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Fidelity's Subramaniam: We're a Tech Company That Happens to be in Finance

A day after a Robinhood co-CEO said competitors like Fidelity and Schwab weren’t really technology companies, Ram Subramaniam reminded attendees at the same conference how many “technologists” it employs.

A Fidelity Investments executive told attendees at CB Insights’ Future of Fintech conference on Thursday that his firm is indeed a technology company, contrary to what a co-CEO of upstart brokerage Robinhood told attendees a day earlier.

Vlad Tenev, a co-CEO of the trade-for-free investment app Robinhood, said on Wednesday that his company was prepared to compete with long-standing businesses like Charles Schwab and Fidelity even as the legacy firms lower their commissions. 

“These companies aren’t really technology companies or engineering companies,” Tenev said. Since it was founded in 2013, Robinhood has amassed more than 4 million brokerage accounts and enabled $150 billion in transactions, he said; it has more accounts than E*Trade and was most recently valued at $5.6 billion.

But Ram Subramaniam, the president of Fidelity Brokerage Services, was quick to remind conference attendees on Thursday that Fidelity thinks of itself “as a technology company that happens to be in financial services,” and that the firm has the resources to deploy technology for the benefit of clients in far more areas than just trading.

He told listeners during a question and answer session that Fidelity spends about $2.5 billion on technology each year and employs more than 12,000 “technologists."  

As an example, Subramaniam said Fidelity Labs, a division with about 180 employees focused on innovation, is working on ways to improve more than just the brokerage business. For instance, he said the company is using voice recognition technology that can identify callers, retrieve their call history and immediately direct them to the person they need to speak to.

He said voice recognition and artificial intelligence are not solutions for everything but there are still wide-open opportunities to use data and technology to improve the customer experience.

Another team at Fidelity Labs is focused on digital currencies. Fidelity partnered with the digital currency exchange Coinbase so customers can access and trade cryptocurrencies through their Fidelity brokerage account. Philanthropically minded Crypto holders can contribute their digital coins to donor advised funds. The firm even accepts Bitcoins at the company cafeteria, according to Subramaniam.

“We are defielty in the game and we think there's more to come,” Subramaniam said.

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