Unique financial services culture

Despite being a large organization of over 44,000 employees, Fidelity Investments has managed to maintain a distinct organizational culture that separates them from their peers. Situational and historical influences predominately explain why Fidelity culture has evolved they way it has. Despite being such a large company, Fidelity has remained a privately held company by the Johnson family and a few of their employees. Thus, there is no board of directors or shareholders that employees must listen to, allowing the current CEO, Abigail Johnson, to run the company as she sees fit. One of the most obvious manifestations of this is the emphasis Fidelity places on technology and innovation. Despite being one of the largest asset management companies in the country, only roughly 900 of the 44,000 employees work in the asset management division. The vast majority work in research or innovation positions. I work in the Merrimack, NH office, and most of the employees at the site are focused on technology or operations type work. Since they are privately held with the Johnson family having the majority stake in the company, they can invest money into new technologies regardless of whether they are guaranteed to be successful. For instance, over the years Fidelity has grown to own numerous subsidiaries that do not relate to financial services. They own the Seaport Hotel in Boston, a cattle ranch next to the office in Texas, and used to own Boston Coach, which is a town car and limousine service in Massachusetts. Owning companies such as Boston Coach allowed Fidelity to both save money when ordering town cars for their employees while also generating revenue. However, since it is outside of the general goals of the company, it is unlikely a conventional corporation with shareholders would have been able to approve such an acquisition.

In recent years, Abigail Johnson has tried to steer Fidelity away from a traditional banking and financial services culture, instead mimicking cultures seen at many technology companies in Silicon Valley to attract millennials. For example, all offices have been renovated with a new focus on collaborative space, and people no longer dress in business professional to work, instead wearing jeans and more casual clothes. Many employees now also can work from home and chose to do so one day a week. So far, one of the most interesting aspects of Fidelity’s culture is their continued adherence to a 9-5 workday. At 5 pm each day, almost everyone goes home, and by 5:15 the office is empty. I learned quickly that there is a sort of internal pressure among employees to adhere to this to maintain work life balance. However, while the day may officially end at 5, many employees are at their desk by 7:45, and it is not uncommon for meetings to begin at 8:00. Again, this is primarily driven by the nature of Fidelity’s work. Since the core of the company is asset management, they follow the hours of the New York Stock Exchange, which is 9:30-4:00. Interestingly, even though I am not in the asset management division, this way of working continues to effect other parts of the company. Most of these norms are taught by a mix of observation/social learning, as well as through the orientation I attended my first day.

One thought on “Unique financial services culture

  • June 14, 2019 at 11:29 am
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    Thanks for explaining the privately-owned context for this company and how that impacts the way in which the organization is run, the extent to which the organization can elect to focus on particular items, etc. Always helpful to understand such nuances early on. It is interesting that despite there being many divisions within the organization, the asset management division still sets the tone in regards to work hours, etc. As you continue it will be interesting to see if that division also sets the norms/expectations for other elements of work as well (in addition to hours).

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