "which, within our business, includes health and wellness, community engagement and resilience planning."
Nina Deka, senior research analyst at ROBO Global, anticipates benefits to tech investment as well. "The pandemic cast a spotlight on ... virtual health care, accelerated therapeutic discovery, factory and warehouse automation, and artificial intelligence," she says.
Perhaps most important is the human element during this extraordinary time. "I imagine a more human-centric future which will, in varying degree, allow for greater flexibility and work-life integration," says Tiffani Potesta, chief administrative officer at Schroders.
“We have seen the importance of personal connections, caring and support that define who we are, as colleagues have shared more than 500 tips on working from home, approaching home schooling and staying healthy,” notes Heather Zuckerman of Neuberger Berman. “This, plus having a robust set of benefit offerings focused on anxiety and mental health, have been critical to helping us come together and manage through in this situation.”
Monali Vora, head of customized beta strategies at Goldman Sachs, says the crisis has helped bring her team closer together. How will the crisis change asset management? “I hope that the social factors, or more specifically, employee safety, benefits and security that have been part of our stewardship and engagement focus at GSAM will increasingly become important considerations in the security selection across the industry,” she says.
The crisis, says Northern Trust Asset Management's managing director, digital investment advice, Sabrina Bailey, "highlights the need for leaders that demonstrate empathy and understanding of the feelings, emotions and needs of employees."