Individuals — raise our daughters to be financially independent and unapologetic about achieving professional success. Companies — encourage more young women to pursue careers in sales and other roles directly tied to revenue and profit. Society — eliminate the stigma of being a working mother and expect ALL parents to equally share the responsibilities of raising children and managing a household.
As a part of my series about strong female finance leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lisa Stone. Lisa Stone is a Principal and Financial Advisor in the Senior Investment Advisor Group in Bernstein’s New York office. She works with high-net-worth individuals and families, trusts, estates, foundations and pensions, thoughtfully guiding each client in developing a long-term investment plan, in light of their objectives. Lisa is also expert in advising on the issues associated with concentrated stock positions and strategies to maximize after-tax returns. While she advises a broad range of clients — from corporate executives to private business owners to successful public figures — she is particularly experienced working with women. Prior to joining Bernstein in 2004, Lisa held key management positions in the financial technology industry, most recently as sales manager at Misys Wholesale Banking Systems (formerly known as IQ Financial Systems); and from 1991 to 1999, she served as sales director at Inventure America (formerly known as Astrogamma). Lisa received a BA from Smith College, graduating magna cum laude. She holds board positions with The Armory Track & Field Foundation and The Rockefeller University Committee on Trust and Estate Gift Plans and serves as the co-head of the New York chapter of Ellevate (formerly known as 85 Broads), a global women’s networking organization. She is an avid runner and has successfully completed 37 full marathons and four 50-mile ultra-marathons. Lisa lives in Manhattan where she raised her two young adult children.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Banking/Finance field?
As an African American Studies major at Smith College, the absolute furthest thing from my mind was to enter the field of banking/finance. A leg-shattering car accident followed by a year abroad in Sierra Leone fundamentally changed my perspective and propelled me to approach life with a zeal for helping others, solving problems and overcoming adversity. My 28+ years of experience in financial markets began at a start-up where I learned to be independent and figure things out for myself. Then 15 years ago, I was recruited by Bernstein where I have the dream job that I wouldn’t have been able to realize if unwilling to take on the risk of a new challenge.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far?
I feel blessed to say that I think I have had more interesting and amusing experiences every day of my working life than most people have in their entire career. One of my favorite stories took place early in my first job out of college. I was working as a sales assistant at a “fintech” start-up that published a foreign-exchange options pricing system called “FENICS”. I supported our head of sales who was embarking on a business trip to Europe and tasked me with scheduling meetings with all the local banks. I wrote a beautiful letter introducing our product and of course ran spell-check before printing 50+ copies to mail. The only problem was that I accidentally hit “replace all” and all occurrences of the product name “FENICS” was replaced with “FECES”. I didn’t discover this mistake until letters started getting returned with the offending word circled in red.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes! I am always juggling several exciting new projects.
I have proudly served as a Member of the Board of Directors of The Armory Foundation since 2010. Based in Washington Heights, The Armory is dedicated to serving youth by promoting fitness and education through a broad range of athletic, educational, and community programs. Our flagship Armory College Prep High School Program provides college prep and academic counseling services to hundreds of under-resourced, New York City public high school students. I also serve on AB’s Private Wealth Management Diversity Champions Council. I have been working on developing a partnership between AB and the Armory that would include an internship program for the wonderful students of Armory College Prep. This would help our students learn about our firm and the many possible career paths in financial services and hopefully result in a pipeline of diverse candidates to join AB after graduating from college.
Philanthropy has always been a focus of my practice at Bernstein and in the last several years I have had the pleasure of working with several significant families on designing a plan to accomplish their charitable goals in the most efficient and effective manner possible.
I am passionate about empowering recent divorcees and widows to take ownership of their financial lives. Many of these women have never been involved with their family’s finances and investments and have enormous insecurity, anxiety, and shame about their lack of knowledge. I take a lot of satisfaction in bringing them up-to-speed and being a part of their transformation as they embark on an exciting new chapter in their lives.
Considering the current investment landscape and our expectations for lower returns for the foreseeable future, I have focused a lot of energy into making sure my clients have an appropriate allocation to alternative investments. While alternatives are certainly not right for everyone, it is important to me that my clients fully understand the pros and cons and are able to make an informed decision.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Without doubt, it is our culture of rigorous research and commitment to ALWAYS act in the best interest of our clients. There have been a few times during my years at Bernstein where I became aware of a mistake we made that the client would have never noticed. In every case, the firm fully supported me making the client aware of the issue and fully reimbursing them for every penny they lost as a result. I am friendly with a few lawyers that have served as outside council to AB and they have all insisted that we treat our clients with more integrity than any competitor they have worked with.
