AllianceBernstein veteran stepping down — to become a schoolteacher

Fontaine's career change comes amid crucial product launch for DC unit; “bittersweet”

May 3, 2012 @ 11:32 am

Thomas J. Fontaine is stepping down from his post as head of defined-contribution investments at AllianceBernstein LP with plans to become a math teacher.

“The time seems right,” he said, in an interview with InvestmentNews on Wednesday. “It's been a long time coming.”

Mr. Fontaine, who has spent 12 years with AllianceBernstein and has 20 years of experience in the money management world, is parting ways with the firm during a pivotal time in the defined-contribution space.

For instance, the firm is weeks away from taking its multi-insurer 401(k) guarantee live with a large retirement plan. That product combines target date funds, along with a guaranteed lifetime income stream that's backed by Axa Equitable Life Insurance Co., Lincoln Financial Group and Nationwide Life and Annuity Insurance Co.

Mr. Fontaine, who is based in New York, will be leaving his post at the end of May and will move his family to the Denver area. He doesn't have a teaching degree, so he expects to be checking out private schools, particularly at the elementary or junior high school level. Teaching at the college level is also a possibility.

Mr. Fontaine, who has a Ph.D. in computer science, noted that he had always wanted to teach and the success achieved by the firm's DC team will finally allow him to pursue that dream.

“Had I left three years ago, even a year ago, it could've negatively impacted the DC business,” he said. “The DC team has done something pretty special, and as a result of the work on target date, custom target date and lifetime income, we've built this business to about $18 billion in assets.”

“Right now it's a very exciting time for the [retirement industry],” Mr. Fontaine added. “It's bittersweet.”

At AllianceBernstein, Seth Masters, chief investment officer of the defined- contribution operation and Mr. Fontaine's supervisor, will continue to oversee the DC team. He will take on Mr. Fontaine's responsibilities with respect to senior management and DC industry associations.

DC team members Chris Nikolich, head of U.S. research and investment design; David Hutchins, head of U.K. research and investment design; Mark Fortier, head of product and partner strategy; and Joe Healy, head of client experience, will take on expanded roles. The structure of the organization will remain the same.

Mr. Fortier and Mr. Healy will handle Mr. Fontaine's day-to-day responsibilities.

News of the executive's departure was first reported by 401k Wire.

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