Podcast
01 March 2021

New York Life Investment Management’s Yie-Hsin Hung on the value of new perspectives

Within reach: Conversations with leaders on the front lines of the financial services industry

01 March 2021

 

The road to leadership is different for everyone. For New York Life Investment Management’s CEO Yie-Hsin Hung, it meant overcoming some unexpected curveballs, honing in on values, and understanding why aspiration alone isn’t enough. 

Yie-Hsin Hung: If you can create an environment that feels inclusive, where people truly feel like they belong, that their voices matter, then you have a much better chance of not only arriving at a good business decision, but then as you roll it out and issues invariably arise, people feel very comfortable speaking up. 

 

I’m Tanya Ott and for the last year or so we’ve been featuring conversations with women in the financial services industry. And industry where the data show us, it’s often been hard for women to get ahead. I’ve had some really intimate conversations with women about their education, career, families, the challenges, and the triumphs. And that woman giving the speech … we’re going to hear her story today. 

Yie-Hsin Hung: So my name is Yie-Hsin Hung. 

Tanya: Yie-Hsin is the CEO of New York Life Investment Management. 

Yie-Hsin: We’re about a $400 billion, third-party, multiboutique asset manager that provides products across equities, fixed income, and alternatives around the world. 

Tanya Ott: She’s been with the company about a decade, but sometimes it surprises even her that this is where she’s ended up. 

Yie-Hsin: When I think back to the younger me, I never really envisioned that I’d be in the kind of position that I’m in. I liken my career to just taking one step after another, and with every step that I took, it opened up my eyes to what was possible and different avenues for my career. It’s just been an evolution. 

Tanya: As an undergraduate at Northwestern, which was your alma mater, you were a mechanical engineering major. I gather you spent a whole lot more time maybe in your dorm room or in the library studying than doing much else. 

Yie-Hsin: That’s true. I was really good at studying hard and getting good grades. It wasn’t really until I went to business school and then entered into finance that I became somebody who found their voice along the way. But there’s so much of the engineer in me that I still leverage today. I’ve always enjoyed solving problems. That’s what led me to study engineering and that’s what we’re doing in business, too. 

Tanya: So you graduate, you get an advanced degree in business, and then you enter the workforce. I understand that you worked at one firm that you say had a really macho culture. What did you see there? 

Yie-Hsin: It was just an environment where the firm really celebrated all the successes and wins. Every week we would get together in this big conference room and our manager would basically throw a football to the person that had the biggest win of the past week. 

Tanya: Which sounds terrifying. 

Yie-Hsin: Yes, it was terrifying because I was no good at catching a football. Like anyone, you want to earn everybody’s respect. But there was no interest on my part to have a football thrown at me. 

Tanya: How did you navigate that environment? 

Yie-Hsin: It’s interesting. It was early on in my career and I was just getting started in finance, so not knowing at all what to expect, I sort of rolled with the punches. It’s only with the benefit of hindsight that I look back and think, my goodness, that’s quite an environment to be in as a young woman. But fortunately, the industry has advanced and we’d be hard pressed to find that kind of practice happening today. 

Tanya: So you have, over your career, seen a lot of change in the industry. Could you maybe walk us through the evolution that you’ve seen when it comes, for instance, to gender equity? 

Yie-Hsin: I reflect on my own career, and financial services has been really good for me. There is much more representation of women across the board. I mean, obviously, we have a lot more work to do. And [when] it’s on the portfolio management side, you couldn’t ask for a career that is more objective in terms of how you deliver performance. On the business side, being in the asset management business we’re really helping people to achieve their ultimate aspirations with their hard-earned income over the years, to live a comfortable retirement or to really provide for their family. So that sort of connection, the greater sense of meaning, the objective criteria in the business, really resonated with women as they come into the industry itself. And we’re recognizing the tremendous value that women bring to the table. As you know, the industry and business in general is changing so quickly. It’s so valuable to have people of different perspectives, different backgrounds, really analyzing and studying the problems that we’re trying to solve and the issues that come our way. 

Tanya: You mentioned that there’s still work to be done. Tell us a little bit about what New York Life has been doing to push to develop new ways for the company’s financial advisers to serve and retain female clients in this equation. 

