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Steve Scanlon: Mind the Market Headwinds

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As head of the individual retirement business at Equitable, Steve Scanlon is in charge of a group that oversees about 900,000 annuity contracts and $108 billion in annuity account value.

He oversees individual retirement product distribution at the unit, product development, capital management, mergers and acquisitions, and strategic relationships.

Some of the annuities under his purview could pay benefits well into the 2060s.

Via email, we asked Scanlon a set of VIP series questions that touch both on his professional knowledge and on what he does off the clock.

ThinkAdvisor: 1. What market indicator, industry statistic, regulatory change or advisor trend are you watching most closely right now and why?

Steve Scanlon: We look closely at interest rates, volatility, and the overall market. We also overlay that with data from our customers on what they are worried about, such as having enough retirement income due to interest rates being so low; the impact of a market correction on their retirement portfolio; and taxes due to the regulatory and legislative changes that are being discussed.

2. How has it been changing recently (2021) and how do you expect it to change (2022)?

Taxes and inflation have been on the forefront of people’s minds this year. We expect that will continue going into next year. We expect inflation to be a real predator and taxes to increase. With both of those things, clients need to think about their portfolios differently.

3. What would you suggest advisors do now or consider doing in the future about it?

Advisors have always done a terrific job of understanding their clients’ needs and objectives. They are going to have to continue to look for creative ways that maybe fall outside their normal scope of business to answer some of these threats that we have from an investing and financial planning standpoint. A lot of advisors have not seen a down market yet, and it’s time to start looking for different ways to protect and grow client portfolios.

4. Who or what critical source of information do you track, or follow online, to keep up with this or other trends?

We work with a lot of investment companies that manage money for our clients inside of our products. We read a lot of their market overviews and thoughts on interest rates and volatility. We also track our portfolio performance and try to keep ahead of things our clients are telling us we should be looking at. Of course, Alliance Bernstein, majority owned by Equitable Holdings, is a terrific resource for us, and their team has helped educate our team on the latest in the capital markets.

5. Are you changing any of your work habits at this stage of the pandemic? Why/why not?

I am working to schedule breaks now. For about a year, I would be in scheduled meetings back-to-back for 12 hours a day, straight through. These breaks give more time to think strategically and reflect on bigger issues and ideas.

6. What’s your biggest hobby and what was the last event/activity you did related to it?

Like all parents, my hobbies are centered around my kids and their extracurricular activities. Recently, I spent a weekend at my son’s basketball tournament and another at a lacrosse tournament in Texas.

7. How about your latest community/charitable activity/event/cause?

I went to an event for Mother’s Refuge, an organization that helps homeless mothers get back on their feet. We had a fair amount of Equitable representation there as one of the biggest sponsors. I am going to go back with my kids to do a site visit and help out on the ground, and I expect that will become a regular part of how we support the community.

8. What book are you reading now and why?

I just finished the book Grant on the Audible app. That’s a biography on Ulysses S. Grant, and I was fascinated by it.

9. Any special holiday plan, activity or focus you’d like to share as we near year-end? Or a New Year’s Resolution that you’ve decided on?

I am blessed with a huge family, so my holidays are centered around all of us being together. My New Year’s resolutions typically involve balancing my home and work life. I try to add more things that I can do at home with my family. This year, my kids and I focused on cooking more meals together.

Overall, I tend to take things day-by-day. In this role, everyone gets worried on Jan. 2 about hitting our business goals at the end of the year. I always say do your best every day, and then you don’t need to worry about Dec. 31.

10. Any other update/fact about you or piece of advice/wisdom you’d like to share with our advisor audience?

I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to be in a lot of areas as a leader in the broader wealth management industry, including running a division of the Bernstein Private Client business.

The advice I’d share for advisors is that, if you haven’t looked at protected growth strategies in a long time, it has never been a better time to do that, given the major headwinds in the market right now. If it’s been a while, a little investment in time to look into the latest solutions might surprise you.