Shana Sissel, Director of Investment Due Diligence & Senior Portfolio Manager @ Orion Advisor Solutions

     

Shana Sissel is Director of Investment Due Diligence & Senior Portfolio Manager at Orion Advisor Solutions. She is primarily focused on high net worth clients and solutions, including a variety of focused equity strategies and customized tax managed direct index optimization portfolios. Additionally, Ms. Sissel leads the investment due diligence efforts for the firm.

Jobs in ETFs caught up with Shana around the Inside ETFs conference in Florida to discuss the trends that will define the future of ETFs, challenges for the ETF industry and the need to find ways that allow women to manage their careers and ambition with motherhood.

,,I truly believe that direct indexing is a huge disrupter and not just because I manage direct index portfolios. I have experienced the demand for these products first hand. Clients are happy to have a solution that feels customized to their specific investment and tax needs.”

Jobs in ETFs (JiE): From a B.S. in Sports Management to Director of Investment Due Diligence at Orion Advisor Solutions. Tell us about your career path – not the most obvious route into the financial world.

Shana Sissel (SS): When you think about what a sports management degree involves, it’s the same core curriculum as any business degree only getting sport specific as you take the more advanced courses, but definitely not the direct route into finance.

In undergraduate school, I really believed that I would be a sideline reporter for ESPN – that was my dream. I was with the New England Sports Network for a year working with some very high-profile female reporters who went on to work in places like ESPN and NFL Network. I was convinced that was what I wanted to do and was actually offered a job working in media relations for a large NFL team but the salary at the time made it virtually impossible to be able to live and work for them.

After turning that down, I worked for a staffing agency. During my time there, my firm was approached to help find financial advisors for Morgan Stanley. After a period when none of our candidates were hired, my boss asked me to go ‘undercover’ by doing an interview to see if we could determine the reason. Ironically, I was offered a job and fell into financial services!

I realized quickly that I was not cut out to be a financial advisor but I did fall in love with the financial markets and after getting a Master’s in Business Administration from Bentley University with a focus on global financial analysis I’ve built my career to get where I am today.

JiE: Biggest challenge of your career to date and how did you navigate?

SS: It was a real challenge to get into a more analytical role as my experience was in sales but I have also had to deal with being judged on my looks, often coming across the “she can’t possibly have a brain” attitude. In addition, I hadn’t gone to what was considered a top business school so I had to scrap a bit and take an unconventional path to get where I am today.

It took me a while to get into the type of role that I wanted. I looked strategically at where I wanted to be. I figured that getting into a large organization in a sales role was the best route. I joined Fidelity as an inside wholesaler –  and built relationships with people in departments that I was interested in exploring, explaining that I wanted to do more analytical work. I spent my spare time doing analytical work, taking classes that were analytical in nature and was eventually offered a role in a more analytical type of group.

JiE: Did you get any good advice along the way?

SS: One mentor really made a difference in my career – he was and still is a portfolio manager at Fidelity – at a time when I was still on the sales desk. One of the best pieces of advice that he gave me was that no matter how much you like the organization you are with, if you are not being offered the opportunity you want, don’t be afraid to look elsewhere – don’t get stuck in a role out of loyalty. I took that to heart, moved around a bit and had a variety of different roles to get to where I am today.

JiE: What are the things you work on, what are some of the challenges that you face in your role and what do you enjoy the most?

SS: My role at Orion is three pronged. First and foremost, I’m a senior Portfolio Manager on the firm’s Direct Index Product lineup, co-managed with Horatio Carias, for our high net worth clients.

I was also recently given the opportunity to build out and lead an in-house due diligence group. Our new Investment Strategies Group will be focused on doing due diligence for the investment strategies that are available through both our Orion Communities and Orion Portfolio Solutions Turnkey Asset Management Program.

In addition, I do quite a bit of media for the firm which I really enjoy. I’m very fortunate to be a member of the Women in ETFs Speakers Bureau and Press Corp. which also has led to some incredible media and speaking opportunities. I’m comfortable in front of a camera and it makes sense to have a couple of people on the team that are good at that as we continue to grow as a firm and build our brand equity.

