Earning her Barnard degree in economics provided Terri Liftin ’90 with the foundation for a successful career. She combines her financial expertise — having also received a master’s degree in economics from NYU — with legal knowledge acquired from Brooklyn Law School.
Since September 2021, she has served as a senior vice president and associate general counsel at Cohen & Steers, a global asset manager specializing in real assets and alternative income. She supports the private real estate group by setting up legal and corporate governance infrastructure and creating new products — such as a private real estate fund — in addition to helping execute on private real estate investments. She also served for 14 years as chief legal officer and chief compliance officer at several private investment firms, roles that involved editing audits to monitor contracts and expenses.
“From my earliest experience working in a professional setting, even as a legal assistant after Barnard, I found that I thrive on the intellectual energy and collaborative atmosphere of an office,” said Liftin. “The combination of being surrounded by smart people and having a role in an organization’s success is extremely gratifying.”
Liftin unsuccessfully ran for comptroller of New York City in 2021 with the mission of addressing the city’s financial crisis and bringing accountability to government. She noted that the comptroller’s responsibilities include imposing fiscal discipline on the mayor, making wise investment decisions on behalf of the city’s pensions, negotiating beneficial terms with third-party contractors, and expeditiously and efficiently dispensing with litigation against the city, all tasks with which Liftin is experienced.
In the Q&A below, Liftin discusses her Barnard foundation and inspirations and how best to budget during trying financial times.
How did your Barnard prepare you for your current role?
Barnard prepared me for my career, and for life, by giving me the confidence that I could accomplish anything I put my mind to. Every time I am asked to introduce myself, I am so proud to say that I graduated from Barnard.
I always knew I wanted to become a lawyer, but I fell in love with economics at Barnard. I attribute a large part of that to [former professor of economics] Perry Mehrling, who taught my introductory economics class. He was a brilliant professor who explained complicated subject matter in simple terms. It was the first time that I was both fascinated and engaged in an academic setting.
The way he communicated the material, in a discipline that was completely new to me, made it both interesting and easy to understand. I was hooked and became an economics major. Knowledge earns you respect in a professional environment, and my background in economics has enabled me to bring a different and important knowledge base and viewpoint to my legal role.
What did you take away most from Barnard that you’ve used in your career?
Being at a small, liberal arts, all-women college — where individual views were encouraged and supported — helped me find my voice. The way I communicate changed over time, and I now know that a loud voice is not always the most powerful. That lesson took time to learn. But the realization that people would listen to me if I adhered to facts and logic was instilled at Barnard.
My hope for the younger generation is that they stick with their chosen field. Women in their 50s have a lot to offer, and there are not enough of us in the workplace.
How can a city like NYC react to inflation to cushion the financial hits for residents?
To the extent that excess demand is one of the major forces driving inflation, the answer is to increase the supply of goods and services. One way that a government can increase supply is to eliminate the red tape associated with doing business.
What budgeting advice would you offer individuals to help them get through an inflationary period?
Inflation obviously is not ideal for individuals and their budgets. There aren’t many great choices, certainly few that don’t involve trade-offs. One traditional option is to stock up on nonperishable items if you anticipate that prices on those items will move higher. Individuals can choose or experiment with lower cost brands and make other practical consumption choices.
From a macroeconomic perspective, since the Federal Reserve has committed to raising interest rates to help ameliorate the effects of inflation and cool off the economy, it will likely become more expensive to take out a mortgage to buy a home or to pay off credit card debt pegged to a floating interest rate. If possible, individuals should endeavor to pay down or avoid high-cost or floating-rate debt.
—MICHELE LYNN ’82