(Exact name of registrant as specified in its charter)
(State or other jurisdiction of incorporation or organization)
(I.R.S. Employer Identification No.)
1345 Avenue of the Americas, New York, N.Y.
(Address of principal executive offices)
Registrant’s telephone number, including area code: (212) 969-1000
Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(b) of the Act:
Title of Class
Name of each exchange on which registered
units representing assignments of beneficial ownership of limited partnership interests
New York Stock Exchange
Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(g) of the Act: None
Indicate by check mark if the registrant is a well-known seasoned issuer, as defined in Rule 405 of the Securities Act. Yes x No o
Indicate by check mark if the registrant is not required to file reports pursuant to Section 13 or Section 15(d) of the Act. Yes o No x
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant (1) has filed all reports required to be filed by Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to file such reports), and (2) has been subject to such filing requirements for the past 90 days. Yes x No o
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has submitted electronically every Interactive Data File required to be submitted pursuant to Rule 405 of Regulation S-T (§232.405 of this chapter) during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to submit such files). Yes x No o
Indicate by check mark if disclosure of delinquent filers pursuant to Item 405 of Regulation S-K (§229.405 of this chapter) is not contained herein, and will not be contained, to the best of registrant’s knowledge, in definitive proxy or information statements incorporated by reference in Part III of this Form 10-K or any amendment to this Form 10-K. o
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a large accelerated filer, an accelerated filer, a non-accelerated filer, smaller reporting company, or an emerging growth company. See definitions of “large accelerated filer”, “accelerated filer”, “smaller reporting company”, and “emerging growth company” in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act. (Check one):
Large accelerated filer x
Accelerated filer o
Non-accelerated filer o
Smaller reporting company o
Emerging growth company o
If an emerging growth company, indicate by check mark if the registrant has elected not to use the extended transition period for complying with any new or revised financial accounting standards provided pursuant to Section 13(a) of the Exchange Act. o
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a shell company (as defined in Rule 12b-2 of the Act). Yes o No x
The aggregate market value of the units representing assignments of beneficial ownership of limited partnership interests held by non-affiliates computed by reference to the price at which such units were last sold on the New York Stock Exchange as of June 30, 2018 was approximately $2.6 billion.
The number of units representing assignments of beneficial ownership of limited partnership interests outstanding as of December 31, 2018 was 96,658,278. (This figure includes 100,000 general partnership units having economic interests equivalent to the economic interests of the units representing assignments of beneficial ownership of limited partnership interests.)
DOCUMENTS INCORPORATED BY REFERENCE
This Form 10-K does not incorporate any document by reference.
“AB” – AllianceBernstein L.P. (Delaware limited partnership formerly known as Alliance Capital Management L.P., “Alliance Capital”), the operating partnership, and its subsidiaries and, where appropriate, its predecessors, AB Holding and ACMC, Inc. and their respective subsidiaries.
“AB Holding Partnership Agreement” – the Amended and Restated Agreement of Limited Partnership of AB Holding, dated as of October 29, 1999 and as amended February 24, 2006.
“AB Holding Units” – units representing assignments of beneficial ownership of limited partnership interests in AB Holding.
“AB Partnership Agreement” – the Amended and Restated Agreement of Limited Partnership of AB, dated as of October 29, 1999 and as amended February 24, 2006.
“AB Units” – units of limited partnership interest in AB.
“AUM” – AB's assets under management.
“AXA” – AXA (société anonyme organized under the laws of France) is the holding company for the AXA Group, a worldwide leader in financial protection. AXA operates primarily in Europe, North America, the Asia/Pacific regions and, to a lesser extent, in other regions, including the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. AXA has five operating business segments: Life and Savings, Property and Casualty, International Insurance, Asset Management and Banking.
“AXA Equitable” – AXA Equitable Life Insurance Company (New York stock life insurance company), a subsidiary of AXA Equitable Holdings, and its subsidiaries other than AB and its subsidiaries.
“AXA Equitable Holdings” or “EQH” – AXA Equitable Holdings, Inc. (Delaware corporation), a 59.2%-owned subsidiary of AXA S.A., and its subsidiaries other than AB and its subsidiaries.
“Bernstein Transaction” – AB's acquisition of the business and assets of SCB Inc., formerly known as Sanford C. Bernstein Inc., and the related assumption of the liabilities of that business, completed on October 2, 2000.
“Exchange Act” – the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended.
“ERISA” – the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended.
"GAAP" – U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles
“General Partner” – AllianceBernstein Corporation (Delaware corporation), the general partner of AB and AB Holding and a subsidiary of AXA Equitable Holdings, and, where appropriate, ACMC, LLC, its predecessor.
“Investment Advisers Act” – the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, as amended.
“Investment Company Act” – the Investment Company Act of 1940, as amended.
“NYSE” – the New York Stock Exchange, Inc.
“Partnerships” – AB and AB Holding together.
“SEC” – the United States Securities and Exchange Commission.
“Securities Act” – the Securities Act of 1933, as amended.
The words “we” and “our” in this Form 10-K refer collectively to AB Holding and AB and its subsidiaries, or to their officers and employees. Similarly, the words “company” and “firm” refer to both AB Holding and AB. Where the context requires distinguishing between AB Holding and AB, we identify which company is being discussed. Cross-references are in italics.
We use “global” in this Form 10-K to refer to all nations, including the United States; we use “international” or “non-U.S.” to refer to nations other than the United States.
We use “emerging markets” in this Form 10-K to refer to countries included in the Morgan Stanley Capital International (“MSCI”) emerging markets index, which are, as of December 31, 2018, Brazil, Chile, China, Colombia, Czech Republic, Egypt, Greece, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Qatar, Russia, South Africa, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
We provide research, diversified investment management and related services globally to a broad range of clients through our three buy-side distribution channels: Institutions, Retail and Private Wealth Management, and our sell-side business, Bernstein Research Services. See “Distribution Channels” in this Item 1 for additional information.
As of December 31, 2018, 2017 and 2016, our AUM were approximately $516 billion, $554 billion and $480 billion, respectively, and our net revenues as of December 31, 2018, 2017 and 2016 were approximately $3.4 billion, $3.3 billion and $3.0 billion, respectively. AXA, EQH (our parent company) and their respective subsidiaries, whose AUM consist primarily of fixed income investments, together constitute our largest client. Our affiliates represented approximately 24%, 23% and 24% of our AUM as of December 31, 2018, 2017 and 2016, and we earned approximately 5% of our net revenues from services we provided to our affiliates in each of those years. See “Distribution Channels” below and “Assets Under Management” and “Net Revenues” in Item 7 for additional information regarding our AUM and net revenues.
Generally, we are compensated for our investment services on the basis of investment advisory and services fees calculated as a percentage of AUM. For additional information about our investment advisory and services fees, including performance-based fees, see “Risk Factors” in Item 1A and “Net Revenues – Investment Advisory and Services Fees” in Item 7.
Our high-quality, in-depth research is the foundation of our business. We believe that our global team of research professionals, whose disciplines include economic, fundamental equity, fixed income and quantitative research, gives us a competitive advantage in achieving investment success for our clients. We also have experts focused on multi-asset strategies, wealth management and alternative investments.
Our broad range of investment services includes:
Actively-managed equity strategies, with global and regional portfolios across capitalization ranges, concentration ranges and investment strategies, including value, growth and core equities;
Actively-managed traditional and unconstrained fixed income strategies, including taxable and tax-exempt strategies;
Passive management, including index and enhanced index strategies;
Alternative investments, including hedge funds, fund of funds and private equity (e.g., direct lending); and
Multi-asset solutions and services, including dynamic asset allocation, customized target-date funds and target-risk funds.
Our services span various investment disciplines, including market capitalization (e.g., large-, mid- and small-cap equities), term (e.g., long-, intermediate- and short-duration debt securities), and geographic location (e.g., U.S., international, global, emerging markets, regional and local), in major markets around the world.
Our AUM by client domicile and investment service as of December 31, 2018, 2017 and 2016 were as follows:
By Client Domicile ($ in billions):
By Investment Service ($ in billions):
We offer to our institutional clients, which include private and public pension plans, foundations and endowments, insurance companies, central banks and governments worldwide, and affiliates such as AXA, EQH and their respective subsidiaries, separately-managed accounts, sub-advisory relationships, structured products, collective investment trusts, mutual funds, hedge funds and other investment vehicles (“Institutional Services”).
