Babu Thiagarajan on digitization imperatives at Fidelity International through the pandemic

Babu Thiagarajan on digitization imperatives at Fidelity International through the pandemic
Babu Thiagarajan
3 Sep, 2020

For Bermuda headquartered asset manager Fidelity International, the six-odd months since the Covid-19 pandemic crippled enterprises worldwide have been business as usual on one critical front -- technology investments and initiatives. 

Being a privately owned company and therefore not under scrutiny like some of its peers to answer to public shareholders quarter on quarter has been a big advantage, said Babu Thiagarajan, country general manager and head of technology for India at Fidelity International. A 12-year veteran at Fidelity, Thiagarajan was earlier as Sapient and HCL.   

Fidelity employs more than 8,000 people globally of which close to 3,000 are located in India. It operates a capability centre in the Delhi NCR region and an investment management team based out of Mumbai.  

In mid-August the company’s global assets under management touched a record  $565.7 billion in total assets.

“Since we are able to make slightly longer term choices, more strategic investment decisions, we are able to continuously improve the underlying platform that we use to serve the customers,” he told TechCircle.

In recent months, for instance, the company accelerated its virtual reality deployment to train and educate employees, led by its Innovation Garage, its incubation centre for innovative technology practices.

More than 140 employees used virtual reality headsets as part of their remote onboarding program, as a replacement for the company’s traditional in-person training programme in May. The participants connected in a virtual space through an ‘avatar’ and were onboarded through the use of multiple digital technologies.

“We had our colleagues dialling in from seven or eight different time zones from China all the way West in the UK for a virtual reality backed meeting. We sat in the audience, there were speeches, applause, people whispering with each other,” he said. 

“What it does for travel, carbon emissions, people’s lifestyles, and the promise that it holds is really compelling,” he added.

Other recent technology deployments include the launch of Fidelity Wealth Expert a digital asset management platform to meet the changing needs of digital savvy savers and investors.

Read: Artificial intelligence and machine learning in financial services

Fidelity has made a transition to become a cloud-first organisation, according to Thiagarajan. “We took the stand saying that we will be cloud first, which means any new application deployment has to explain why it cannot be a cloud implementation,” he said.

 Today, the company works with multiple cloud partners and has an intermediary who makes sure that it can work seamlessly between all the different cloud vendors. In other instances the company simply onboards a SaaS player, after assessing usage pattern, security and sensitivity of the data that will be used by the SaaS provider. 

Also read: Covid-19 accelerates enterprise investments in cloud networking

From its user side perspective, Fidelity has accumulated a huge amount of macro and micro data, such as performance indicators, industry wise data, economic growth and others over the past five decades of its existence.  The company now plans to utilise this data in a systematic manner with the deployment of newer technologies.

Thiagarajan explains that this isn’t about just data crunching. “This is about bringing confidence to customers in multiple disciplines – psychological behaviours, socio economic factors, geo-political factors. About how to bring these different perspectives to help clients make the right decisions,”

The aim is to help customers identify systematic gaps and opportunities in the market. To accomplish this Thiagarajan said that the company is building skills in artificial intelligence, machine learning, as well as bringing other multidisciplinary skills on board such as psychologists and even geo-political strategists to understand the market better.