AllianceBernstein takes Fund Manager of the Year mantle

AllianceBernstein (AB) has been crowned this year’s Fund Manager of the Year at the Money Management Fund Manager of the Year Awards, taking the title from Legg Mason, who held a two-year reign in top spot. 

The win may come as no surprise to AB given three of its funds were nominated for categories at this year’s awards ceremony, and two won. AB’s stock-picking expertise saw its AB Managed Volatility Equities fund and its AB Concentrated Global Growth Equities Portfolio take out the Australian Equities and Separately Managed Accounts (SMAs) categories respectively this year.

Libby Newman, executive director, Lonsec Research said with award nominations getting more competitive each year, and 2019 no exception, AB’s results were commendable. 

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“Securing one nomination should be applauded but to receive more than one and then win those categories represents an excellent result,” she said. 

It’s the first time the fund manager, which manages around US$547 billion globally across all offerings, has had an overall win, and when asked what the firm’s successes could be attributed to, its marketing and communications director, Roger Hogan, simply put it down to research, a client-focused attitude, and investment performance. 

The win has come at a time when the firm has truly established its presence in Australia, with five investment vehicles currently on offer to the Aussie retail market across equities, fixed income, and SMAs, and four on offer to the Aussie institutional market across equities, fixed income, alternatives and multi-asset strategies. 

Australian chief executive officer, Jen Driscoll, attributed the nominations and successes of AB’s funds to listening to the needs of the Australian market. 

“We believe that, to compete effectively, we need to listen carefully to the market, to understand investors’ challenges and needs, and to do what we can to help them find solutions to their challenges,” she said.

Newman said that while AB experienced a rough period in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, it was their commitment to rebranding themselves which resulted in the creation of new products that stood out.

“They had to think creatively and innovate to regain lost ground as well as demonstrate a commitment to the Australian marketplace – as evidenced by regular visits to Australia from key investors and quality thought leadership,” she said. 

“The Lonsec team observed that this commitment has also resulted in products which tend to stand out for their ability to harness global expertise for the Australian marketplace.”

Newman said some of the funds which held greatest appeal were a little “out of the box”, citing the firm’s managed volatility and global equity SMA, but she said they were also responsive to feedback around keen pricing and value for money. 

An example of this, according to Driscoll, was AB lowering the fees of the AB Dynamic Global Fixed Income Fund as the AB Global Equities Fund in response to client feedback. 

Given AB’s stock selection saw it nab two awards, it’s fitting that the firm’s main differentiator is, in fact, its research capabilities. 

“We were early leaders in the complementary use of quantitative and fundamental research techniques, and our research platform is genuinely global, with research teams in several locations around the world, rather than based in NY or London (for example) and analysing global data from there,” Hogan said. 

Hogan explained the firm’s investment teams use quantitative analysis to identify potentially interesting stocks, after which the fundamental analysts drill down and decide which of the stocks could be potential portfolio candidates to ensure breadth and depth in the search for risk and return opportunities.

“The processes are exhaustive and constantly reviewed,” he said. “One result of the platform restructure post 2008 is that our global analysts now talk to each other across investment sectors, countries and asset categories, resulting in genuinely global and highly differentiated research insights.”

Client focus is also a key differentiating factor of AB, with the firm striving to work closely with clients to identify their real needs, and then develop appropriate solutions with that rather than contriving products at the back-end and taking them to market. 

Driscoll said an example of this was the winning AB Managed Volatility Equities Fund, which actually evolved out of discussions between the firm’s Australian equities team and an Australian superannuation fund that wanted to “smooth the ride” for its members during times of market volatility. 

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