We manage the assets of our institutional clients pursuant to written investment management agreements or other arrangements, which generally are terminable at any time or upon relatively short notice by either party. In general, our written investment management agreements may not be assigned without the client's consent. For information about our institutional investment advisory and services fees, including performance-based fees, see “Risk Factors” in Item 1A and “Net Revenues – Investment Advisory and Services Fees” in Item 7.
AXA, EQH and their respective subsidiaries together constitute our largest institutional client. Their combined AUM accounted for approximately 37%, 34% and 35% of our institutional AUM as of December 31, 2018, 2017 and 2016, respectively, and approximately 27%, 25% and 28% of our institutional revenues for 2018, 2017 and 2016, respectively. No single institutional client other than AXA or EQH and their subsidiaries accounted for more than approximately 1% of our net revenues for the year ended December 31, 2018.
As of December 31, 2018, 2017 and 2016, Institutional Services represented approximately 48%, 48% and 50%, respectively, of our AUM, and the fees we earned from providing these services represented approximately 14% of our net revenues for each of those years. Our AUM and revenues are as follows:
Fixed Income Servicing includes advisory-related services fees that are not based on AUM, including derivative transaction fees, capital purchase program-related advisory services and other fixed income advisory services.
Includes certain multi-asset solutions and services and certain alternative services.
We provide investment management and related services to a wide variety of individual retail investors, both in the U.S. and internationally, through retail mutual funds we sponsor, mutual fund sub-advisory relationships, separately-managed account programs (see below), and other investment vehicles (“Retail Products and Services”).
We distribute our Retail Products and Services through financial intermediaries, including broker-dealers, insurance sales representatives, banks, registered investment advisers and financial planners. These products and services include open-end and closed-end funds that are either (i) registered as investment companies under the Investment Company Act (“U.S. Funds”), or (ii) not registered under the Investment Company Act and generally not offered to U.S. persons (“Non-U.S. Funds” and, collectively with the U.S. Funds, “AB Funds”). They also include separately-managed account programs, which are sponsored by financial intermediaries and generally charge an all-inclusive fee covering investment management, trade execution, asset allocation, and custodial and administrative services. In addition, we provide distribution, shareholder servicing, transfer agency services and administrative services for our Retail Products and Services. See “Net Revenues – Investment Advisory and Services Fees” in Item 7 for information about our retail investment advisory and services fees. See Note 2 to AB’s consolidated financial statements in Item 8 for a discussion of the commissions we pay to financial intermediaries in connection with the sale of open-end AB Funds.
Fees paid by the U.S. Funds are reflected in the applicable investment management agreement, which generally must be approved annually by the boards of directors or trustees of those funds, including by a majority of the independent directors or trustees. Increases in these fees must be approved by fund shareholders; decreases need not be, including any decreases implemented by a fund’s directors or trustees. In general, each investment management agreement with the U.S. Funds provides for termination by either party at any time upon 60 days’ notice.
Fees paid by Non-U.S. Funds are reflected in management agreements that continue until they are terminated. Increases in these fees generally must be approved by the relevant regulatory authority, depending on the domicile and structure of the fund, and Non-U.S. Fund shareholders must be given advance notice of any fee increases.
The mutual funds we sub-advise for AXA, EQH and their respective subsidiaries together constitute our largest retail client. They accounted for approximately 19%, 19% and 21% of our retail AUM as of December 31, 2018, 2017 and 2016, respectively, and approximately 4% of our retail net revenues in each of those years.
Certain subsidiaries of AXA and EQH, including AXA Advisors, LLC (“AXA Advisors”), were responsible for approximately 1%, 1% and 2% of total sales of shares of open-end AB Funds in 2018, 2017 and 2016, respectively. Our affiliates are not under any obligation to sell a specific amount of AB Fund shares and also sell shares of mutual funds that they sponsor and that are sponsored by unaffiliated organizations. No entity accounted for 10% or more of our open-end AB Fund sales in 2018.
Most open-end U.S. Funds have adopted a plan under Rule 12b-1 of the Investment Company Act that allows the fund to pay, out of assets of the fund, distribution and service fees for the distribution and sale of its shares (“Rule 12b-1 Fees”). The open-end U.S. Funds have entered into such agreements with us, and we have entered into selling and distribution agreements pursuant to which we pay sales commissions to the financial intermediaries that distribute our open-end U.S. Funds. These agreements are terminable by either party upon notice (generally 30 days) and do not obligate the financial intermediary to sell any specific amount of fund shares.
As of December 31, 2018, retail U.S. Fund AUM were approximately $43 billion, or 24% of retail AUM, as compared to $47 billion, or 25%, as of December 31, 2017, and $41 billion, or 26%, as of December 31, 2016. Non-U.S. Fund AUM, as of December 31, 2018, totaled $71 billion, or 39% of retail AUM, as compared to $76 billion, or 40%, as of December 31, 2017, and $59 billion, or 37%, as of December 31, 2016.
Our Retail Services represented approximately 35%, 35% and 33% of our AUM as of December 31, 2018, 2017 and 2016, respectively, and the fees we earned from providing these services represented approximately 44%, 43% and 42% of our net revenues for the years ended December 31, 2018, 2017 and 2016, respectively. Our AUM and revenues are as follows:
We offer to our private wealth clients, which include high-net-worth individuals and families, trusts and estates, charitable foundations, partnerships, private and family corporations, and other entities, separately-managed accounts, hedge funds, mutual funds and other investment vehicles (“Private Wealth Services”).
We manage these accounts pursuant to written investment advisory agreements, which generally are terminable at any time or upon relatively short notice by any party and may not be assigned without the client's consent. For information about our investment advisory and services fees, including performance-based fees, see “Risk Factors” in Item 1A and “Net Revenues – Investment Advisory and Services Fees” in Item 7.
Our Private Wealth Services represented approximately 17% of our AUM as of December 31, 2018, 2017 and 2016, and the fees we earned from providing these services represented approximately 26%, 24% and 23% of our net revenues for 2018, 2017 and 2016, respectively. Our AUM and revenues are as follows:
We offer high-quality fundamental research, quantitative services and brokerage-related services in equities and listed options to institutional investors, such as pension fund, hedge fund and mutual fund managers, and other institutional investors (“Bernstein Research Services”). We serve our clients, which are based in the United States and in other major markets around the world, through our trading professionals, who primarily are based in New York, London and Hong Kong, and our sell-side analysts, who provide fundamental company and industry research along with quantitative research into securities valuation and factors affecting stock-price movements.
We earn revenues for providing investment research to, and executing brokerage transactions for, institutional clients. These clients compensate us principally by directing us to execute brokerage transactions on their behalf, for which we earn commissions, and to a lesser, but increasing, extent by paying us directly for research through commission sharing agreements or cash payments. Bernstein Research Services accounted for approximately 13%, 14% and 16% of our net revenues as of December 31, 2018, 2017 and 2016, respectively.
For information regarding trends in fee rates charged for brokerage transactions, see “Risk Factors” in Item 1A.
Our Bernstein Research Services revenues are as follows:
Revenues From Bernstein Research Services
Years Ended December 31,
Bernstein Research Services
Our U.S.-based broker-dealer subsidiary acts as custodian for the majority of our Private Wealth Management AUM and some of our Institutions AUM. Other custodial arrangements are maintained by client-designated banks, trust companies, brokerage firms or custodians.
As of December 31, 2018, our firm had 3,641 full-time employees, representing a 5.0% increase compared to the end of 2017.
New York state law requires that private sector businesses with 50 or more full-time employees in the state give early warning of plant closings, layoffs, relocations and other covered reductions in work hours. This notification, known as the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (“WARN”) notice, must be provided to affected employees and their representatives, the New York State Department of Labor and the Local Workforce Investment Board, for relocations that affect 25 or more employees. In connection with the ongoing relocation of 1,050 roles from our White Plains and New York City locations to Nashville, Tennessee, we are required to file a series of WARN notices throughout the process, which began in the second half of 2018. We will continue to file these notices as these qualifying events occur, with the majority expected in 2019 and 2020.
We have registered a number of service marks with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and various foreign trademark offices, including the mark “AllianceBernstein.” The logo set forth below and “Ahead of Tomorrow” are service marks of AB:
In January 2015, we established a new brand identity by prominently incorporating “AB” into our brand architecture, while maintaining the legal names of our corporate entities. With this and other related refinements, our company, and our Institutional and Retail businesses, now are referred to “AllianceBernstein (AB)” or simply “AB.” Private Wealth Management and Bernstein Research Services now are referred to as “AB Bernstein.” Also, we adopted the logo and “Ahead of Tomorrow” service marks described above.
