Skip to main content

DEI Thought Leader: Joseph Curtin, Managing Director - Head of Portfolio Management - Chief Investment Office at Bank of America, Global Wealth and Investment Management

Institutional Investor • 28 July 2023

Elevating the Similarities and the Differences

Institutional Investor at the DE&I Roundtable in October 2022 recognized 12 industry leaders for their work, commitment, and leadership in promoting diversity. Here are some excerpts from our conversation with Joseph Curtin.

Joe Curtin started his career at KPMG, which was followed by stints at PWC and U.S Trust, which was subsequently bought by Bank of America. In 2015, he started in his current role of Managing Director and Head of Portfolio Management in the Chief Investment Office (CIO). Based in New York, his team is responsible for managing the centralized model portfolios for the firm’s wealth management lines of business, including Merrill, Merrill Edge, and the Private Bank. At the helm of the portfolio management team within the Chief Investment Office, Joe oversees the firm’s multi-asset model portfolios and managed equities strategies. 

At Bank of America, he has nurtured a robust culture by hiring internally and promoting the practice of bringing one’s whole self to work every day, based on the assumption that diversity leads to better performance. In 2020, he launched a virtual meeting about allyship alongside other industry leaders, during which he discussed how members of underrepresented communities help one another in their professional lives. 

The following has been edited for clarity.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your institution

As of September 30, 2022, our AUM in CIO portfolios is right around $300 billion. Our AUM in multi-asset portfolios is around $203 billion, and those portfolios are predominantly open architecture. We manage a suite of portfolios using passive products, active products, and hybrids of active and passive. We also manage sustainable and thematic strategies, where we lean into more secular growth themes across industries.

In managed equities, we’re managing portfolios of individual securities. We don’t manage any portfolios that we distribute outside the firm. This is captive to Bank of America and its lines of business. “Managed equities” includes direct indexing strategies, low tracking error, quantamental, fundamental, thematic, and ESG in a suite we call socially innovative investing. It covers broad-based ESG, along with carbon divestiture, religious voice and values, social equality, and inclusion across domestic and international asset classes.

Finally, in fixed income, my peer, John Donovan, and his team, manage municipal tax-exempt strategies, taxable strategies, and what we call crossovers – which is a blend between taxable and tax-exempt bonds – and also liquidity solutions. It’s fully captive to Bank of America clients and distributed through our lines of business.

What does DEI mean to you?

Within the Chief Investment Office, we have 230 professionals, with an average tenure of about 17 years. Within our team, diversity means ensuring the team at Bank of America look like America itself and its rich and diverse culture: freedom to explore various academic interests, pursue any work interests, and express gender diversity. This diversity runs up and down the stack of our talent and our chain of command. We bring our whole selves to work every single day, and we respect our similarities as well as our differences.

I came to this country in 1975 from South Korea. I had never felt comfortable in my career talking about concepts such as “covering,” trying to fit in, downplaying our differences, or masking one’s true self – or reluctance to be recognized for hard work. However, sharing my story with thousands of associates over the years has encouraged me. I think it has also encouraged other leaders who may have been in a similar situation for different reasons to come forward. I think they feel increasingly comfortable coming to work, associating with senior leadership, climbing the corporate ladder, and having great professional opportunities.

I am an advisory board member to our Asian leadership network here in New York City. We’re chairing what we call an “Elevate” series, in which we have conversations with about a dozen or so Asian-Americans about how to have tough conversations. How do you get mentoring? How do you get executive sponsorship? How do you progress within the organization? Largely, what we’ve found is, as senior leaders get involved in DEI initiatives and they become visible, other people participate with real enthusiasm.

What effect has deliberate efforts to build a diverse team had on your teams and institution?

As we look at the world, we want to ensure that we have a diverse funnel of talent. I have my own associate advisory council, where we focus on DEI initiatives, and I really appreciate when they come in with great ideas about volunteer efforts, team-based activities, and getting involved in what I call associate networks that focus on diversity.

Every team member here sits with his or her manager every other month in a professional development planning session. Through this program, staffers develop a talent map over two or three years with people who have walked in their shoes. They hold one another accountable in an effort to ensure that they get the mentorship, sponsorship, development opportunities, and training opportunities they need. And we’re also able to address anything that’s holding them back. We try to meet our associates where they are at in their professional journey.

What is your proudest accomplishment in DEI?

In November 2019, Kevin Chau, a financial advisor for Merrill and a good friend, asked whether I’d ever thought about joining the New York City Asian Leadership Network. He invited me to the Lunar New Year event in New York’s Chinatown in January of 2020, when Covid-19 was just breaking out. The streets were less crowded than usual, many businesses were closing early, and about 20% of the associates didn’t show up for the Lunar New Year event out of fear of Covid. After hearing some of the rhetoric from some of our elected officials in this country and seeing some of the bias incidents, it just ignited something in me at that moment.

I leaned into being an ambassador for the Asian-American Pacific Islander community and having discussions with senior leadership about what the AAPI community was feeling, what we were going through – our fears for our safety, a sense of not belonging, and not being included. Then, I learned of George Floyd’s death, and next thing I knew, I was hosting a virtual meeting on allyship sponsored by our Black Professionals Group and with industry leaders. We have addressed the need for the underrepresented communities to come together and help each other because we’re stronger collectively than individually. As DEI programs evolve, I think they’ll become significantly more targeted toward outcomes, as opposed to just awareness-building.

For the full list of DEI Award winners, visit Allocator Intel here.

To discuss the content of this article or gain access to like content, log in or request membership here.