Women in Leadership Profiles

Nisha Patel Gets Uncomfortable to Get Ahead

Nisha Patel is a Director at Parametric Portfolio Associates, an affiliate of Eaton Vance. She is based in New York. Since joining the firm as a portfolio manager in 2006, her star has steadily risen.

“I’ve been given great opportunities to take on new responsibilities as our team has grown within the firm,” she says. “A good deal of my career growth came from being willing to go outside my comfort zone.” Her work puts Nisha in front of clients all the time, affording a visible, pivotal role in the business.

Q: What is your current role at Parametric, and for the less experienced readers, can you briefly explain your business?

A: Parametric is headquartered in Seattle and is a leading provider of customized, separately managed accounts with over $300 billion under management. It is an affiliate of Eaton Vance, a global investment management company headquartered in Boston. We invest individual or institutional assets on their behalf, offering a wide variety of strategies and wealth management solutions across various markets.

I am a portfolio manager on the Fixed Income team, where I help oversee about $40 billion in municipal bond investments. Municipal bonds are bonds or debt issued by states, cities, towns, and public entities to fund various projects, for example to build or renovate schools and roads. The value in “muni” bonds, as they’re called, is that they’re not federally taxable, and they can be state tax exempt in most cases when a client buys muni bonds from their tax state. This asset class appeals to those in higher tax brackets as a tax avoidance strategy.

A lot of my day-to-day work is on the client servicing side and in constructing individual portfolios. A majority of the assets under my team’s management are in separately managed accounts, so we can really cater to our clients.  We customize portfolios based on all kinds of criteria—the maturity range, credit risk, state exposure, and so forth—and then establish those individual buy/sell decisions and look to maximize the return for our clients within that framework.

Muni bonds are generally a more conservative asset class, compared to equities, for example. The general thinking is that since bonds are fixed-income debt, the market is less harried than the stock market. In fact, fixed income like muni bonds is a diversifier against equity—we hedge risk on the other side of the equity market. Generally speaking, it’s considered to be low-risk and high quality. Occasionally, there are cities that declare bankruptcy, like Detroit, but that’s not very common. Detroit had serious issues related to unfunded pension liabilities. We have credit analysts who look very closely at these things, and they internally rate everything we buy before we put it into client portfolios.

Feeling at Home in the Financial World

Q: What attracted you to the finance industry?

A: I’m the first of three kids in the family, and I always helped my parents, who were entrepreneurs. I understood the small business environment, and I knew business was something I would enjoy—that’s why I concentrated in accounting and finance. I graduated from Boston University in 2005 and spent about 16 months at Bloomberg before joining Eaton Vance in 2006.

Q: What is the most rewarding part of your current job?

A: I like working with various groups and types of people within and outside the firm—learning about people’s needs and how I can help them feel confident in our solutions. It’s rewarding to win the assets, manage the assets, and meet the client’s objectives. The people aspect has been very rewarding—there are clients I’ve had for 10 years. It’s important for them to feel comfortable with the person to whom they’re turning over their money.

Staying Competitive and Seizing Opportunities

Q: What are some current issues facing the financial services industry today, and how are you approaching those challenges?

A: The overall asset management industry has evolved, especially in the last decade, due to new regulations and a changing market. Before Detroit, investors purchased muni bonds directly, and there had been a lot of complacency. But Detroit changed all that, and now individual investors come to us because we can do the research for them. Our team publishes a monthly insight newsletter for our clients explaining trends we’ve seen in the market and what’s on the horizon. We consider ourselves to be thought leaders in the industry—we try to be proactive. And, as in many other industries, our success is related to continuing to be competitive, offering high-quality products, and making the investment and client service process as efficient as possible.

Q: What is the best career advice you ever received?

A: The best career advice I received came probably two years into my current job. A woman in the industry told me, if you’re presented with a new opportunity or you see something that looks interesting—just go for it. Don’t think twice. I attribute a lot of my career advancement to grabbing opportunities. This is particularly good advice for women, because we have a tendency to hesitate, to go through a checklist before seizing an opportunity because we’re afraid of failure. But men tend to raise their hands without a thought—even though most of the time they’re no more, and probably less, prepared than we are!

Q: What’s your personal superpower?

A: My superpower is that I’m able to work with all different types of people—I can easily adapt to all kinds of situations. I have the ability to connect and make people comfortable.

When you’re a woman in a male-dominated industry, you can be pushed outside your comfort zone all the time, so I think this is an incredible power to have.

I might need to adapt a conversation, change the narrative, or manage how I’m perceived. It’s all about making sure the people sitting across from you feel comfortable.

Read our Women of Leadership Profiles to meet more inspiring women.

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