Grounded as it is in information and money — and information about money — financial services is, was and always will be a technology business. “Good information received in a timely fashion” defined sound banking, the late Citibank chairman Walter Wriston said more than 30 years ago.
But money, banking and capital markets have come a long way from what they were in Wriston’s time, or even a year ago, because technology is advancing so quickly and changing industry and society as it goes.
That is the day-to-day reality for the Tech 50, the visionaries and innovators on Institutional Investor’s annual ranking of financial technology leaders. What sets these executives apart goes beyond their considerable understanding of software applications and system performance as components of corporate strategy. These leaders think big about the global or macro implications of technology-driven change — from cloud computing and machine learning to emerging sensations like the Apple Watch, cryptocurrencies and the Internet of Things. They relate such developments to their organizations’ and customers’ on-the-ground challenges and opportunities; set budget, investment and R&D priorities; and come up with solutions, to use the technological term of art.
And they put a premium on speed and agility. “It’s all about speed to innovate,” says Robert Alexander (No. 24), chief information officer of Capital One Financial Corp., which last year bought a leading user-experience design company to accelerate web and mobile app development.
Intercontinental Exchange chairman and CEO Jeffrey Sprecher, repeating in the No. 1 position, brought his company from nowhere to the top of the global exchange world in part because, he says, “technology enabled us to scale quickly.” It also can fail. ICE’s three-and-a-half-hour outage on July 8 was only the latest to affect a major market platform — and demonstrate the importance of two other differentiating qualities: resiliency and recovery.
Catherine Bessant (No. 2), global technology and operations executive at Bank of America Corp., frets that the technology world at large is “moving at the speed of the consumer, not the speed of the enterprise.” The answer? “The best and brightest talent.” Bessant believes that “in conjunction with advanced-state thinking, financial services is magnetic for tech people.” But that means competing against Apple, Google and other name brands. For Bloomberg, one of the biggest and best-regarded development shops in finance, “ability to find talent is the only constraint” to hiring more technologists, says global head of R&D Vlad Kliatchko (No. 6). Citigroup chief innovation officer Deborah Hopkins (No. 8) calls the speed of change “exponential” and “almost violent,” and the necessary strategic response akin to a “lean start-up.” She views her organization’s “200 years of know-how” not as a liability but as something to be leveraged as new and “democratized” business models like the smart-phone economy and the blockchain present new opportunities.
The Tech 50 ranking was compiled by Institutional Investor editors and staff, with nominations and input from industry participants and experts. Four primary sets of attributes were evaluated: achievements and contributions over the course of a career; scope and complexity of responsibilities; influence and leadership inside and outside the organization; and pure technological innovation.
Of the 50 entries, 36 return from last year. The returnees’ 2014 ranks are shown, and the rest are designated “PNR” (previously not ranked).
The Tech 50 was compiled under the direction of Senior Contributing Editor Jeffrey Kutler. Individual profiles were written by Kutler; Asia Bureau Chief Allen T. Cheng; Editorial Research Assistant Jess Delaney; Senior Writers Frances Denmark, Julie Segal and Aaron Timms; Associate Editor Kaitlin Ugolik; International Editor Tom Buerkle; and Editor Michael Peltz. •