The 2008 meltdown, its regulatory aftermath and residual shocks like the European debt crisis continue to constrain bank profits and capital market activity and cast a pall of austerity over many financial institutions. Yet excitement and optimism reign among the developers and managers of the technologies on which firms and markets increasingly depend.

This enthusiasm is a common thread running through the Tech 50, Institutional Investor's annual ranking of those who lead the financial services industry in technological achievement and innovation. Far from being oblivious to prevailing economic and competitive realities, these executives bear witness to them. Having risen in stature and influence well beyond where they were a generation or even a decade ago, they have a firm grasp of those challenges and bring to bear tools, resources and expertise critical to overcoming them.

"Technology isn't just about automation and efficiency," asserts Goldman Sachs Group chief information officer Steven Scopellite, No. 10 on the list. "We see it as a business enabler, an accelerator, a control point — a source of competitive advantage."

Adds Phupinder Gill (No. 16), CEO of CME Group: "Technology has been the great differentiator for us. Now we are a technology-based company."

Indeed, financial technology has come of age not only as a way to move manual tasks onto machines but also as an engine of profitability. Exchange operators CME, NYSE Euronext (Dominique Cerutti, No. 6), Nasdaq OMX Group (Robert Greifeld, No. 20) and London Stock Exchange Group (Antoine Shagoury, No. 37) all make money selling technology to other markets and are investing in growth opportunities, particularly in derivatives and clearing. Those thriving businesses sustain the No. 3 ranking of IntercontinentalExchange CEO Jeffrey Sprecher, who says proprietary technology is essential to ICE's ability "to maintain a healthy pace of product development."