Wall Street and Finance used to be an “all-white boys’ club”. This has changed a lot recently. In your opinion, what caused this change?
I actually disagree with the premise that this has changed a lot recently. According to Catalyst, among the top 20 global financial services firms, women accounted for 18% of executive committees, up from only 13% in 2014. The statistics are much worse for women of color. I hardly think that this is cause for celebration.
Having said that, I have been blessed to enjoy an incredible career in financial services and have felt valued and supported by all the firms I have worked for. I do believe that there is a sea-change taking place resulting from a renewed emphasis on diversity and inclusion in the workplace, coupled with the power of the “#MeToo” movement. Whether the workplace is changing because clients and employees are demanding it or because it’s the right thing to do, doesn’t really matter, as long as things change.
Of course, despite the progress, we still have a lot more work to do to achieve parity. According to this report on CNBC, less than 17 percent of senior positions in investment banks are held by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a) individuals b) companies and/or c) society to support this movement going forward?
a) Individuals — raise our daughters to be financially independent and unapologetic about achieving professional success
b) Companies — encourage more young women to pursue careers in sales and other roles directly tied to revenue and profit
c) Society — eliminate the stigma of being a working mother and expect ALL parents to equally share the responsibilities of raising children and managing a household
You are a “finance insider”. If you had to advise your adult child about 5 non-intuitive things one should do to become more financially literate, what would you say? Can you please give a story or example for each.
1. Buy low/sell high — this might sound like obvious investment advice, but unfortunately, we are hardwired as investors to do the exact opposite.
2. Start early and invest often — the magic of compounding is real and sooner we start investing for the future, the better the likelihood of success. Plus, it a great habit to develop.
3. Maximize retirement contributions — retirement is normally the last thing on young people’s minds, but you wouldn’t walk by a $100 bill on the sidewalk and you shouldn’t walk by “free money” in the form of tax-deferred growth and employer matches.
4. Ignore day-to-day volatility and headlines, it’s just noise and ultimately the market goes up (or we all have much bigger problems). It’s human nature to want to take action in the face of fear and anxiety, but when it comes to investing, often doing nothing is the best course of action.
5. Ultimately fundamentals drive the market. Young people are often advised to invest in what they know and believe in, but the latest hot stock is not always a good investment. Just because a company is a good corporate citizen or has a great idea, does not necessarily mean that it is well run, fairly valued, or will ever be a good investment.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I am incredibly grateful to many of the people that I have had the privilege of working with throughout my career. This includes managers, mentors, peers, and the wonderful people who have helped me support my clients. Following my first interview at Bernstein, the gentleman who ultimately hired me suggested that I go home and “think about whether the job was a good fit for me.” As soon as I got home, I called him to thank him for his time, but to inform him that I did not think it was a good fit. I hung up and assumed that was the end of the story, but 20 minutes later he called me back to tell me that he disagreed and thought it was perfect for me. I was taken aback, but he saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. Here I am 15+ years later and this is my dream job!
I also feel as if I won the jackpot with Len Hersh, who has been my Managing Director for many years. He has taught me so much about being a leader. He acts as if he works for me and his other reports and works tirelessly to advocate for me and my clients, negotiate internal politics, and perhaps most importantly, he always makes himself available to share a good laugh. I don’t think it’s possible to be successful in our business without maintaining a healthy sense of humor.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth” — Mike Tyson; and/or:
“You can recover from pain. You can’t recover from quitting” — Tylenol Ad related to the NYC Marathon
Like most people, I have experienced my fair share of adversity (from a serious car accident which side-lined my running career for years, to surviving 9/11, but losing many friends and colleagues, to enduring a difficult painful divorce and subsequently raising two kids as a single parent), but quitting has never been an option for me. The beautiful thing about conquering life’s challenges head-on is that each victory builds upon the one before and forms the basis of authentic confidence.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I am currently obsessed with a Ted Talk my daughter shared with me called “How AI Can Save Our Humanity” by Kai-Fu Lee. The basic gist is that artificial intelligence is transforming the world by eliminating many routine jobs, which is often thought of in negative terms, but the one thing AI cannot do is love. The thesis is that society can leverage these new efficiencies to harness empathy, compassion, and creativity by channeling more resources to pay caregivers, educators, medical professionals, and others better wages which would greatly benefit all of humanity. Yes, the idea is a bit idealistic, but I can’t stop thinking about the potential to create profound transformation for our society and humanity.
Thank you for all these great insights!