In connection with the Bernstein Transaction, we acquired all of the rights in, and title to, the Bernstein service marks, including the mark “Bernstein.”
In connection an acquisition we completed in 2013, we acquired all of the rights in, and title to, the W.P. Stewart & Co. service marks, including the logo “WPSTEWART.”
Virtually all aspects of our business are subject to various federal and state laws and regulations, rules of various securities regulators and exchanges, and laws in the foreign countries in which our subsidiaries conduct business. These laws and regulations primarily are intended to protect clients and fund shareholders and generally grant supervisory agencies broad administrative powers, including the power to limit or restrict the carrying on of business for failure to comply with such laws and regulations. Possible sanctions that may be imposed on us include the suspension of individual employees, limitations on engaging in business for specific periods, the revocation of the registration as an investment adviser or broker-dealer, censures and fines.
AB, AB Holding, the General Partner and six of our subsidiaries (Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., LLC (“SCB LLC”), AllianceBernstein Global Derivatives Corporation, AB Custom Alternative Solutions LLC, AB Private Credit Investors LLC, W.P. Stewart & Co., LLC and W.P. Stewart Asset Management LLC) are registered with the SEC as investment advisers under the Investment Advisers Act. Additionally, AB Holding is an NYSE-listed company and, accordingly, is subject to applicable regulations promulgated by the NYSE. Also, AB, SCB LLC and AB Custom Alternative Solutions LLC are registered with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) as commodity pool operators and commodity trading advisers; SCB LLC also is registered with the CFTC as a commodities introducing broker.
Each U.S. Fund is registered with the SEC under the Investment Company Act and each Non-U.S. Fund is subject to the laws in the jurisdiction in which the fund is registered. For example, our platform of Luxembourg-based funds operates pursuant to Luxembourg laws and regulations, including Undertakings for the Collective Investment in Transferable Securities Directives, and is authorized and supervised by the Commission de Surveillance du Secteur Financier (“CSSF”), the primary regulator in Luxembourg. AllianceBernstein Investor Services, Inc., one of our subsidiaries, is registered with the SEC as a transfer and servicing agent.
SCB LLC and another of our subsidiaries, AllianceBernstein Investments, Inc., are registered with the SEC as broker-dealers, and both are members of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. In addition, SCB LLC is a member of the NYSE and other principal U.S. exchanges.
Many of our subsidiaries are subject to the oversight of regulatory authorities in the jurisdictions outside the United States in which they operate, including the European Securities and Markets Authority, the Financial Conduct Authority in the U.K., the CSSF in Luxembourg, the Financial Services Agency in Japan, the Securities & Futures Commission in Hong Kong, the Monetary Authority of Singapore, the Financial Services Commission in South Korea and the Financial Supervisory Commission in Taiwan. While these regulatory requirements often may be comparable to the requirements of the SEC and other U.S. regulators, they are sometimes more restrictive and may cause us to incur substantial expenditures of time and money related to our compliance efforts. For additional information relating to the regulations that impact our business, please refer to "Risk Factors" in Item 1A.
Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act
AB, AB Holding and their global subsidiaries had no transactions or activities requiring disclosure under the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act, nor were they involved in the AXA Group matters described immediately below.
The non-U.S. based subsidiaries of AXA operate in compliance with applicable laws and regulations of the various jurisdictions in which they operate, including applicable international (United Nations and European Union) laws and regulations. While AXA Group companies based and operating outside the United States generally are not subject to U.S. law, as an international group, AXA has in place policies and standards (including the AXA Group International Sanctions Policy) that apply to all AXA Group companies worldwide and often impose requirements that go well beyond local law. For additional information regarding AXA, see "Principal Security Holders" in Item 12.
AXA has informed us that AXA Konzern AG, an AXA insurance subsidiary organized under the laws of Germany, provides car, accident and health insurance to diplomats based at the Iranian Embassy in Berlin, Germany. The total annual premium of these policies is approximately $139,700 and the annual net profit arising from these policies, which is difficult to calculate with precision, is estimated to be $24,272.
AXA also has informed us that AXA Belgium, an AXA insurance subsidiary organized under the laws of Belgium, has two policies providing for car insurance for Global Trading NV, which was designated on May 17, 2018 under (E.O.) 13224 and subsequently changed its name to Energy Engineers & Construction on August 20, 2018. The total annual premium of these policies is approximately $6,559 before tax and the annual net profit arising from these policies, which is difficult to calculate with precision, is estimated to be $983.
In addition, AXA has informed us that AXA Insurance Ireland, an AXA insurance subsidiary, provides statutorily required car insurance under four separate policies to the Iranian Embassy in Dublin, Ireland. AXA has informed us that compliance with the Declined Cases Agreement of the Irish Government prohibits the cancellation of these policies unless another insurer is willing to assume the coverage. The total annual premium for these policies is approximately $7,115 and the annual net profit arising from these policies, which is difficult to calculate with precision, is estimated to be $853.
Also, AXA has informed us that AXA Sigorta, a subsidiary of AXA organized under the laws of the Republic of Turkey, provides car insurance coverage for vehicle pools of the Iranian General Consulate and the Iranian Embassy in Istanbul, Turkey. Motor liability insurance coverage is compulsory in Turkey and cannot be canceled unilaterally. The total annual premium in respect of these policies is approximately $3,150 and the annual net profit, which is difficult to calculate with precision, is estimated to be $473.
Additionally, AXA has informed us that AXA Winterthur, an AXA insurance subsidiary organized under the laws of Switzerland, provides Naftiran Intertrade, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Iranian state-owned National Iranian Oil Company, with life, disability and accident coverage for its employees. In addition, AXA Winterthur also provides car and property insurance coverage for the Iranian Embassy in Bern. The provision of these forms of coverage is mandatory in Switzerland. The total annual premium of these policies is approximately $396,597 and the annual net profit arising from these policies, which is difficult to calculate with precision, is estimated to be $59,489.
Also, AXA has informed us that AXA Egypt, an AXA insurance subsidiary organized under the laws of Egypt, provides the Iranian state-owned Iran Development Bank, two life insurance contracts, covering individuals who have loans with the bank. The total annual premium of these policies is approximately $19,839 and annual net profit arising from these policies, which is difficult to calculate with precision, is estimated to be $2,000.
Furthermore, AXA has informed us that AXA XL, which AXA acquired during the third quarter of 2018, through various non-U.S. subsidiaries, provides insurance to marine policyholders located outside of the U.S. or reinsurance coverage to non-U.S. insurers of marine risks as well as mutual associations of ship owners that provide their members with protection and liability coverage. The provision of these coverages may involve entities or activities related to Iran, including transporting crude oil, petrochemicals and refined petroleum products. AXA XL’s non-U.S. subsidiaries insure or reinsure multiple voyages and fleets containing multiple ships, so they are unable to attribute gross revenues and net profits from such marine policies to activities with Iran. As the activities of these insureds and re-insureds are permitted under applicable laws and regulations, AXA XL intends for its non-U.S. subsidiaries to continue providing such coverage to its insureds and re-insureds to the extent permitted by applicable law.
Lastly, a non-U.S. subsidiary of AXA XL provided accident & health insurance coverage to the diplomatic personnel of the Embassy of Iran in Brussels, Belgium during the third quarter of 2018. AXA XL’s non-U.S. subsidiary received aggregate payments for this insurance from inception through December 31, 2018 of approximately $73,451. Benefits of approximately $2,994 were paid to beneficiaries during 2018. These activities are permitted pursuant to applicable law. The policy has been canceled and is no longer in force.
The aggregate annual premium for the above-referenced insurance policies is approximately $646,411, representing approximately 0.0007% of AXA’s 2018 consolidated revenues, which we expect will exceed $100 billion. The related net profit, which is difficult to calculate with precision, is estimated to be $88,070, representing approximately 0.002% of AXA’s expected 2018 aggregate net profit.
History and Structure
We have been in the investment research and management business for more than 50 years. Bernstein was founded in 1967; Alliance Capital was founded in 1971 when the investment management department of Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, Inc. (since November 2000, a part of Credit Suisse Group) merged with the investment advisory business of Moody’s Investors Service, Inc.
In April 1988, AB Holding “went public” as a master limited partnership. AB Holding Units, which trade under the ticker symbol “AB,” have been listed on the NYSE since that time.
