T. Rowe Price’s big moves in tech have typically come in the form of large investments. The companies in its portfolio have included household names like Facebook, Twitter and Snap. Lately, however, attention has turned to the technology that’s being developed in-house by the Baltimore-based investment management firm. It’s a new step for the 80-year-old firm.
In 2015, T. Rowe hired former Credit Suisse CIO Nigel Faulkner as its new head of technology. Then came the opening of innovation hubs in Linthicum and London. In April 2017, a public announcement called attention to the opening of a New York office known as the Technology Development Center. In a statement, Faulkner heralded it as part of “a bold and exciting technology strategy.”
According to Jordan Vinarub, who was hired from hedge fund Bridgewater Associates to run the New York office, the goal is not to replace, but rather improve upon existing functions at the firm with technology.
"We want to use technology as a strategic differentiator for the firm."
And it’s about more than stocks.
“We really want to invest in technology broadly,” he said. “We want to use technology as a strategic differentiator for the firm and build on the core of our business.”
T. Rowe is also spending. According to fourth quarter earnings issued Tuesday, “the firm invested $186.1 million during 2017 in capitalized facilities and technology, and expects capital expenditures for 2018 to be about $180 million, of which about two-thirds is planned for technology initiatives.”
One way that plays out is redesigning the interfaces through which clients interact with the firm. In Linthicum, a team is working on these “journeys.”
So far, the team has revamped processes for individual investors as they create new accounts, as well as for retirement planning services. They are also working on self-service tools that allow customers to complete transactions online.
Recently, the firm hired Rajesh Eshwar to head client experience and delivery transformation. He previously worked at Capgemini Group, a digital services and consulting firm.
“Rajesh has a strong commitment to developing and empowering teams, as well as a passionate entrepreneurial spirit, which is key to the CEDT mission,” said Scott David, T. Rowe’s head of retirement plan services, who Eshwar reports to. “We are pleased to have him join our team and look forward to the impact he will have on serving our clients.”
According to Vinarub, the teams in each tech and innovation center are working across the organization. The goal in opening the New York office, for instance, was to be close to tech talent with particular expertise that comes with being close to the financial center.
“Where our office was on Broad Street [in New York], that used to just be a financial center,” he said. “These days it’s also a fintech center.”
It’s expected to grow to 50–60 people. In turn, they will work with the company’s large offices on Pratt Street and in Owings Mills. (Overall, the company employs 4,800 people in Maryland.) Further work on creation, testing and prototyping is happening in London.
One initial project is using data science to improve the ability of the sales and marketing team in Baltimore to reach large amounts of intermediary clients and advisors with the firm’s products.
“Obviously you can’t physically reach that many people, so marketing and sales need to scale up their efforts through technology,” he said.
And then there’s stocks.
The firm, which had $991.1 billion in assets under management as of Dec. 31, 2017, prides itself on the research conducted by Baltimore-based experts that underlies its investment portfolio. It shows no signs of turning away from its “active management” approach, even as Forbes noted that such firms are “increasingly choosing machines over men.” Yet Vinarub and T. Rowe Price leaders have said there’s room for new data science techniques to be applied to help those efforts. And the firm’s leaders believe new products could result.
A spokesperson said the office is “a key investment in our strategy to accelerate transformation by bringing on new technical capabilities, delivering technology with commercial value, and leveraging innovation for building our future state platforms.”
If current postings are an indication, however, there’s no shortage of tech jobs in Baltimore, either.