AllianceBernstein (AB) President and CEO Seth Bernstein, a 40-year veteran of the asset management industry, recognizes the importance of being a strong steward for AB’s people, clients, and surrounding communities. He believes in diversity of thought as strategic competitive advantage and sees this as a catalyst to achieving a greater understanding of client needs and an inclusive workplace that attracts top talent.
Read on to learn more about Seth’s perspective on the trends he believes will strengthen the case for lifetime income products, the value he places on diverse perspectives, and his personal recommendations for your next visit to AB’s hometown of Nashville, Tennessee.
You joined AllianceBernstein as President and CEO in 2017. During that time, what about AllianceBernstein’s culture and way of working have you seen evolve that sets up the organization for long-term success and what foundational qualities remain the same?
For more than 50 years, AllianceBernstein has approached its business with a profound sense of our fiduciary duty to our clients, and our people continue to exhibit an acute passion for knowledge and curiosity. Our firm’s purpose and values remain at the center of our business – from our analytical rigor and solutions-based orientation to our client centricity. We seek to pursue new insights and unlock opportunities, which has led the firm to evolve in new directions and expand our current capabilities.
AB has launched new strategies in the private alternatives space, we’re growing our onshore business in China, and we’re seeking opportunities in insurance to ensure we are continually addressing client concerns and helping them achieve their goals. The insights we use to unlock these opportunities are not just about financial returns; it drives us to look at the bigger picture for our clients in order to help them achieve their goals.
What are the core leadership values that you strive to live out each day? How has your leadership approach changed across your career?
Throughout my career, I have always made a conscious effort to surround myself with people who have a different perspective than my own, as I believe it makes for a more exciting work environment. In my experience, the best ideas are generated when you have a variety of perspectives in one room working toward a common end goal. I find that it is important to be open and accessible, to listen when people come to me. I learn a lot from these conversations.
Given our expansion into new areas across the globe, I can’t help but acknowledge AB’s ability to work together across time zones and geographies – and do it well. AB’s global presence has provided me with an opportunity to change my perspective on locations and recognize that companies can succeed when their employees are located in multiple locations. We find good people in many locations, and we need to keep going to where the talent is located.
How does AllianceBernstein approach diversity, equity and inclusion?
Diversity, equity, and inclusion has long been an important part of AllianceBernstein’s DNA. We aim to create an environment that is open and inclusive for all employees, where colleagues have open and honest conversations about tough topics. When hiring, we seek to ensure we are identifying the highest caliber talent and recognize the importance diversity of thought can play in providing better outcomes for our clients. It’s important we also recognize that people are motivated differently; what resonated with someone 20 years ago probably will not resonate with emerging talent today. As a result, we are continuing to build a deep, broad bench of talent that will bring differing perspectives and skill sets to the table.
You are a 40-year veteran of this industry with deep relationships across all sectors of the business. What strategies do you use to foster those relationships and what tips do you recommend for more junior staff who want to build and sustain a strong network of thought partners during their careers?
I’ve had the opportunity to create and foster relationships with people in the industry throughout my career, starting in college up until now as President and CEO of AB. Taking the time to learn about the people you work with and getting to know their stories is invaluable. Learning about those around you builds a camaraderie that allows you to enjoy your time working together.
Whether I’m speaking with our associates or meeting with an up-and-coming college graduate, I always emphasize the importance of being willing to put yourself out there. Don’t be afraid to put your hand up and ask questions when learning about the business and what motivates people. It shows a willingness to learn, to get to know your colleagues while building credibility.
What trends are you seeing that strengthen the case for annuities and other lifetime income products as an attractive option for US consumers in the years ahead?
Higher interest rates as well as an aging society. Ultimately, a large component of the population will only feel comfortable in retirement with the assurance of income that annuities provide. As an industry, we need to work harder to integrate annuities into defined contribution plans and other forms of savings vehicles.
For example, let’s think about target date funds that are not so conservatively allocated when someone is aged 63-65. Target date funds rebalance into more conservative investments over time and by the time you retire, your target date funds typically do not have enough equity exposure to provide the level of returns most retirees will need over time to fund their retirement needs.
IRI will hold its 2024 Annual Conference in Nashville in early April, and we are grateful to be hosted at AllianceBernstein’s offices in Nashville for our board of directors meeting as part of the week’s events. Being a new resident to Nashville yourself, what are some of your favorite local spots that IRI’s guests should be sure to check out?
We are looking forward to hosting IRI for their 2024 Annual Conference at our Nashville HQ. Nashville has no shortage of fantastic food, live music, and vibrant entertainment options. If you’re looking to unwind after a day of meetings, The River House, Emmy Squared or Audrey are wonderful spots for dinner. To learn about the history of country music and Nashville, I would recommend taking a tour of the Ryman Auditorium – conveniently located right next to our offices downtown.