Yie-Hsin: Women are very involved in the financial decisions the family makes. They drive most of the consumer buying decisions. They save more, they live longer, but they are 40% less invested than their male counterparts, which just suggests that they’re really falling far short of their full financial potential. So we undertook a pretty detailed research study of women investors across this country to try to better understand what the asset and wealth management industry could do to build better relationships and help these women achieve their full potential. With those insights, we identified different segments of women investors, like “suddenly single women”—these are women that are recently divorced or widowed—married breadwinners, married contributors, and identified some of the different characteristics. With all of those insights, things like education being really important, things like women really wanting an adviser to understand the totality of their lives before they start providing advice, we then built a curriculum and set of materials and tools to help advisers reengage with their female clients. The statistic that we were saying is that 50% of women who became suddenly single tended to leave their financial adviser, which just suggested that the relationship wasn’t that strong. It’s been really gratifying work because not only are we helping our clients, which are financial advisers, expand their business, but at the same time we’re really helping a large population of women that have investable net worth. 

Tanya: How long has that been going and what kind of results have you seen? 

Yie-Hsin: We started this effort about two years ago and it’s been just phenomenal. The amount of interest and take-up has been outstanding. We even put together a dedicated group that is providing a lot of this training, a lot of speeches and talks. And it is resonating with a lot of people because of what I just said: There’s a good business rationale and we’re delivering a really good outcome. 

Tanya: I want to go back to something you said a couple of minutes ago. You talked about the importance of diverse points of view at the table. I’d love to have you maybe expand on that a little bit. 

Yie-Hsin: What I find, and this is because, in part, my career has been a lot of different positions, different roles, different functions, seemingly every two to three years, but one of the benefits of that is that in a lot of those situations, I was not the expert in the room. I was leveraging a broad group of people and their knowledge and perspectives to try to shape what is the right decision here and what direction should we take the business. And because the complexion of the clients we serve are very diverse, you’re in a much better position as a business to have that representation within the company, because you more than likely are anticipating some of the reactions you might get from your clients when you move forward. If you can create an environment that feels inclusive, where people truly feel like they belong, that their voices matter, then you have a much better chance of not only arriving at a good business decision, but then as you roll it out and issues invariably arise, people feel very comfortable speaking up. That process of engaging in that conversation, feeling comfortable to have different points of view and that being welcome, I personally feel like that is a tremendous environment and puts a business in a much better position to adapt and deliver. It’s more how I approach the role that I have in almost everything that I do. 

Tanya: It sounds to me at one level, what you’re really talking about is thinking about and acting on inclusion and diversity as embedded within the organization, rather than making it a nice-to-have add-on. 

Yie-Hsin: I would agree. And when we think about embedding inclusion and diversity into the business, it first and foremost has to start at the top, where there is a belief that this is not something just on the side, that this is critical to the success of the business. It also requires tremendous intentionality. You could argue that so many businesses within financial services are just people businesses. The processes that are arguably the most important are recruiting talent, developing talent, promoting talent, and looking at those processes that support them. So, for example, on the recruiting side, we’ve always had a policy of having a diverse slate of candidates. And then more recently, based on the research we’ve seen, we’ve insisted any time there’s a candidate pool of more than six people to have at least two diverse candidates, and that’s led to much greater likelihood of extending an offer to someone who is diverse. Similarly, we try very hard to ensure that there is a diverse set of interviewers so that you try to eliminate some of the potential for unintended bias, if you will, and then also to engage in more behavioral-based interviewing rather than experiential, to try to elicit the underlying skill set. 

Tanya: As you have walked through your career, what is it that you look at to be able to assess whether or not an organization aligns with your values? 

Yie-Hsin: The values that an organization holds especially dear is really what defines their culture. Early on in my career, I really didn’t pay too much attention to that. I was more focused on what I would learn or the challenges I’d face. It really wasn’t until I joined New York Life, now 10 years ago, that I realized just how powerful it is when what the company cares about and what you care about are largely aligned. 