In October 1999, AB Holding reorganized by transferring its business and assets to AB, a newly-formed operating partnership, in exchange for all of the AB Units (“Reorganization”). Since the date of the Reorganization, AB has conducted the business formerly conducted by AB Holding and AB Holding’s activities have consisted of owning AB Units and engaging in related activities. Unlike AB Holding Units, AB Units do not trade publicly and are subject to significant restrictions on transfer. The General Partner is the general partner of both AB and AB Holding.
In October 2000, our two legacy firms, Alliance Capital and Bernstein, combined, bringing together Alliance Capital’s expertise in growth equity and corporate fixed income investing and its family of retail mutual funds, with Bernstein’s expertise in value equity investing, tax-exempt fixed income management, and its Private Wealth Management and Bernstein Research Services businesses.
As of December 31, 2018, the condensed ownership structure of AB is as follows (for a more complete description of our ownership structure, see “Principal Security Holders” in Item 12):
The General Partner owns 100,000 general partnership units in AB Holding and a 1% general partnership interest in AB. Including these general partnership interests, EQH, directly and through certain of its subsidiaries (see “Principal Security Holders” in Item 12), had an approximate 65.2% economic interest in AB as of December 31, 2018.
We compete in all aspects of our business with numerous investment management firms, mutual fund sponsors, brokerage and investment banking firms, insurance companies, banks, savings and loan associations, and other financial institutions that often provide investment products that have similar features and objectives as those we offer. Our competitors offer a wide range of financial services to the same customers that we seek to serve. Some of our competitors are larger, have a broader range of product choices and investment capabilities, conduct business in more markets, and have substantially greater resources than we do. These factors may place us at a competitive disadvantage, and we can give no assurance that our strategies and efforts to maintain and enhance our current client relationships, and create new ones, will be successful.
In addition, AXA, EQH and their respective subsidiaries provide financial services, some of which compete with those we offer. The AB Partnership Agreement specifically allows AXA and its subsidiaries (other than the General Partner) to compete with AB and to pursue opportunities that may be available to us. AXA, EQH and certain of their respective subsidiaries have substantially greater financial resources than we do and are not obligated to provide resources to us.
To grow our business, we believe we must be able to compete effectively for AUM. Key competitive factors include:
our investment performance for clients;
our commitment to place the interests of our clients first;
the quality of our research;
our ability to attract, motivate and retain highly skilled, and often highly specialized, personnel;
the array of investment products we offer;
the fees we charge;
Morningstar/Lipper rankings for the AB Funds;
our ability to sell our actively-managed investment services despite the fact that many investors favor passive services;
our operational effectiveness;
our ability to further develop and market our brand; and
our global presence.
Competition is an important risk that our business faces and should be considered along with the other factors we discuss in “Risk Factors” in Item 1A.
AB and AB Holding file or furnish annual reports on Form 10-K, quarterly reports on Form 10-Q, current reports on Form 8-K, amendments to such reports, and other reports (and amendments thereto) required to comply with federal securities laws, including Section 16 beneficial ownership reports on Forms 3, 4 and 5, registration statements and proxy statements. We maintain an Internet site (http://www.alliancebernstein.com) where the public can view these reports, free of charge, as soon as reasonably practicable after each report is filed with, or furnished to, the SEC. In addition, the SEC maintains an Internet site (http://www.sec.gov) that contains reports, proxy and information statements, and other information regarding issuers that file electronically with the SEC.
Please consider this section along with the description of our business in Item 1, the competition section immediately above and AB’s financial information contained in Items 6, 7 and 8. The majority of the risk factors discussed below directly affect AB. These risk factors also affect AB Holding because AB Holding’s principal source of income and cash flow is attributable to its investment in AB. See also “Cautions Regarding Forward-Looking Statements” in Item 7.
Our revenues and results of operations depend on the market value and composition of our AUM, which can fluctuate significantly based on various factors, including many factors outside of our control.
We derive most of our revenues from investment advisory and services fees, which typically are calculated as a percentage of the value of AUM as of a specified date, or as a percentage of the value of average AUM for the applicable billing period, and vary with the type of investment service, the size of the account and the total amount of assets we manage for a particular client. The value and composition of our AUM can be adversely affected by several factors, including:
Market Factors. Global equity markets were quite strong throughout 2018 before finishing the year dramatically lower. Markets sold off in the fourth quarter due to investor concerns over rising U.S. interest rates, a slowdown in European business confidence, weaker Chinese growth and rising geopolitical uncertainty, including Brexit implementation and ongoing trade tensions between the U.S. and China. Global fixed income markets were mixed for the year, with higher returns for less-risky government bonds and negative credit market returns. In the U.S., while tax cuts enacted at the end of 2017 helped spur growth and corporate earnings in 2018, the benefit is unlikely to continue in 2019, and investors are focused on the length of the economic cycle. The U.S. Federal Reserve announced its fourth interest rate increase in December, as expected, but revised its guidance on the number of rate increases in 2019 from three to two. Oil prices fell sharply in the fourth quarter which, when combined with higher U.S. interest rates and slowing growth, could impact the economies of some emerging markets. In Europe, the Central Bank ended its quantitative easing program in December despite the slowdown in growth, and ongoing uncertainty around Brexit negotiations weighed on business and consumer confidence in the U.K. In China, monetary policy is easing in response to slowing growth and U.S. trade tariff headwinds. These factors, and the market volatility they cause, may adversely affect our AUM and revenues.
Client Preferences. Generally, our clients may withdraw their assets at any time and on short notice. Also, changing market dynamics and investment trends, particularly with respect to sponsors of defined benefit plans choosing to invest in less risky investments and the ongoing shift to lower-fee passive services described below, may continue to reduce interest in some of the investment products we offer, and/or clients and prospects may continue to seek investment products that we may not currently offer. Loss of, or decreases in, AUM reduces our investment advisory and services fees and revenues.
Our Investment Performance. Our ability to achieve investment returns for clients that meet or exceed investment returns for comparable asset classes and competing investment services is a key consideration when clients decide to keep their assets with us or invest additional assets, and when a prospective client is deciding whether to invest with us. Poor investment performance, both in absolute terms and/or relative to peers and stated benchmarks, may result in clients withdrawing assets and prospective clients choosing to invest with competitors.
Investing Trends. Our fee rates can vary significantly among the various investment products and services we offer to our clients (see “Net Revenues” in Item 7 for additional information regarding our fee rates); our fee realization rate fluctuates as clients shift assets between accounts or products with different fee structures.
Service Changes. We may be required to reduce our fee levels, restructure the fees we charge and/or adjust the services we offer to our clients because of, among other things, regulatory initiatives (whether industry-wide or specifically targeted), changing technology in the asset management business (including algorithmic strategies and emerging financial technology), court decisions and competitive considerations. A reduction in fee levels would reduce our revenues.
A decrease in the value of our AUM, a decrease in the amount of AUM we manage, an adverse mix shift in our AUM and/or a reduction in the level of fees we charge would adversely affect our investment advisory fees and revenues. A reduction in revenues, without a commensurate reduction in expenses, adversely affects our results of operations.
The industry-wide shift from actively-managed investment services to passive services has adversely affected our investment advisory and services fees, revenues and results of operations, and this trend may continue.
Our competitive environment has become increasingly difficult over the past decade, as active managers, which invest based on individual security selection, have, on average, consistently underperformed passive services, which invest based on market indices. While the weak and volatile market environment in 2018 provided ample opportunities for stock selection, it was another challenging year for active equity fund managers. Only 42% of active managers beat their benchmarks for the full year, with varied results among growth, value and core managers. Despite the more volatile markets, demand for passive strategies persisted, albeit at a slower pace, and active managers struggled to attract net new assets. In the U.S., total industry-wide active mutual fund inflows of $67 billion in 2017 reversed to net outflows of $302 billion in 2018. Active equity U.S. mutual fund outflows of $259 billion in 2018 increased by 33% year-over-year as the pace of outflows accelerated in the fourth quarter, particularly in December. Further, after $221 billion of active fixed income U.S. mutual fund inflows in 2017, flows slowed dramatically in 2018 to $13 billion. Meanwhile, total industry-wide passive mutual fund inflows of $451 billion were down 35% from last year's record $692 billion. The most recent data available for U.S. institutions (through September 30, 2018) is more negative. Total industry active equity and fixed income net outflows for the year-to-date through September 30, 2018 were $254 billion, triple the total for 2017. In this environment, organic growth through positive net inflows is difficult to achieve for active managers, such as AB, and requires taking market share from other active managers.