JiE: As a woman in this industry has that had any positive or negative impact at all?

SS: Throughout my career, I have felt that male colleagues can be a little more condescending, maybe subconsciously, because I am a woman. There have also been times where I haven’t necessarily been given opportunities based on the assumption that I would not want to do certain roles because I am a wife and mother, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

On the flip side, I’ve found ways to leverage the fact that I’m a woman to build my profile and to help build awareness for my firm. Our industry has become more focused on showing diversity which opens doors for me which might not have opened any other way.

I’m passionate about improving the gender diversity in the industry and improving visibility for women in investment management. Yes, many of the opportunities for exposure that I’ve been given in the past 2 years have been because I’m a woman but I have no issue with that at all. It was a door opener but subsequent opportunities have come from the fact that I was able to provide valuable content & commentary.

JiE: How have you seen asset management change during your time in the industry and what trends will shape the future?

SS: I joined the industry in 2001 so I have seen the tech bubble bursting, 9/11, Afghanistan, the Iraq War and the financial crisis. I saw the industry excesses, firms getting in trouble for outlandish behavior with gifts & entertainment. I’ve seen the fallout from the financial crisis, the pressure on fees, competitiveness and the evolution of different types of vehicles and options out there for investors.

There have been significant events that led to changes in the industry, but where the industry has evolved the most is through the impact of technology. I think that the industry as a whole will start to see that shifting more in terms of how technology improves efficiency and ways that we can serve our clients.

JiE: What trends do you think are going to define the next few years in the ETF space?

SS: I see three key elements influencing the future of ETFs – direct indexing, continued fee pressure due to regulatory and technology innovation, and non-transparent active ETFs.

I truly believe that direct indexing is a huge disrupter and not just because I manage direct index portfolios. I have experienced the demand for these products first hand. Clients are happy to have a solution that feels customized to their specific investment and tax needs. I think we will continue to see tremendous growth in this area.

Low fees are going to weed out smaller players, especially those with no clear differentiation from the larger providers. On the flip side, I think fee pressure will really drive the creation of differentiated product offerings. We’re seeing some of that already with new entrants bringing groundbreaking ideas that are being implemented in ETF format.

The focus on non-transparent active is really going to change the game in terms of firms being more open to using ETFs as a vehicle for some of their actively managed products. I think we will see a lot of new products in the fixed income and liquid alternative space as a result.

JiE: What challenges do you see moving forward?

SS:

One of the top challenges will always be the regulatory environment. Investment management, whether ETFs or otherwise, always seem to be a target for greater regulatory pressure especially when there’s any sort of economic downturn as it’s easy to blame investment management or Wall Street for issues.

Part of the fee pressure is coming from the regulatory environment so how the industry evolves and deals with that is definitely a challenge.

Technology is a challenge – the more we use technology, the greater risk we have from a security standpoint. The more we tell our clients to use technology to provide us with data and information on their finances, the more we should be concerned about the security risk and the privacy of that information.

JiE: And if you had to give one piece of advice to the ETF industry, looking forward, what would that be?

SS: Being open to innovation and finding ways to create real differentiation is important for the ETF industry to avoid flows going into more innovative vehicles and products as is happening with mutual funds. ETFs have been a winner for decades now so avoiding complacency is key, as is embracing change.

JiE: If you had a superpower, how would you change the ETF industry?

SS: I would make due diligence of ETFs a real focus. Investors are not evaluating the entire landscape and they miss out on opportunities by narrowing in on the biggest or the most liquid products. I would love to push investors to look at ETF due diligence the same way they look at hedge fund due diligence or mutual fund due diligence.

JiE: You just spoke at Inside ETFs 2020 in Florida. Tell us a bit about your passion for liquid alternatives and what attendees took away from your session.

SS: Liquid alternatives are a passion of mine and an area where I have quite a bit of expertise. In the beginning of my career I worked for major, long only investment managers and was ‘brainwashed’ somewhat to think that alternatives were evil, secretive products that didn’t add value and just manipulated the markets.