Tanya: Going back to the conversation we were having a moment ago about diversity: You talked about diversity at the table, and inclusion and diversity being embedded in everything that a company does. There are lots of different types of diversity. We’ve touched on gender. We’ve touched somewhat on race. There’s also LGBTQ+. There’s economic background. How do you make sure that you’re including a whole range of diversity? 

Yie-Hsin: What’s important is that we don’t necessarily just solve for one dimension of diversity; that we take the extra effort, if say we did start out on gender diversity, that we think about all the other aspects of diversity and expanding the program, maybe tweaking it somewhat so that it has a much greater impact across populations that you describe. It’s important to realize that people don’t neatly fall into just one bucket. I mean, if you take me, I am a woman, but I’m also an Asian woman. And so many people cut across a lot of these dimensions. 

Tanya: Right. The intersectionality is really often very key. I understand that you have a son who has autism. So I would imagine that neurodiversity in a business setting is something you are probably uniquely qualified to talk about. 

Yie-Hsin: It is an area that I’m very passionate about. As the mother of a child with autism—now he’s an adult—I just want for him what I think most parents want for their children, which is the ability to live a fulfilling life and to be able to contribute to the most of their ability. We are starting to embrace neurodiversity and thinking about implementing a pilot program, hopefully, when we get back into the office, where we can start to bring people on that autistic spectrum into the workforce and integrate them into the organization. It’s very important. All of these elements go a long way to creating a more just society and more inclusive environment. 

Tanya: How’s that pilot program going to work? 

Yie-Hsin:What we want to do is make sure that we have good matches between a person’s skill set and what the job requires. We are definitely training our managers and having them appreciate some of the characteristics of people on the spectrum and what level of support they need, and doing it in a way that’s really measured: try to do it on a small basis, make sure we’re learning and understanding how we get to success, and then begin to expand it over time. 

Tanya: It’s interesting you mention the support that people need when they’re on the spectrum. But I also think a lot of times people who don’t have any experience with interacting with someone who is on the spectrum don’t understand the capabilities that they bring that are really powerful. I had someone I worked with once who was on the spectrum and he was fluent in seven languages because that was something that had fascinated him from the time he was a child. And it was really, really useful from a business perspective in what we were doing. 

Yie-Hsin: Exactly, and so much of this conversation around diversity, particularly in a year like this year where there’s been such an effort and focus around social justice and the like, we’ve been holding a number of programs internally that are candid conversations, talking about race, talking about people’s experiences, and trying to create a safe environment where we each get a better understanding of where the other person is coming from and what they experience being who they are. What you’re talking about is just an extension of that. The more that we can appreciate the differences and the value that people bring, we have a much better chance of giving them a career where they can be very successful. 

Tanya: Those kinds of conversations that you have been having within your organization are not always easy to have. How’s the process been for you? 

Yie-Hsin: I would agree, it’s not. Some of these conversations and topics can feel like they belong in that sort of taboo category, if you will. But we have been focused around a lot of these conversations going on five, six, seven years. We have a team within our H.R. group that is really good at facilitating these conversations. We’ll bring in outside people to help us go through the process of learning. We’re having managers learn how to hold conversations with our teams and really bring to light any unconscious bias that people might have. One of the things that I’ve done, I started out with my extended leadership team engaging in this training, and then I asked each of them to host sessions, not necessarily just with their team members, but with other employees around the organization. As we know, sometimes, it’s one thing to learn, but it’s another thing to teach. When you can put people in a position where they really have to get in and understand it, there’s a better chance that it becomes much more internalized. 

Tanya: Sometimes having to teach it is just the thing to make you think a little bit more deeply about it and really internalize what it is, as you say. So I want to get back to the issue of gender in financial services and how sponsorship and career path play out within your organization. 