The significant shift from active services to passive services adversely affects Bernstein Research Services revenues as well. Global market volumes have declined in recent years, and we expect this to continue, fueled by persistent active equity outflows and passive equity inflows. As a result, portfolio turnover has decreased and investors hold fewer shares that are actively traded by managers.
Our reputation could suffer if we are unable to deliver consistent, competitive investment performance.
Our business is based on the trust and confidence of our clients. Damage to our reputation, resulting from poor or inconsistent investment performance, among other factors, can reduce substantially our AUM and impair our ability to maintain or grow our business.
Maintaining adequate liquidity for our general business needs depends on certain factors, including operating cash flows and our access to credit on reasonable terms.
Our financial condition is dependent on our cash flow from operations, which is subject to the performance of the capital markets, our ability to maintain and grow AUM and other factors beyond our control. Our ability to issue public or private debt on reasonable terms may be limited by adverse market conditions, our profitability, our creditworthiness as perceived by lenders and changes in government regulations, including tax rates and interest rates. Furthermore, our access to credit on reasonable terms is partially dependent on our firm’s credit ratings.
Both Moody’s Investors Service, Inc. and Standard & Poor's Rating Service recently affirmed AB’s long-term and short-term credit ratings and indicated a stable outlook in 2018. Future changes in our credit ratings are possible and any downgrade to our ratings is likely to increase our borrowing costs and limit our access to the capital markets. If this occurs, we may be forced to incur unanticipated costs or revise our strategic plans, which could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition, results of operations and business prospects.
AXA and its affiliates, including AXA Equitable Holdings, provide a significant amount of our AUM and fund a significant portion of our seed investments, and if our agreements with them terminate or they withdraw capital support, whether as a result of AXA Equitable Holdings' initial public offering ("IPO") in 2018 or another factor, it could have a material adverse effect on our business, results of operations or financial condition.
AXA and its affiliates, including AXA Equitable Holdings, collectively are our largest client. AXA Equitable Holdings represented 18.1% of our total AUM as of December 31, 2018 and 3.1% of our net revenues for the year ended December 31, 2018. AXA and its affiliates other than AXA Equitable Holdings represented 6.1% of our total AUM as of December 31, 2018 and 2.4% of our net revenues for the year ended December 31, 2018. Our investment management agreements with these affiliates are terminable at any time or on short notice by either party, and none of these affiliates are under any obligation to maintain any level of AUM with us. A material adverse effect on our business, results of operations or financial condition could result if AXA Equitable Holdings or AXA and its other affiliates were to terminate their investment management agreements with us.
Further, while to date we have not experienced adverse effects from the IPO and we currently cannot predict the eventual impact, if any, on us of the IPO, such impact could include a reduction in the support AXA has provided to us in the past with respect to our investment management business, resulting in a decrease to our revenues and ability to initiate new investment services. Also,
we rely on AXA, including its subsidiary AXA Business Services, for a number of significant services and we benefit from our affiliation with AXA in certain common vendor relationships. These arrangements may change with possible negative financial implications for us.
We may be unable to continue to attract, motivate and retain key personnel, and the cost to retain key personnel could put pressure on our adjusted operating margin.
Our business depends on our ability to attract, motivate and retain highly skilled, and often highly specialized, technical, investment, managerial and executive personnel and there is no assurance that we will be able to do so.
The market for these professionals is extremely competitive. They often maintain strong, personal relationships with investors in our products and other members of the business community so their departure may cause us to lose client accounts or result in fewer opportunities to win new business, either of which factors could have a material adverse effect on our results of operations and business prospects.
Additionally, a decline in revenues may limit our ability to pay our employees at competitive levels, and maintaining (or increasing) compensation without a revenue increase, in order to retain key personnel, may adversely affect our adjusted operating margin. As a result, we remain vigilant about aligning our cost structure (including headcount) with our revenue base. For additional information regarding our compensation practices, see "Compensation Discussion and Analysis" in Item 11.
Our process of relocating our headquarters may not be executed as we envision.
On May 2, 2018, we announced that we will establish our corporate headquarters in and relocate approximately 1,050 jobs located in the New York metropolitan area to Nashville, Tennessee (for additional information, see “Relocation Strategy” in Item 7). Although the eventual impact on AB from this process is not yet known, the uncertainty created by these circumstances could have a significant adverse effect on AB’s ability to motivate and retain current employees. Further significant managerial and operational challenges could arise, such as ineffective transfer of institutional knowledge from current employees to newly-hired employees, if AB experiences significantly greater attrition among current employees than the firm anticipates in connection with the relocation and/or if the firm encounters more difficulty than expected in hiring qualified employees to help staff our Nashville headquarters.
Additionally, our estimates for both the transition costs and the corresponding expense savings relating to our headquarters relocation, which we discuss in more detail in “Relocation Strategy” in Item 7, are based on our current assumptions of employee relocation costs, severance, and overlapping compensation and occupancy costs. If our assumptions turn out to be inaccurate, our adjusted net revenues and adjusted operating income could be adversely affected.
Our business is dependent on investment advisory agreements with clients, and selling and distribution agreements with various financial intermediaries and consultants, which generally are subject to termination or non-renewal on short notice.
We derive most of our revenues pursuant to written investment management agreements (or other arrangements) with institutional investors, mutual funds and private wealth clients, and selling and distribution agreements with financial intermediaries that distribute AB Funds. Generally, the investment management agreements (and other arrangements), including our agreements with AXA, EQH and their respective subsidiaries, are terminable at any time or upon relatively short notice by either party. The investment management agreements pursuant to which we manage the U.S. Funds must be renewed and approved by the Funds’ boards of directors annually. A significant majority of the directors are independent. Consequently, there can be no assurance that the board of directors of each fund will approve the fund’s investment management agreement each year, or will not condition its approval on revised terms that may be adverse to us. In addition, investors in AB Funds can redeem their investments without notice. Any termination of, or failure to renew, a significant number of these agreements, or a significant increase in redemption rates, could have a material adverse effect on our results of operations and business prospects.
Similarly, the selling and distribution agreements with securities firms, brokers, banks and other financial intermediaries are terminable by either party upon notice (generally 30 days) and do not obligate the financial intermediary to sell any specific amount of fund shares. These intermediaries generally offer their clients investment products that compete with our products. In addition, certain institutional investors rely on consultants to advise them about choosing an investment adviser and some of our services may not be considered among the best choices by these consultants. As a result, investment consultants may advise their clients to move their assets invested with us to other investment advisers, which could result in significant net outflows.
Lastly, our Private Wealth Services rely on referrals from financial planners, registered investment advisers and other professionals. We cannot be certain that we will continue to have access to, or receive referrals from, these third parties. Loss of such access or referrals could have a material adverse effect on our results of operations and business prospects.
Performance-based fee arrangements with our clients may cause greater fluctuations in our net revenues.
We sometimes charge our clients performance-based fees, whereby we charge a base advisory fee and are eligible to earn an additional performance-based fee or incentive allocation that is calculated as either a percentage of absolute investment results or a percentage of investment results in excess of a stated benchmark over a specified period of time. Some performance-based fees include a high-watermark provision, which generally provides that if a client account under-performs relative to its performance target (whether in absolute terms or relative to a specified benchmark), it must gain back such under-performance before we can collect future performance-based fees. Therefore, if we fail to achieve the performance target for a particular period, we will not earn a performance-based fee for that period and, for accounts with a high-watermark provision, our ability to earn future performance-based fees will be impaired.
We are eligible to earn performance-based fees on 7.3%, 7.8% and 0.9% of the assets we manage for institutional clients, private wealth clients and retail clients, respectively (in total, 5.1% of our AUM). If the percentage of our AUM subject to performance-based fees increases, seasonality and volatility of revenue and earnings are likely to become more significant. Our performance-based fees in 2018, 2017 and 2016 were $118.1 million, $94.8 million and $32.8 million, respectively.
An impairment of goodwill may occur.
