Women in Leadership Profiles

Alison Micucci – New York Life: Calculated Risks Catapult Women’s Careers, Especially in Financial Services

Alison-MicucciAlison Micucci comes from a “small hill town” in Massachusetts with a population of about 1,500 people. As someone attracted to solving problems and tackling analytical issues, she originally aspired to become a tax attorney. While you may not immediately classify her as a risk taker—and she even describes herself as naturally risk adverse—calculated career risks ultimately catapulted her into the top ranks of New York Life.

Alison is head of New York Life Institutional Annuities, which includes the Guaranteed Products, Stable Value Investments, and Structured Settlements businesses. She also serves as the Chief Administrative Officer of the New York Life Investments Group, directly supporting New York Life’s Vice Chairman in overseeing strategy, internal communications, and project management activities. The scope of her responsibility is incredibly impressive: the Institutional Annuities business she leads generates $300 million in operating earnings for the company, her team handles $50 billion in assets under management, and she oversees around 65 employees.

While she admits her work can be difficult to describe in plain terms, the lesson is simple: you may not be familiar with financial services products now, but you can learn and land in interesting places.

How did her rural roots and love for law get her where she is today? Alison boils it down to stepping out of her comfort zone to let some level of risk in at certain points in her career.

Her first big risk came when she graduated from Western New England College School of Law in Springfield, Massachusetts, and turned down a financially-rewarding, tax law job based in her home state. Instead, she moved to New York City to work for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission as an enforcement attorney. “They throw you right in,” she explained. “You have cases right away. Working for the government quickly gives you a greater amount of responsibility, and it’s a wonderful opportunity to differentiate yourself.”

Importantly, the experience sparked her interest in securities law. It demanded the analytical problem solving that attracted her to tax, combined with the fascinating securities market. She later applied this passion in the private sector in legal, investment advisory, and compliance roles for Prudential Investments, Goldman Sachs Asset Management, and New York Life.

Her other big risk came when she was heading the legal and compliance functions for the Investments group at New York Life. Just as she was really mastering this role, her boss shared with her the head of the Guaranteed Products division in the Institutional Annuities business was retiring, and offered her this role with profit and loss responsibility. She faced a tremendous challenge in stepping outside of asset management and law, and is very thankful for the “act of sponsorship” her boss displayed in taking a chance on putting her in a business role.

Today, Alison is uniquely positioned to articulate what makes the financial services industry attractive to female professionals as one of the few women to advance to its highest ranks. Again, she eventually points to risk:

“Skills that women bring are well-suited to the industry. If you look at the data about women in asset management, they are often excellent portfolio managers and particularly thoughtful about risk. It’s a fascinating career field in which women can thrive.”

She goes on to explain that the financial services industry is unique in that it touches every aspect of the business world—from the investment side to the marketing side—and evaluates how it interacts with the broader economy and marketplace. “This creates a lot of opportunities to follow your interests,” she added.

She offers four tips for women who want to start, and advance, in financial services careers.

  1. Intern with firms to gain research and analysis experience.
  2. As simple as it sounds, consider full-time positions. There aren’t enough women applicants. Candidates with strong communications, people, and analytical skills—which women notoriously possess—are in high demand. “Those skills are fungible and harder to build, whereas it’s much easier to gain the technical knowledge on the job,” she said.
  3. Develop a reputation for high-quality work and intellectual curiosity, because you will create opportunity.
  4. Always act with integrity. “As tough as it can be, own those short-term mistakes because integrity is always the best long-term goal,” Alison said.

Despite her demanding schedule, Alison stays energized professionally and personally through prioritization. When she faces regulatory deadlines or board meetings, work takes priority. In her personal life, she consistently prioritizes things she can share with her teenage son and husband, including sports and travel. They love skiing and golfing, and they are Giants season ticket holders. Time spent with her family is all about quality, and this means focusing 100% of her attention on them when they are together.

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