I was running late last Wednesday morning as I hurried down 44th street in Manhattan. While I jostled past the tourists walking out of their hotels, fastening their fanny-packs and securing their cameras, I wondered to myself why on Earth anyone would want to stay in this section of the city; a kaleidoscope of theatres, strip clubs and chain restaurants where a $16 cheeseburger is “today’s special” every day of the week. But as I got farther East, towards 5th Avenue, tidy neo-Georgian brick buildings emerged and began to line the streets.
The neighborhood, a long-time the home of many of New York’s more prestigious clubs, seemed to arise out of nowhere and I found myself at the front door of the vaunted Harvard Club.
I was there to attend the Life Insurance Settlement Association’s (LISA) 2nd Annual Institutional Investor Conference. It struck me as mildly incongruous that a conference based on such a relatively new financial instrument would be held in such a historic building, but that was just my mind ambling through the morning. Inside, the dark mahogany and crimson décor was dotted with Harvard memorabilia that could have entertained me for hours if I was not aching for the coffee that I knew would be served inside the conference room.
Taking my seat in the back with who I assumed were fellow journalists (based on how feverishly they were typing) but later found them to be hedge fund managers prospecting new investment opportunities, I watched the conference begin.
Darwin Bayston, Executive Director, LISA, made the opening remarks to a receptive and cheerful audience before he introduced Craig Seitel, CEO and managing member of Axis Thought Capital, LLC, a boutique investment firm focused on alternative investments. That, I quickly learned is the preferred nomenclature for life settlements; alternative investments. And that they are. Life Settlements and the companies and individuals involved with them have been trying to sell themselves as legitimate players in a legitimate marketplace and they have not had an easy time doing so.