Tech Into Nashville – Karl Sprules and Robert McWilliams – AllianceBernstein

Alliance Burnstein, Rob and Karl , TechIntoNashville
Alliance Burnstein, Rob and Karl , TechIntoNashville

Technology can produce boundless wealth. It can also help manage the wealth created by other industries.

Helping to manage and grow the wealth of its clients, AllianceBernstein (AB) provides diversified investment management services worldwide to institutional, high-net-worth, and retail investors. The powerhouse investment services provided by AB include equities, fixed income, multi-asset, and alternatives. Outside of these services, AB also provides independent investment research, trading, and brokerage-related services to institutional clients through Bernstein Research Services. 

AB, which relocated from New York City to Nashville in 2018, set up shop at  Fifth and Broadway—a prized office location that includes panoramic views of downtown, Midtown, the Gulch, and even East Nashville. This view has become a treat for the 1,250 tech employees on the AB payroll.

With a panoramic view came an alignment to Nashville’s values as a tech hub. Calling Music City home gave the company a new sense of purpose, while at the same time never losing sight of its history as a global asset manager. AB wants to be a leading example of what a local fintech company should be. 

AB has stayed active in the city’s tech scene since arriving in Nashville by getting involved in the Greater Nashville Technology Council’s many projects to create a stronger technology sector in Tennessee. AB is also a proud sponsor of the nonprofit Nashville Software School, which teaches tech career fundamentals. 

Nashville Talent Creating Worldwide Wealth

AB’s tech plans are overseen by passionate people who see themselves as engineers of change. Among those engineers is Karl Sprules, AB’s Head of Global Technology & Operations.

“We actively work with the Nashville infrastructure to source talent,” Karl says. “We’ve created a lot of jobs and [are] looking to attract local professionals to AB. Working with existing and new technology empowers Nashville to build talent locally. We are drawing the best technology talent around the country.”

Karl has been with AB for more than 20 years, and he has served in his current role since 2018. 

He first joined AB’s technology department in 1998 as a senior systems engineer in London. From 2005 to 2012, Sprules led technology for AB’s Private Client, Institutional, and Client Groups. In 2012, he became head of Infrastructure Services for Equities, managing the Investment Operations, Operational Risk, and Technology teams. From 2012 to 2020, Sprules served as AB’s chief technology officer. During that period, in 2018, he led the Technology & Operations division’s move to AB’s new headquarters in Nashville.

In addition, Karl is a Board Member of Next Capital (Retirement Robo Advisor), a Board Member of NY First Robotics, and a Team Mentor/Coach for AB-sponsored teams.

Regardless of what project he’s managing, Karl remains loyal to the company’s mission of creating wealth with technology. He stays on task to give those using AB’s services the greatest tech products and services available. 

“We work every day to earn our clients’ trust, create innovative solutions tailored for their unique needs, and deliver the performance they expect,” Karl says.

Capable People + Tech = AB’s Success Formula

At AB, “innovation” is a reference to both the technology and the thinking behind how its employees work.

With a focus on innovation, the firm’s strategic approach is to build its technology platforms by enhancing and simplifying. “Our simplification drive seeks to minimize the number of systems involved to accomplish an investment workflow, which inherently increases both user efficiencies as well as enables increased volume. A secure, stable, and integrated environment facilitates our firm’s ability to concentrate on generating investment returns for our clients, to introduce new business products that deliver the greatest value, and to expand business in new and innovative ways,” Karl explains.

Within this context, tech professionals are continually modernizing, enhancing, and replacing existing technology capabilities and technology with newer, more efficient ones.

Of course, innovation also impacts how AB’s technical employees work. This is a primary focus of the IT & Ops Chief Operating Officer Robert McWilliams. In this role, Robert is responsible for IT and Operations governance including PMO and Risk and Compliance management, as well as all of the organizational, staff, and administrative functions of IT and Operations and employee development.

Robert elucidates the unique relationship between tech teams and internal clients at AB. “We have a very unique organizational structure that puts our technology shoulder to shoulder with our internal clients and gives them the advantage to see the results of the work they do,” he explains. “We have a core set of strategies and technologies developed by our leadership team who have a direct line of communication to the Head of Tech and Ops in order to understand the direction of the firm… on a weekly basis.”

Tech is a huge part of AB. As of December 2021, the company has 4,005 employees and of these employees, the Global Technology & Operations side of AB boasts 1,120 members in its ranks. “Because of the scale at which they operate, AB maintains a large and centralized Information Technology function infrastructure to support all aspects of the business. There are approximately 492 tech professionals working in Development & Application Support, Desktop Support, IT Operations and Engineering, Administration and Finance, Information Risk, and Quality Assurance/Market Data,” explains Robert.

AB has a number of different technology jobs it is seeking to fill. To anyone looking for work in the Nashville area, Rob shares that AB values people who want to win as a team through collaboration.

Getting the Best by Giving Its Best

The marketplace for tech talent is fiercely competitive. AB’s motto is that if it expects great talent, then it needs to attract great talent. 

Central to AB’s company culture is the value of “investment” in staff members. From interns to full-time employees, AB wants to be a work environment that excites people to work.

Rob says, “AB is seeking the next generation of talent to develop. We are looking not only to recruit but also to train, retain, and grow the people we bring into the firm for a career—not just the role they are applying for. We make career development an emphasis through mentorship, coaching, instructor-led training, and endless resources. As individuals evolve in their skills and either expand their roles or take on new ones, we continue to bring in exceptional talent to grow.”

Karl continues, “As a global investment firm, we foster diverse perspectives and embrace innovation to help our clients navigate the uncertainty of capital markets. AB values people who are intellectually curious and always eager to grow and learn.” 

The availability of world-class learning opportunities reflects the firm’s investment in its people by giving them access to the best training and development resources available.

All technology and operations team members have access to a variety of resources from instructor-led classroom courses to self-directed eLearning platforms including Skillsoft, Pluralsight, and ITProTV. Industry-specific insight comes from two premier research organizations: Cutter Associates and the Institutional Investor’s Financial Technology Forum. Both groups provide leading industry research, special industry groups, industry meetings, and webcasts. In-house technology webcasts are also offered monthly and recorded for 24/7 access. One of the most unique learning opportunities is AB’s voluntary lab initiative called “H-LABS” which is a collaboration between AB and Equitable focusing on transformative topics.

“The first H-LABS took a deep dive into Cryptocurrency to explore how our two firms can engage across functions to learn about disruptive topics and explore commercial applications,” Karl says. “To see these teams work together [to] discover and develop recommendations is extremely exciting.”

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