2019 All Stars

Greg Allen

Title: CEO and chief research officer
Firm: Callan
Assets Under Advisement: $2.5 trillion

Number of consultants at firm: 66+
Client type: Institutional

Greg Allen, CEO and chief research officer at Callan, is a 30-year veteran of the institutional consulting space. He joined Callan’s San Francisco office in 1988 as an analyst, where he focused on capital market research, asset allocation and liability analysis, and manager structure analysis, working his way through the organization over time. He says he was fortunate in starting out that way with Callan, because the firm has always viewed research as a career track rather than a stepping-stone to pure consulting.

Research serves as the foundation for Allen’s work, which has carried on through many ups and downs in the market. Allen has helped institutions manage their portfolios through the dot-com bubble, recessions, and the financial crisis. Now, he says, institutional asset management is changing again—structurally this time.

A Sea Change

“I think that the institutional investment business is going through a sea change right now. For most of my career it was a booming growth business, but a lot of factors that have led to that growth have changed. I think we’re all agreed that we’re in a consolidation mode. That creates different opportunities for firms,” Allen tells CIO.

For firms to be successful in this changing environment, they have to be willing to reinvest in the business and adapt, Allen contends. He adds that Callan shareholders have supported management as they’ve made the decision to upgrade and streamline technology over the years. The firm is currently improving internal databases to incorporate new capabilities. Allen says that continuing to make these investments has helped Callan attract new talent and retain business.

By focusing on where the industry is headed, Allen has positioned Callan to be responsive to tectonic shifts in the allocator space as well. As defined benefit plans give way to defined contribution plans, Callan has changed its approach. “There’s not the same level of enthusiasm around hiring a new manager as there used to be,” Allen says. “Defined benefit isn’t a growth business anymore. The Defined Contribution space has brought on a lot of new business and, as they grow, there are different sources of problems and opportunities. I think the 401(k) plan continues to get better and better, which is good news for people who continue to rely on them for retirement.”

In order to capture the opportunities from the growth of defined contribution plans, Callan has created an infrastructure specifically for those plans. Allen explains that as these plans hit $1 billion or more in assets under management, plan sponsors aren’t often always prepared for what that means from an investment or administrative perspective. “We’ve put ourselves in the position to be able to provide support to our clients as they go to the next level,” he says.

Looking ahead, Allen says that he expects technology will continue to play a growing role. “Technology is one of the primary things that is responsible for the consolidation of the institutional asset management business,” he explains noting that it improves efficiency and can have a commoditizing effect on the industry. In his view, Callan has been able to capture this efficiency without sacrificing the additive role of consulting to the investment process. Firms that are able to do something similar for their corner of the industry will likely be the ones that survive, he contends. 

By Bailey McCann

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