"Well, I’ll start with something most people wouldn’t expect to hear about Fidelity, and that is that we have more than 10,000 technologists working here."
Amy Danforth, Executive Vice President of the Discovery Ventures Program at Fidelity Investments, talks about the benefits of engaging in the fintech ecosystem, and innovation at Fidelity, a Founding Partner of MassChallenge FinTech.
Fidelity Discovery Ventures is a start-up amplifier helping participating companies better understand how to engage with large enterprises to accelerate their growth.
What are some of the ways in which Fidelity engages with fintech startups?
Our work with accelerators is just one of the ways that we reach into the digital ecosystem to get to know, and learn from, other financial services companies who are thinking and working differently. We have teams that keep a pulse on emerging technologies and the companies that develop them, and identify opportunities to engage with them in various ways.
We are customer-obsessed, so we’re constantly exploring how we can tap into emerging technologies and new user interfaces to improve our customers’ lives. That’s why, through programs like MassChallenge FinTech, it’s exciting to collaborate with high-potential businesses who can help solve some of our customer challenges. It’s one way for us to push the boundaries and think of new ways to innovate.
We also have an initiative through which we select emerging fintech companies who want to gain experience working with our business leaders and take their companies to the next level. We invite the founders of those companies and their teams to spend several weeks with us, both onsite and virtually, and they learn firsthand how to sell to large enterprises.
The companies are assigned mentors from one of our business groups and participate in networking events, they have the opportunity to make connections to potential customers and VCs, and they get access to data testing sandboxes and our technical expertise.
What are some examples of the business challenges startups are helping you to solve?
Fidelity is a large and diverse company, and we’re focused on opportunities in a number of areas, from retirement and savings, to artificial intelligence and cyber security.
Through our collaboration with MassChallenge FinTech, we are currently working with two start-ups, Cake and Elsen, which align with business challenges important to our customers and us.
Cake modernizes and facilitates the end-of-life planning process for individuals and their loved ones. Fidelity operates across the spectrum of people’s financial lives from birth to retirement, so we understand how life events, (e.g., marriage, divorce, and job changes) can affect our customers’ financial well-being, and the importance of planning ahead.
Elsen is a Platform-as-a-Service firm that helps financial institutions solve their most difficult data problems rapidly and efficiently. They’re collaborating with our teams on ways to use the Elsen Platform to cut down the time spent assembling large data sets from days to minutes, allowing data analysts to spend more time on analysis and decision-making.
Tell us more about technology innovation at Fidelity.
Well, I’ll start with something most people wouldn’t expect to hear about Fidelity, and that is that we have more than 10,000 technologists working here, which represents approximately one-fourth of our workforce. This is just one example of how important technology is to our business success. Our innovation spans decades and has always permeated our culture.
In the 1970s, we provided the first voice-activated automated phone system to offer quotes and yields. In the 1990s we were the first mutual fund company to launch a home page on the Internet and offer credit card services to retail customers. And more recently, we created the first financial services app for wearables like Google Glass and Apple Watch®. We also launched Fidelity Digital Assets, which offers custody and trading solutions for institutional investors’ investments in digital currencies.
We are constantly focused on what’s next, so we can make every product, service, and experience better for our customers.
What’s unique about the culture at Fidelity that enables that level of innovative thought?
Fidelity was founded with the spirit that everything we do could be done better. We never stop looking for new ways to develop meaningful solutions and drive value and we nurture an environment that encourages risk-taking and supports new idea generation. In fact, one of our Leadership Principles is ‘”risks and value pace over perfection.” We want leaders who are willing to experiment and accept that failures don’t derail and inhibit; there are lessons in failure. This culture of innovation is also evident from our agile ways of working, to our progressive workspaces, breaking down silos and allowing our associates to do their best work together.
The Fidelity Center for Applied Technology (FCAT) is an innovation catalyst in itself. This group explores and experiments with emerging technologies, like virtual reality and augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and blockchain. It begins with outside-in research and user testing and comes to life through prototypes that lay the foundation for new products and services.
Another way that we advance innovation throughout the company is by bringing people together to exchange ideas and make connections. Thousands of our associates participate in events and programs arranged by FCAT Clubs that are focused on research areas like Blockchain, AI, behavioral economics, healthcare, and the future of work. The Clubs are a way to make peer-to-peer connections, foster curiosity, and engage our associates in solving our customer challenges.
What advice do you have to start-ups that wish to engage with companies like yours?
Know that mutual learning comes from organizations willing to collaborate on business and societal challenges. We’ve worked with many start-ups in varying stages of development. It has been a win-win situation for our associates who get exposed to different ways of working or approaching challenges, for our business leaders who are able to advance their solutions, and for the start-ups, who identify opportunities to accelerate their growth.