Morgan Stanley’s tech head Rooney says India’s engg talent is unrivalled


Bengaluru: In May last year, Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman asked Robert Rooney, who was then based in London overseeing the investment bank’s technology and serving as its head of Europe, Middle East and Africa, to move to New York to focus solely on the tech part of his job. It underscored how important technology had become to the firm’s business. Rooney was recently in India, where the bank has its second biggest base of technologists. In an exclusive interaction, the first since he took over as global head of technology, Rooney spoke about how crucial technology has become to financial services and about Indian technology talent. Excerpts:

You have a big technology base in India. Can you give us an idea of the relative strength here, and the work they do?

We are a firm of about 60,000 employees and about 20% are technologists. India is our second biggest location after New York. Globally, we have 10,000 full-time technologists and 5,000 consultants (contract employees). Of that, we have 2,000 full-time technologists and 1,300 consultants sitting in Morgan Stanley offices in India. India is a foundational part of the firm’s infrastructure – operations, finance, risk, legal and compliance. And the technology organisation here supports all our front office businesses and the infrastructure platforms. We do a huge amount of engineering work here.

You have tech centres in New York, London, Tokyo and Hong Kong. How do you see the quality of the engineering talent here?

The breadth of the talent and the quality of the engineering talent here in India is unrivalled. It’s been a big investment for us. You can get a lot of tech talent in China, Europe and the UK. But the sheer number and quality of students coming out of Indian universities with technical, computer science and engineering degrees is really like nothing else in the world. Maybe at par with China. But India is a slightly better time zone than China for the rest of the world. And you have an advantage in the quality and number of English speaking engineers we can hire both laterally and out of college.

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And you know what’s so great about the talent here in India, it has an incredibly curious culture. It is a culture which is constantly looking to stay on the cutting edge, and it’s again what makes being here and having such a large technology platform in India so attractive for us.

Is your India team geared up for opportunities in newer tech areas?

We have our technology teams aligned to our core business priorities. But when you think about the innovation that’s happening in the world around us, whether it’s cloud, AI/ML, big data and analytics, we have established centres of excellence (CoEs) that are effectively independent of the day-to-day business functions, to make sure that the firm is uber-focused on our journey with these innovation priorities. The CoEs are global in nature and India is a big contributor to those CoEs. We find that there is a significant pool of talent in data analytics and data science here. There is real talent here and real interest around innovations like blockchain. Of course, cloud is something everybody is talking about. We have a lot of engineers here working on transitioning to the cloud, and on automating our tech processes. So, India is very much at the centre of what we are doing.

Some financial institutions like to call themselves tech companies…

We are not a tech company, we are quite clear. Some of our competitors like to say they are a technology company. Morgan Stanley doesn’t sell technology. We are an investment bank, an asset management and a wealth management company. If you think about what it takes to run the world’s largest and fastest electronic trading platform – which is what Morgan Stanley has – it is low latency technology, which is both hardware and software technology, challenging the speed of light, printing five million tickets on a single day last February, which was our record volume day. These are seriously complex engineering challenges.

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In wealth management, there is a huge amount of engineering today, the way in which our advisors can automate so much of their functionality. Wealth management is historically an incredibly manual business. A wealth manager today has many clients, hundreds usually. Think about an asset manager managing hundreds of portfolios. So, we have a platform called Next Best Action which is using artificial intelligence to help financial advisors to decide what call to make next, what portfolio to focus on next.

There’s growing pressure from the Indian government for data localisation. Do you think we are creating data colonies?

I think the answer is yes. Is it a good thing or a bad thing? I could argue both sides of that. But it is going to happen for sure. And it is not unique to India. We have this in jurisdictions all over the world. Of course, China is quite particular about local data, Russia is quite particular about local data and frankly the Americans are having a big discussion about data and data protection. So, I would be surprised if a version of GDPR does not move from Europe to the US in the relatively near term. I think that Europe’s approach to data privacy is a very sensible one.



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