In 2019, Bas NieuweWeme became the chief executive officer of Aegon Asset Management, a global firm with around $447.3 billion in assets under management. Soon after he joined, NieuweWeme got to work on streamlining the business.
Then, the Covid-19 pandemic hit.
About a year into his tenure and a month into a restructuring campaign, NieuweWeme’s original plan to globalize the active asset manager was derailed. So, as he told Institutional Investor, the firm adapted. In the past year, Aegon has retired two of its brands, eliminating some overlap between businesses.
In some ways, the new virtual world smoothed the process by forcing all of Aegon’s employees online.
Now, NieuweWeme says “all of the stars are aligned.”
A major step in the streamlining process was the implementation of a global operating platform. Late last year, the company issued a request for proposal and partnered with BlackRock’s Aladdin and Clearwater Analytics, a provider of insurance accounting and fee compression. When asked if he was worried about competition from BlackRock in the asset management space, NieuweWeme responded: “The fact they have their own asset manager — we can benefit from that.”
The next step in the firm’s grand plan was to develop a robust product development structure. NieuweWeme hired a former coworker to oversee the process, maintaining his hard-and-fast rule for building new things: “You cannot launch any product that can, the next day, be replicated,” he said. “If we launch it, can a passive provider copy and paste it?”
As the restructured Aegon continues to take shape, NieuweWeme said the company is back in the office two days a week and working on four new strategies: trade finance, private loans with insured commodity trades, debt opportunities, and a credit impact strategy.
In the debt space, the company holds a large commercial and residential real estate portfolio. According to NieuweWeme, rent payments have been steady throughout the pandemic, and within the company’s affordable housing strategy, returns didn’t drop at all.
“People have such a great deal with subsidized housing, and they don’t want to lose it,” he said. He theorized that, during a crisis, people will forfeit other bills to make rent.
The asset manager is also looking to target more insurers as limited partners. Recently, Aegon hired its first salesperson in the United States to market to external insurance companies, targeting mid- and small insurers without a proprietary asset manager as potential clients.
In the future, NieuweWeme said he sees responsible investing as another way the firm can differentiate itself. Aegon develops its own proprietary environmental, social, and governance research models and ratings. It also engages with other companies to measure ESG impact. Last year, it conducted 600 engagements with a 75 percent response rate, a 10 percent increase in responses year over year.
When NieuweWeme joined the company, he said he was impressed with the responsible investing team. Currently, that team is composed of 14 analysts.
When asked about greenwashing concerns in sustainable investing, NieuweWeme gestured toward a plastic cup on the table in front of him: “The team would be upset about this. They live and breathe [the mission]. They believe in it.”
In its staffing, the company places an emphasis on the “S” in ESG.
According to NieuweWeme, Aegon recognized a deficit of women in fixed income. In response, the company developed an internship program with a quota for female candidates and established a scholarship for high school girls interested in finance.
In January, NieuweWeme appointed Lindsay Hudson to the role of head of inclusion and diversity. Hudson created community groups within the company for employees of marginalized identities and, along with NieuweWeme, established a mandate that senior management is 33 percent female by the end of 2021. According to NieuweWeme, the company is currently at 32.8 percent.
—Alicia McElhaney contributed to this reporting.