When I had the opportunity to do hedge fund due diligence it was right at the onset of the financial crisis. My eyes were opened to all the pros and cons of alternatives, non-liquid alternatives in this case, but mostly I felt like they were misunderstood and had more value in portfolio construction than I had been led to believe. At the time, I started doing work on hedge fund replication. The firm I worked for was looking for ways to hedge our risk to managers that we couldn’t liquidate easily at the time. So, I was tasked with looking for ways that we could do that with options. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was doing hedge fund replication before that was a “thing”.

Right around that time (08/09) liquid alternatives became a buzzword. I leveraged my experience working in hedge fund due diligence to add tremendous value to a growing space. I focused on educating advisors and clients on how to use liquid alternatives as a diversifier. Even now, a decade later, there’s so much confusion as to what they are and how they should be used. So many investors write them off as not having value because they haven’t produced the kind of returns that pure equity has since the crisis. They simply don’t understand how they really can add value.

Our panel was designed for attendees to walk away with a better understanding of why they should be using alternatives and what the landscape of alternatives looks like in ETFs. Liquid alternatives can be hard to use in portfolios because there really aren’t a lot of options in the space. They do exist though and it’s an area that I believe will grow as people understand how to implement them in their portfolios.

JiE: Staying happy and positive at work – any secrets you can share?

SS: Being thankful for what you have is a big part of being happy. Making sure you take time for yourself and not getting too caught up in one thing – in my case work – is really important. The ability to say no sometimes is useful for your sanity. I also have very blue-collar roots and my family doesn’t let me get too full of myself when I’m succeeding. Staying humble and not getting too high or too low really helps.

JiE: You’re a mother managing a career. How do you pull it off and is it something that there needs to be more discussion about?

SS: We don’t talk enough about this. We don’t appreciate that the demands of our industry make motherhood hard. I have felt the stress and pressure myself of trying to juggle everything to advance my career and my family while at the same time being overlooked for opportunities based on the assumption that because I’m a mother I wouldn’t want to take certain roles (almost always its associated with travel). Depending on the person this may not necessarily be the case so we need to discuss it more openly.

Maternity leave and how that’s managed is something we should also discuss. Some parents want and need the time to disconnect completely and focus on family. Others may prefer to remain engaged at some level in work to avoid feeling completely disconnected when coming back. I felt disconnected when I came back. I needed the maternity leave but we work in a fast-moving industry and if you are gone for 6 – 12 weeks an entire market dislocation could happen and you’d miss it. Being able to feel engaged after having a baby, if that’s something you want, is important to discuss. If you look at the research that has been done, motherhood is the No. 1 cause of the dislocation between men and women in their careers. Whether in terms of rising to executive levels or the gender pay gap – we need to be able to find ways that allow women to manage their careers and ambition with motherhood.

I work very efficiently as a remote employee while at the same time it gives me the flexibility to be closer to my family. On this point, one of my close friends is a team leader at a large financial firm. She has been a key driver of an initiative there which introduced a roundtable forum to discuss women and motherhood. The focus of the roundtable is on how to keep mothers in the industry and keep them engaged. One of her mantras is that she does not need her team physically present at the office just to see their faces. If they are able to get the job done remotely then that should be on the table something that should not be exclusive to women as more men want to engage in child rearing, this is particularly true with millennial men.

More discussion is part of progressing and technology is certainly part of the solution too.

JiE: What is work-life balance for you and how do you achieve it?

SS: I don’t think that there is such a thing as work-life balance and anyone that thinks you can balance the two is delusional. You have to take your wins with your losses. There will be times where work is going to have to take priority. That’s something I’m dealing with right now. I’m going to spend the next 2 months traveling extensively and that takes me away from my family. There are also times that the project that I’m working on feels like a well-oiled machine and demands on my time are a little different so I can afford to spend a little more time with my family.

The one thing that I really focus on is self-care. It sounds cliché, but self-care is so important, whatever that means to you. Everyone’s definition of self-care is different and I do think you need to prioritize it no matter what. In order for you to be a good leader, a good employee or a good parent you need to take care of yourself. The only balance that I look for is to make sure that I keep myself centered and happy so that I can be good at the things that I need to do – it doesn’t have to be 50/50.

 

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