2023 Knowledge Brokers

Bill Ryan

As a Partner at NEPC, an independent investment consultant, private wealth adviser, and outsourced chief investment officer provider, Bill Ryan leads the firm’s Defined Contribution (DC) Practice as the Head of DC Solutions. His role is to oversee more than 140 DC clients NEPC serves. Ryan helps plan sponsors address today’s increasingly complicated challenges, from governance model support and operational risk management, to using plan data more effectively to inform plan design.

Ryan is currently an Operating and Executive Committee member for the DC Institutional Investment Association (DCIIA), helping to lead the forward direction of this very important retirement advocacy industry group. In addition, he is a member of PSCA’s Investment Committee as well as a member of NAGDCA.

Before he was a consultant, he was a plan sponsor. As a Director within the University of California Regents’ Office of the Chief Investment Officer, Ryan was responsible for overseeing UC’s $20 billion DC program’s investments. As a consultant, prior to joining NEPC, he served as the Head of Aon’s North America DC Multi-Asset Solutions, where he advised 21 of Pensions & Investments’ (P&I) top 100 DC plan sponsors and was entrusted with more than $800 billion in retirement savings for 60 million participants. He also led other teams, including Aon’s Custom DC Solutions Team, which was responsible for over $500 billion of bespoke solutions.

Ryan also received a 2012 Eddy Award from P&I, was named a 2014 DC Innovator Finalist by CIO, was named a 2013 Plan Sponsor of the Year Finalist by PLANSPONSOR magazine and was named a Power Broker in Employee Benefits by Risk & Insurance Magazine in 2020.

CIO: What do you think will be the biggest innovation in your industry in the next 10 years?

Ryan: Like so many industries, generative artificial intelligence (GAI) will transform our industry in the years to come. While the technology has existed for some time, tools like Chat GPT are now being embraced to help streamline day-to-day processes and allow for more brainstorming and collaboration on strategic problem-solving.

For example, the use of GAI within DC plan investment solutions will allow for the more traditional static implementation of asset allocation via a target-date fund to become dynamic and truly personalized through its self-learning. This will in turn provide new actionable communication channels between consultants and plan sponsors and, potentially allowing them to address nuances around a participant’s investment objectives directly. In my view, it will be crucial to outline exactly how these tools can and should be used, particularly given the heavy regulation of our industry.

CIO: What (actionable thing) have you learned over the course of your career that has proven itself this year?

Ryan: Throughout my career, I’ve learned a lot about the importance of having patience and showing grace in the face of change. These attributes serve me well in the current marketplace as so many of my clients face the ever-present—and unpredictable—threat of DC class-action litigation plus a regulatory framework that ebbs and flows with the political climate. Being comfortable with uncertainty and the many things we simply cannot control allows me to maintain focus on the end result for plan participants who put their trust and retirement savings into the hands of plan sponsors and their consultants, who are entrusted to design and offer investment solutions that can stand the test of time.

Thinking about this in practice, we have been simplifying our client’s focus on things that are moving the needle on net-of-fee performance, like lowering managed accounts fees by more than 50% and unbuckling the long-established theme of needing to be symmetric in how we offer active and passive within an investment lineup. Addressing these two items head-on can be very uncomfortable since they challenge the status quo, but it’s important to maintain patience and grace in the face of pushback because these changes are in the long-term best interest of American workers trying to provide for their families and live comfortably in retirement.

CIO: What investments (specific securities or sectors) look good to you now? And why?

Ryan: Looking at the current market and factoring in the Federal Reserve continuing to hike interest rates, we’re working with clients to focus on opportunistic asset classes that have been heavily affected by changes in interest rates, such as fixed income and insurance products. After more than a decade of discount rates being nonexistent, we are seeing the value of income-yielding investments as well as fixed annuities increasing as participants can now get a true future value for a dollar invested today, compared to the past 10 years when rates were nearly zero.

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