Determining whether an impairment of the goodwill asset exists requires management to exercise a substantial amount of judgment. In addition, to the extent that securities valuations are depressed for prolonged periods of time and/or market conditions deteriorate, or if we experience significant net redemptions, our AUM, revenues, profitability and unit price will be adversely affected. Although the price of an AB Holding Unit is just one factor in the calculation of fair value, if AB Holding Unit price levels decline significantly, reaching the conclusion that fair value exceeds carrying value will, over time, become more difficult. In addition, control premiums, industry earnings multiples and discount rates are impacted by economic conditions. As a result, subsequent impairment tests may occur more frequently and be based on more negative assumptions and future cash flow projections, and may result in an impairment of goodwill. An impairment may result in a material charge to our earnings. For additional information about our impairment testing, see Item 7.
We may engage in strategic transactions that could pose risks.
As part of our business strategy, we consider potential strategic transactions, including acquisitions, dispositions, mergers, consolidations, joint ventures and similar transactions, some of which may be material. These transactions, if undertaken, may involve various risks and present financial, managerial and operational challenges, including:.
adverse effects on our earnings if acquired intangible assets or goodwill become impaired;
existence of unknown liabilities or contingencies that arise after closing;
potential disputes with counterparties; and
potential dilution to our existing unitholders, if we fund the purchase price of a transaction with AB Units or AB Holding Units.
Acquisitions also pose the risk that any business we acquire may lose customers or employees or could underperform relative to expectations. Additionally, the loss of investment personnel poses the risk that we may lose the AUM we expected to manage, which could adversely affect our results of operations. Furthermore, strategic transactions may require us to increase our leverage or, if we issue AB Units or AB Holding Units to fund an acquisition, would dilute the holdings of our existing Unitholders.
Fluctuations in the exchange rates between the U.S. dollar and various other currencies can adversely affect our AUM, revenues and results of operations.
Although significant portions of our net revenues and expenses, as well as our AUM, presently are denominated in U.S. dollars, we have subsidiaries and clients outside of the United States with functional currencies other than the U.S. dollar. Weakening of these currencies relative to the U.S. dollar adversely affects the value in U.S. dollar terms of our revenues and our AUM denominated in these other currencies. Accordingly, fluctuations in U.S. dollar exchange rates affect our AUM, revenues and reported financial results from one period to the next.
We may not be successful in our efforts to hedge our exposure to such fluctuations, which could negatively impact our revenues and reported financial results.
Our seed capital investments are subject to market risk. While we enter into various futures, forwards, swap and option contracts to economically hedge many of these investments, we also may be exposed to market risk and credit-related losses in the event of non-performance by counterparties to these derivative instruments.
We have a seed investment program for the purpose of building track records and assisting with the marketing initiatives pertaining to our firm's new products. These seed capital investments are subject to market risk. Our risk management team oversees a seed hedging program that attempts to minimize this risk, subject to practical and cost considerations. Also, not all seed investments are deemed appropriate to hedge, and in those cases we are exposed to market risk. In addition, we may be subject to basis risk in that we cannot always hedge with precision our market exposure and, as a result, we may be subject to relative spreads between market sectors. As a result, volatility in the capital markets may cause significant changes in our period-to-period financial and operating results.
We use various derivative instruments, including futures, forwards, swap and option contracts, in conjunction with our seed hedging program. While in most cases broad market risks are hedged, our hedges are imperfect and some market risk remains. In addition, our use of derivatives results in counterparty risk (i.e., the risk that we may be exposed to credit-related losses in the event of non-performance by counterparties to these derivative instruments), regulatory risk (e.g., short selling restrictions) and cash/synthetic basis risk (i.e., the risk that the underlying positions do not move identically to the related derivative instruments).
The revenues generated by Bernstein Research Services may be adversely affected by circumstances beyond our control, including declines in brokerage transaction rates, declines in global market volumes, failure to settle our trades by significant counterparties and the effects of MiFID II.
Electronic, or “low-touch”, trading represents a significant percentage of buy-side trading activity and typically produces transaction fees that are significantly lower than the price of traditional full service fee rates. As a result, blended pricing throughout our industry is lower now than it was historically, and price declines may continue. In addition, fee rates we charge and charged by other brokers for brokerage services have historically experienced price pressure, and we expect these trends to continue. Also, while increases in transaction volume and market share often can offset decreases in rates, this may not continue.
In addition, the failure or inability of any of our broker-dealer's significant counterparties to perform could expose us to substantial expenditures and adversely affect our revenues. For example, SCB LLC, as a member of clearing and settlement organizations, would be required to settle open trades of any non-performing counterparty. This exposes us to the mark-to-market adjustment on the trades between trade date and settlement date, which could be significant, especially during periods of severe market volatility. Also, our ability to access liquidity in such situations may be limited by what our funding relationships are able to offer us at such times.
We discuss the risks associated with the second installment of the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive II (“MiFID II”) below in this Item 1A.
The individuals, third-party vendors or issuers on whom we rely to perform services for us or our clients may be unable or unwilling to honor their contractual obligations to us.
We rely on various counterparties and other third-party vendors to augment our existing investment, operational, financial and technological capabilities, but the use of a third-party vendor does not diminish AB's responsibility to ensure that client and regulatory obligations are met. Default rates, credit downgrades and disputes with counterparties as to the valuation of collateral increase significantly in times of market stress. Disruptions in the financial markets and other economic challenges may cause our counterparties and other third-party vendors to experience significant cash flow problems or even render them insolvent, which may expose us to significant costs and impair our ability to conduct business.
Weaknesses or failures within a third-party vendor's internal processes or systems, or inadequate business continuity plans, can materially disrupt our business operations. Also, third-party vendors may lack the necessary infrastructure or resources to effectively safeguard our confidential data. If we are unable to effectively manage the risks associated with such third-party relationships, we may suffer fines, disciplinary action and reputational damage.
We may not accurately value the securities we hold on behalf of our clients or our company investments.
In accordance with applicable regulatory requirements, contractual obligations or client direction, we employ procedures for the pricing and valuation of securities and other positions held in client accounts or for company investments. We have established a Valuation Committee, composed of senior officers and employees, which oversees pricing controls and valuation processes. If market quotations for a security are not readily available, the Valuation Committee determines a fair value for the security.
Extraordinary volatility in financial markets, significant liquidity constraints or our failure to adequately consider one or more factors when determining the fair value of a security based on information with limited market observability could result in our failing to properly value securities we hold for our clients or investments accounted for on our balance sheet. Improper valuation likely would result in our basing fee calculations on inaccurate AUM figures, our striking incorrect net asset values for company-sponsored mutual funds or hedge funds or, in the case of company investments, our inaccurately calculating and reporting our financial condition and operating results. Although the overall percentage of our AUM that we fair value based on information with limited market observability is not significant, inaccurate fair value determinations can harm our clients, create regulatory issues and damage our reputation.
We may not have sufficient information to confirm or review the accuracy of valuations provided to us by underlying external managers for the funds in which certain of our alternative investment products invest.
Certain of our alternative investment services invest in funds managed by external managers (“External Managers”) rather than investing directly in securities and other instruments. As a result, our abilities will be limited with regard to (i) monitoring such investments, (ii) regularly obtaining complete, accurate and current information with respect to such investments and (iii) exercising control over such investments. Accordingly, we may not have sufficient information to confirm or review the accuracy of valuations provided to us by External Managers. In addition, we will be required to rely on External Managers’ compliance with any applicable investment guidelines and restrictions. Any failure of an External Manager to operate within such guidelines or to provide accurate information with respect to the investment could subject our alternative investment products to losses and cause damage to our reputation.
The quantitative models we use in certain of our investment services may contain errors, resulting in imprecise risk assessments and unintended output.
We use quantitative models in a variety of our investment services, generally in combination with fundamental research. These models are developed by senior quantitative professionals and typically are implemented by IT professionals. Our Model Risk Oversight Committee oversees the model governance framework and associated model review activities, which are then executed by our Model Risk Team. However, due to the complexity and large data dependency of such models, it is possible that errors in the models could exist and our controls could fail to detect such errors. Failure to detect errors could result in client losses and reputational damage.
We may not always successfully manage actual and potential conflicts of interest that arise in our business.
Increasingly, we must manage actual and potential conflicts of interest, including situations where our services to a particular client conflict, or are perceived to conflict, with the interests of another client. Failure to adequately address potential conflicts of interest could adversely affect our reputation, results of operations and business prospects.
We have procedures and controls that are designed to identify and mitigate conflicts of interest, including those designed to prevent the improper sharing of information. However, appropriately managing conflicts of interest is complex. Our reputation could be damaged and the willingness of clients to enter into transactions in which such a conflict might arise may be affected if we fail, or appear to fail, to deal appropriately with actual or perceived conflicts of interest. In addition, potential or perceived conflicts could give rise to litigation or regulatory enforcement actions.