Yie-Hsin: I describe my career as having had all these different roles and responsibilities over time, and it was the perfect training for me when I became CEO of my business. That is something that I want to create with greater intentionality in our organization, making sure that we’re thinking about our talent and what areas do they need to develop their knowledge or capabilities set, and proactively finding opportunities to move people into different areas so that over the course of time they develop all these experiences that really set them up for meaningful P&L positions. There’s a lot of research that talks about women getting left behind from a promotion standpoint very early on in their careers. This effort and focus around, “How do we develop people and put them on that right track?,” goes a long way. Same thing with sponsorship. I’ve been fortunate over the years to have worked with some people that have been just incredible and opened doors for me. The very fact that I’m running an organization is because somebody gave me that chance to do it. I’ve encouraged my senior team to really think about the key people in their organizations and taking ownership for being that sponsor. It has created a different dynamic as opposed to it being something that maybe we look at promotion time. Instead, it becomes a much more regular dialog focused on our talent and having greater accountability with the senior team thinking about what’s right for the people that they think are the high potentials in their organization. 

Tanya: How do the sorts of roles that women usually have in this industry affect their path to the C-suite? 

Yie-Hsin: It’s a good question. Deloitte has put out some really great research on this, where the typical profile of a CEO is somebody who’s running a line of business or they might have been in finance because they understand the P&L or were in operations and had day-to-day business responsibility. Yet at the same time, when you look at where a lot of women are, they might be in marketing or in H.R. and maybe to a lesser extent in finance. So their track isn’t necessarily lining up with those that are ending up with these more significant business leadership roles. And those experiences are fantastic, but how do we also round that out for women so that they get those different perspectives and are much more ready to take on that P&L role, so that when that next leadership position opens up, they’re well positioned. 

Tanya: So how do you change that? 

Yie-Hsin: It’s not enough to just have an aspiration. You have to start to think about what does success look like and how do you measure success, and then have an honest assessment of where you are today, and then building the set of programs and initiatives that will make meaningful progress toward achieving your ultimate outcome that you want to see. 

Tanya: What do you hope the conversation around gender equity in financial services is going to look like in, say, 10, 20, 30 years from now? 

Yie-Hsin: I had seen research that suggested that today female executives represent something like 22% of financial services executives and that’s projected to go up by something like 9% or 10% in the next decade. I would love to see us continue on that trajectory, so that in 30 years time we’ll basically have reached gender parity, and the nature of the conversation like we’re having today will not be as much focused on that. I suppose if I work backwards from there, would hope that in 20 years, our definitions and qualities of leadership will be much more gender neutral than maybe it is today. And then, I guess in 10 years time, what I’d like for us as an industry is to really make ourselves much more approachable, create much better linkages between the real good that we do and the meaning and purpose that can be derived in a career in financial services, and make our businesses much more attractive to young women as they consider where they want to have a career. 

Tanya: Thank you so much for your time. 

Yie-Hsin: I enjoyed it.

Tanya: Yie-Hsin Hung is CEO of New York Life Investment Management. Like I said at the top of the show, this is part of a series of conversations with leaders on the front lines of the financial services industry. The road to leadership is different for everyone. For the executive vice president of Freddie Mac Multifamily, it was lessons from the softball field. The global head of operational risk and control for Citi’s Global Consumer Bank said seeing the difference between “no” and “not now” was [the] turning point for her career. The CFO of T. Rowe Price talks about overcoming the confidence gap and embracing the seven-minute rule. 

You can find those conversations and more at deloitte.com/insights

The Press Room podcast is available where you get your podcasts, online at deloitte.com/insights and on Twitter at @DeloitteInsight. I’m on Twitter at @tanyaott1. Thanks for joining us today. I’m Tanya Ott and we’ll be back here again in two weeks. 

This podcast is produced by Deloitte. The views and opinions expressed by podcast speakers and guests are solely their own and do not reflect the opinions of Deloitte. This podcast provides general information only and is not intended to constitute advice or services of any kind. For additional information about Deloitte, go to Deloitte.com/about.

Assets under management includes the assets of the investment advisors affiliated with New York Life Insurance Company. AUM beginning in 2012 excludes Assets under Administration. AUM is reported in USD. AUM that are not denominated in USD are converted using spot rates as of the reporting date. 

New York Life Investment Management LLC is an indirect wholly-owned subsidiary of New York Life Insurance Company and a wholly-owned subsidiary of New York Life Investment Management Holdings LLC.

 

Cover image by: Nicole Xu

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