Emily Bennett – Jackson National Asset Management LLC
Whether its discovering boutique wineries in California’s Napa Valley or vetting mutual fund disclosures, “purpose” is the word Emily Bennett bears in mind.
As assistant vice president and deputy general counsel for Jackson National Asset Management LLC, Bennett’s purpose there is helping the company provide retirement solutions.
“It’s important to me to know our work makes a difference in others’ lives,” Bennett says. “Jackson is purpose driven to help people feel secure in retirement and is also committed to investing in communities where associates live and work through volunteering, board service and monetary giving.”
She adds: “I feel like I’m making a difference.”
Building financial foundations
Founded in its namesake Michigan town in 1961, Jackson is comprised of Jackson National Life Insurance Co., Jackson National Life Insurance Co. of New York, PPM America Inc. and Jackson National Asset Management LLC. Bennett is part of the JNAM legal team of nine and oversees a staff of three in the firm’s Chicago office.
“I think of my role in four areas when it comes to supporting the company’s initiatives—regulatory filings, working with the board of directors, contract renewals and negotiations, and compliance with SEC rules and regulations,” Bennett says. “The key ingredients to our success are collaboration and teamwork.”
It’s a big workload. JNAM manages assets of more than $264 billion distributed through more than 130 mutual funds used by Jackson’s annuity platform. Those annuities, which provide payouts to investors can be a crucial component of retirement income.
As the investment adviser to the mutual funds, JNAM continually assesses its funds and external managers as well as identifying opportunities and new ideas within the lineup, Bennet says.
Bennett and the legal team also review new initiatives, including whether they require board approval and a proxy vote by shareholders before they can be implemented. When preparing SEC filings and board materials, she also works with lawyers from the firm of Ropes & Gray LLP, who serve as counsel to the mutual funds and the independent directors of those funds.
“The relationship with Ropes & Gray, as well as our other strategic partners, is also one of teamwork and collaboration,” Bennett says.
Because JNAM also hires asset managers on yearly contracts, Bennett’s also in charge of the renewal process. It’s an effort that involves almost every team at JNAM and includes more interaction with outside counsel, as well as board presentations to approve the contracts, she says.
Having recently completed an Elevating Women in Leadership program at Jackson, Bennett says she’s gained more insight into herself, both professionally and personally.
“The diversity of ideas drives creative solutions. It’s great to be a subject-matter expert, but just because you don’t know everything doesn’t mean you can’t contribute,” she says. “Don’t be afraid to speak up, it can spur new dialogues. Finding a voice is the most important thing.”
Though the COVID-19 pandemic has limited how Bennett can volunteer in person, she continues to support the Jackson Charitable Foundation financially, as well as local food banks and charities.
Bennett says she became a lawyer because she has never backed down from a challenge. But the path was not always so clear for the native of South Beloit, Illinois.
While in high school, she participated in an Upward Bound program, which supports students preparing for college. While providing opportunities for her higher education pursuits, the program also provided mentoring and cultural enrichment opportunities. At that time, she didn’t know she would be a lawyer, but she knew she wanted to work at a company that helped others achieve their life goals.
Bennett earned her bachelor’s in sociology from Beloit College and her J.D. from Western Michigan University Cooley Law School while making the dean’s list and serving as managing editor of the law review. She had a particular interest in contracts, securities and tax law.
“It really aligned in law school. I was looking at working in estate planning and probate law to make sure people have a life plan before they need it,” she says. While in law school and then studying for the Michigan Bar (and awaiting the test results), Bennett worked for a private law firm and as a legal specialist at the Michigan Public Health Institute.
Before joining Jackson full-time in 2011 as an attorney, Bennett was also a field staff worker there supporting its Go Green paperless initiative.
“In the big picture, the foundation was there all along,” she says. “While I had no idea I would end up where I did, it has been a natural progression.”
In 2013, she was promoted to senior attorney, then associate general counsel in February 2016. She became assistant vice president in February 2018 and deputy general counsel in August 2021.
“I love what I do and see challenges as opportunities. And I sleep well at night knowing the work we do has purpose and positively impacts the lives of others,” Bennett says.
View this feature in the Vanguard Fall IV 2021 Edition here.
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