Technology failures and disruptions, including failures to properly safeguard confidential information, can significantly constrain our operations and result in significant time and expense to remediate, which could result in a material adverse effect on our results of operations and business prospects.
We are highly dependent on software and related technologies throughout our business, including both proprietary systems and those provided by third-party vendors. We use our technology to, among other things, obtain securities pricing information, process client transactions, store and maintain data, and provide reports and other services to our clients. Despite our protective measures, including measures designed to effectively secure information through system security technology and established and tested business continuity plans, we may still experience system delays and interruptions as a result of natural disasters, hardware failures,
software defects, power outages, acts of war and third-party failures. We cannot predict with certainty all of the adverse effects that could result from our failure, or the failure of a third party, to efficiently address and resolve these delays and interruptions. These adverse effects could include the inability to perform critical business functions or failure to comply with financial reporting and other regulatory requirements, which could lead to loss of client confidence, reputational damage, exposure to disciplinary action and liability to our clients.
Many of the software applications that we use in our business are licensed from, and supported, upgraded and maintained by, third-party vendors. A suspension or termination of certain of these licenses or the related support, upgrades and maintenance could cause temporary system delays or interruption. Additionally, technology rapidly evolves and we cannot guarantee that our competitors may not implement more advanced technology platforms for their products and services, which may place us at a competitive disadvantage and adversely affect our results of operations and business prospects.
Also, we could be subject to losses if we fail to properly safeguard sensitive and confidential information. As part of our normal operations, we maintain and transmit confidential information about our clients as well as proprietary information relating to our business operations. Although we take protective measures, our systems still could be vulnerable to cyber attack or other forms of unauthorized access (including computer viruses) that have a security impact, such as an authorized employee or vendor inadvertently or intentionally causing us to release confidential or proprietary information. Such disclosure could, among other things, allow competitors access to our proprietary business information and require significant time and expense to investigate and remediate the breach. Moreover, loss of confidential client information could harm our reputation and subject us to liability under laws that protect confidential personal data, resulting in increased costs or loss of revenues.
Any significant security breach of our information and cyber security infrastructure, as well as our failure to properly escalate and respond to such an incident, may significantly harm our operations and reputation.
It is critical that we ensure the continuity and effectiveness of our information and cyber security infrastructure, policies, procedures and capabilities to protect our computer and telecommunications systems and the data that reside on or are transmitted through them and contracted third-party systems. Although we take protective measures, including measures to effectively secure information through system security technology, our technology systems may still be vulnerable to unauthorized access, computer viruses or other events that have a security impact, such as an external attack by one or more cyber criminals (including phishing attacks attempting to obtain confidential information and ransomware attacks attempting to block access to a computer system until a sum of money is paid), which could materially harm our operations and reputation. Additionally, while we take precautions to password protect and encrypt our laptops and sensitive information on our other mobile electronic devices, if such devices are stolen, misplaced or left unattended, they may become vulnerable to hacking or other unauthorized use, creating a possible security risk and resulting in potentially costly actions by us.
Furthermore, although we maintain a robust cyber security infrastructure and incident preparedness strategy, which we test periodically, we may be unable to respond, both internally and externally, to a cyber incident in a sufficiently expeditious manner. Any such failure could cause significant harm to our reputation and result in litigation, regulatory scrutiny and/or significant remediation costs.
Unpredictable events, including climate change, natural disaster, dangerous weather conditions, technology failure, terrorist attack and political unrest, may adversely affect our ability to conduct business.
War, terrorist attack, political unrest, power failure, climate change, natural disaster and rapid spread of infectious diseases could interrupt our operations by:
causing disruptions in global economic conditions, thereby decreasing investor confidence and making investment products generally less attractive;
inflicting loss of life;
triggering large-scale technology failures or delays;
breaching our information and cyber security infrastructure; and
requiring substantial capital expenditures and operating expenses to remediate damage and restore operations.
Despite the contingency plans and facilities we have in place, including system security measures, information back-up and disaster recovery processes, our ability to conduct business may be adversely affected by a disruption in the infrastructure that supports our operations and the communities in which they are located. This may include a disruption involving electrical, communications, transportation or other services we may use or third parties with which we conduct business. If a disruption occurs in one location and our employees in that location are unable to occupy our offices or communicate with or travel to other locations, our ability
to conduct business with and on behalf of our clients may suffer, and we may not be able to successfully implement contingency plans that depend on communication or travel. Furthermore, unauthorized access to our systems as a result of a security breach, the failure of our systems, or the loss of data could give rise to legal proceedings or regulatory penalties under laws protecting the privacy of personal information, disrupt operations, and damage our reputation.
Our operations require experienced, professional staff. Loss of a substantial number of such persons or an inability to provide properly equipped places for them to work may, by disrupting our operations, adversely affect our financial condition, results of operations and business prospects. In addition, our property and business interruption insurance may not be adequate to compensate us for all losses, failures or breaches that may occur.
Our own operational failures or those of third parties on which we rely, including failures arising out of human error, could disrupt our business, damage our reputation and reduce our revenues.
Weaknesses or failures in our internal processes or systems could lead to disruption of our operations, liability to clients, exposure to disciplinary action or harm to our reputation. Our business is highly dependent on our ability to process, on a daily basis, large numbers of transactions, many of which are highly complex, across numerous and diverse markets. These transactions generally must comply with client investment guidelines, as well as stringent legal and regulatory standards.
Our obligations to clients require us to exercise skill, care and prudence in performing our services. Despite our employees being highly trained and skilled, the large number of transactions we process makes it highly likely that errors will occasionally occur. If we make a mistake in performing our services that causes financial harm to a client, we have a duty to act promptly to put the client in the position the client would have been in had we not made the error. The occurrence of mistakes, particularly significant ones, can have a material adverse effect on our reputation, results of operations and business prospects.
The insurance that we maintain may not fully cover all potential exposures.
We maintain professional liability, fidelity, cyber, property, casualty, business interruption and other types of insurance, but such insurance may not cover all risks associated with the operation of our business. Our coverage is subject to exclusions and limitations, including high self-insured retentions or deductibles and maximum limits and liabilities covered. In addition, from time to time, various types of insurance may not be available on commercially acceptable terms or, in some cases, at all. We can make no assurance that a claim or claims will be covered by our insurance policies or, if covered, will not exceed our available insurance coverage, or that our insurers will remain solvent and meet their obligations.
In the future, we may not be able to obtain coverage at current levels, if at all, and our premiums may increase significantly on coverage that we maintain. Also, we currently are party to certain joint insurance arrangements with subsidiaries of EQH. If our affiliates choose not to include us as insured parties under any such policies, we may need to obtain stand-alone insurance coverage, which could have coverage terms that are less beneficial to us and/or cost more.
Our business is subject to pervasive, complex and continuously evolving global regulation, compliance with which involves substantial expenditures of time and money, and violation of which may result in material adverse consequences.
Virtually all aspects of our business are subject to federal and state laws and regulations, rules of securities regulators and exchanges, and laws and regulations in the foreign jurisdictions in which our subsidiaries conduct business. If we violate these laws or regulations, we could be subject to civil liability, criminal liability or sanction, including restriction or revocation of our and our subsidiaries’ professional licenses or registrations, revocation of the licenses of our employees, censures, fines, or temporary suspension or permanent bar from conducting business. Any such liability or sanction could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition, results of operations and business prospects. A regulatory proceeding, even if it does not result in a finding of wrongdoing or sanction, could require substantial expenditures of time and money and could potentially damage our reputation.
In recent years, global regulators have substantially increased their oversight of financial services. Some of the newly-adopted and proposed regulations are focused on investment management services. Others, while more broadly focused, nonetheless impact our business. Moreover, the adoption of new laws, regulations or standards and changes in the interpretation or enforcement of existing laws, regulations or standards have directly affected, and will continue to affect, our business, including making our efforts to comply more expensive and time-consuming.
For example, the Financial Supervisory Commission in Taiwan (“FSC”) implemented, as of January 1, 2015, new limits on the degree to which local investors can own an offshore investment product. While certain exemptions have been available to us, should we not continue to qualify, the FSC’s rules could force some of our local resident investors to redeem their investments in our funds sold in Taiwan (and/or prevent further sales of those funds in Taiwan), some of which funds have local ownership levels
substantially above the FSC limits. This could lead to significant declines in our investment advisory and services fees and revenues earned from these funds.
