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Rating:Abby Johnson Makes a Confession Not Rated 3.0 Email Routing List Email & Route  Print Print
Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Abby Johnson Makes a Confession

Reported by Armie Margaret Lee

Fidelity Investments scion Abby Johnson took the stage Tuesday morning to keynote NICSA's annual gathering of the technology and operations side of the mutual fund industry. Johnson, who is the daughter of Fidelity chairman Ned Johnson and a top executive and shareholder of the Boston-based mutual fund firm, very rarely makes public comments, a fact that lent an air of excitement to her keynote speech.

Abby Johnson
Fidelity Personal and Workplace Investing
Addressing the packed grand ballroom of the Doral Golf Resort and Spa in Miami, Johnson joked with the audience before launching into her 35-minute speech, in which she touched on topics ranging from 401(k)s to Fidelity's relationship with BlackRock to electronic delivery of statements and the transfer of assets process. Kaizen, the Japanese concept of constant change for the better that Ned Johnson espouses, also popped up in Abby's speech. Afterward, she took questions from the audience. And no, the succession topic did not come up during her speech nor the Q&A (She was asked, among others, about her views on ETFs and the role of advisors at Fidelity. And in her brief chat with reporters, a Fidelity representative told the journalists not to ask about succession.)

"Being here today gives me an opportunity to share with you a confession," Johnson told the 500-plus conference attendees. "I like analyzing and managing large-scale transaction processing platforms, recordkeping administration and brokerage trading services. There, I said it," Johnson deadpanned, drawing laughter from the crowd.

"Technology underlies nearly everything we do at Fidelity," she later said. "We have more than 10,000 servers and 60,000 personal computers. Last year we tested 35 million lines of software code for security vulnerability."

Though Johnson's remarks seem tailored to the NICSA audience, they reflect a longstanding philosophy share by top Fidelity brass in public remarks.

In the past, Fidelity executives have also focused on the technology underpinnings of Fidelity's success, pointing to the firm's leading position in the retirement plan administration space and its varied business such as its brokerage platform offered to other financial services firms.

"What I've learned over the last five years is that managing and transforming a large-scale recordkeeping and transaction processing platform is just as hard, and in many ways more difficult, than leading an investment management team," Johnson confided.

She gave props to the operations and technology professionals in the audience.

"The reason I want to be here today is to recognize and thank all of you who work in your company's operations and technology functions," she said. "All too often, the efforts and contributions of operations and transaction processing groups are only noticed when things go wrong."

Johnson also said the firm is open to more partnerships with other financial services firms.

There is a perception by some, she said, that Fidelity is a reluctant partner to others in the financial services industry.

"This is not the case," Johnson said. "Fidelity has actively sought and will continue to seek opportunities to help us broaden product and service choices for our customers," pointing to Fidelity's relationships with MetLlife on the annuity side and BlackRock for ETFs as recent examples.

Fidelity's deal with BlackRock -- under which investors can trade 25 iShares ETFs on Fidelity.com for free -- is "clearly, the best deal for ETFs in the industry."

In her speech, she called on the industry to take a stronger stand in the areas of transfer of assets and electronic delivery in order to improve the customer experience. 

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