In Europe, MiFID II, which became effective on January 3, 2018, makes significant modifications to the manner in which European broker-dealers can be compensated for research. These modifications have reduced, and are believed to have significantly reduced, the overall research spend by European buy-side firms, which has decreased the revenues we derive from our European clients. Our European clients may continue to reduce their research budgets, which could result in a significant decline in our sell-side revenues.
Also, while MiFID II is not applicable to firms operating outside of Europe, competitive and client pressures may force buy-side firms operating outside of Europe to pay for research from their own resources instead of through bundled trading commissions. If that occurs, we would expect that research budgets from those clients will decrease further, which could result in an additional significant decline in our sell-side revenues. Additionally, these competitive and client pressures may result in our buy-side operation paying for research out of our own resources instead of through bundled trading commissions, which could increase our firm's expenses and decrease our operating income.
Lastly, it also is uncertain how regulatory trends will evolve under the current U.S. President's administration and abroad. For example, in June 2016, a narrow majority of voters in a U.K. referendum voted to exit the European Union (“Brexit”), but it remains unclear exactly how the U.K.’s status in relation to the European Union ("EU") will change if and when it ultimately leaves. Accordingly, our U.K.-based buy-side and sell-side subsidiaries are implementing alternative arrangements in EU jurisdictions in order to ensure continued operations in the Eurozone, including our continued ability to market and sell various investment products in the Eurozone. In addition, any other changes in the composition of the EU’s member states may add further complexity to our global risks and operations.
We are involved in various legal proceedings and regulatory matters and may be involved in such proceedings in the future, any one or combination of which could have a material adverse effect on our reputation, financial condition, results of operations and business prospects.
We may be involved in various matters, including regulatory inquiries, administrative proceedings and litigation, some of which allege significant damages, and we may be involved in additional matters in the future. Litigation is subject to significant uncertainties, particularly when plaintiffs allege substantial or indeterminate damages, the litigation is in its early stages, or when the litigation is highly complex or broad in scope.
The financial services industry is intensely competitive.
We compete on the basis of a number of factors, including our investment performance for our clients, our array of investment services, innovation, reputation and price. By having a global presence, we often face competitors with more experience and more established relationships with clients, regulators and industry participants in the relevant market, which could adversely affect our ability to expand. Furthermore, if we are unable to maintain and/or continue to improve our investment performance, our client flows may be adversely affected, which may make it more difficult for us to compete effectively.
Also, increased competition could reduce the demand for our products and services, which could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition, results of operations and business prospects. For additional information regarding competitive factors, see “Competition” in Item 1.
The partnership structure of AB Holding and AB limits Unitholders’ abilities to influence the management and operation of AB’s business and is highly likely to prevent a change in control of AB Holding and AB.
The General Partner, as general partner of both AB Holding and AB, generally has the exclusive right and full authority and responsibility to manage, conduct, control and operate their respective businesses, except as otherwise expressly stated in their respective Amended and Restated Agreements of Limited Partnership. AB Holding and AB Unitholders have more limited voting rights on matters affecting AB than do holders of common stock in a corporation. Both Amended and Restated Agreements of Limited Partnership provide that Unitholders do not have any right to vote for directors of the General Partner and that Unitholders only can vote on certain extraordinary matters (including removal of the General Partner under certain extraordinary circumstances). Additionally, the AB Partnership Agreement includes significant restrictions on the transfer of AB Units and provisions that have the practical effect of preventing the removal of the General Partner, which provisions are highly likely to prevent a change in control of AB’s management.
AB Units are illiquid and subject to significant transfer restrictions.
There is no public trading market for AB Units and we do not anticipate that a public trading market will develop. The AB Partnership Agreement restricts our ability to participate in a public trading market or anything substantially equivalent to one by providing that any transfer that may cause AB to be classified as a “publicly traded partnership” (“PTP”) as defined in Section 7704 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended (“Code”), shall be deemed void and shall not be recognized by AB. In addition, AB Units are subject to significant restrictions on transfer, such as obtaining the written consent of AXA Equitable and the General Partner pursuant to the AB Partnership Agreement. Generally, neither AXA Equitable nor the General Partner will permit any transfer that it believes would create a risk that AB would be treated as a corporation for tax purposes. AXA Equitable and the General Partner have implemented a transfer program that requires a seller to locate a purchaser and imposes annual volume restrictions on transfers. You may request a copy of the transfer program from our Corporate Secretary (firstname.lastname@example.org). Also, we have filed the transfer program as Exhibit 10.15 to this Form 10-K.
Changes in the partnership structure of AB Holding and AB and/or changes in the tax law governing partnerships would have significant tax ramifications.
AB Holding, having elected under Section 7704(g) of the Code to be subject to a 3.5% federal tax on partnership gross income from the active conduct of a trade or business, is a “grandfathered” PTP for federal income tax purposes. AB Holding is also subject to the 4.0% New York City unincorporated business tax (“UBT”), net of credits for UBT paid by AB. In order to preserve AB Holding’s status as a “grandfathered” PTP for federal income tax purposes, management seeks to ensure that AB Holding does not directly or indirectly (through AB) enter into a substantial new line of business. A “new line of business” includes any business that is not closely related to AB’s historical business of providing research and diversified investment management and related services to its clients. A new line of business is “substantial” when a partnership derives more than 15% of its gross income from, or uses more than 15% of its total assets in, the new line of business.
AB is a private partnership for federal income tax purposes and, accordingly, is not subject to federal and state corporate income taxes. However, AB is subject to the 4.0% UBT. Domestic corporate subsidiaries of AB, which are subject to federal, state and local income taxes, generally are included in the filing of a consolidated federal income tax return with separate state and local income tax returns being filed. Each of AB's non-U.S. corporate subsidiaries generally is subject to taxes in the foreign jurisdiction where it is located. If our business increasingly operates in countries other than the U.S., AB’s effective tax rate will increase as our international subsidiaries are subject to corporate taxes in the jurisdictions where they are located.
In order to preserve AB’s status as a private partnership for federal income tax purposes, AB Units must not be considered publicly traded. If such units were to be considered readily tradable, AB would be subject to federal and state corporate income tax on its net income. Furthermore, as noted above, should AB enter into a substantial new line of business, AB Holding, by virtue of its ownership of AB, would lose its status as a grandfathered PTP and would become subject to corporate income tax as set forth above. If AB and AB Holding were to become subject to corporate income tax as set forth above, their net income and quarterly distributions to Unitholders would be materially reduced. For information about the significant restrictions on transfer of AB Units, see the risk factor immediately above.
If, pursuant to the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 ("2015 Act"), any audit by the Internal Revenue Service ("IRS") of our income tax returns for any of our taxable years beginning after December 31, 2017 results in any adjustments, the IRS may collect any resulting taxes, including any applicable penalties and interest, directly from us, in which case our net income and the cash available for quarterly Unitholder distributions may be substantially reduced.
Although the IRS, under current law, generally determines tax adjustments at the partnership level when it audits the income tax return of a partnership, the IRS, with respect to taxable years beginning on or before December 31, 2017, is required to collect any additional taxes, interest and penalties from the partnership's individual partners. The 2015 Act modifies this procedure for audits of a partnership’s taxable years beginning after December 31, 2017 and, if a partnership meets certain requirements and makes a proper election, for audits of a partnership’s taxable years beginning before January 1, 2018. We may choose to make such an election if we receive a written notice of selection for examination for an eligible taxable year or if we file, on or after January 1, 2018, an administrative adjustment request for an eligible taxable year and otherwise qualify to make such an election.
Generally, we will have the ability to collect tax liability from our Unitholders in accordance with their percentage interests during the year under audit, but there can be no assurance that we will elect to do so or be able to do so under all circumstances. If we do not collect such tax liability from our Unitholders in accordance with their percentage interests in the tax year under audit, our net income and the available cash for quarterly distributions to current Unitholders may be substantially reduced. Accordingly, our current Unitholders may bear some or all of the tax liability resulting from such audit adjustment, even if such Unitholders did not own Units during the tax year under audit. In particular, as a publicly traded partnership, our Partnership Representative
(as defined below) may, in certain instances, request that any “imputed underpayment” resulting from an audit be adjusted by amounts of certain of our passive losses. If we successfully make such a request, we would have to reduce suspended passive loss carryovers in a manner which is binding on the partners.