RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Fidelity Investments keeps adding jobs in the Triangle, and the emphasis is on talent, not a degree.
Fidelity Investments announced in May that it would hire 500 roles and launch a new business unit from its RTP campus location, focused on providing service to what the company described as its retail investors. With 300 openings already filled, and demand from Fidelity’s clients continuing to increase, the company announced last week that it would hire an additional 1,500 positions in the Triangle, with many of those positions a part of the new business unit.
That’s according to Fidelity’s general manager of the personal investments regional center in RTP, Rob Merdes, with whom WRAL TechWire reporter Jason Parker spoke with this week about the jobs announcement, and about why Fidelity chose not to require a bachelor’s degree or any certification for candidates interested in the roles.
A lightly edited transcript of the interview appears below the video.
Jason Parker, WRAL TechWire (TW): Can you tell us more about the 1,500 positions Fidelity announced it would hire in North Carolina?
Rob Merdes, general manager, personal investments regional center, Fidelity Investments (Merdes): We’re really excited. You may recall, back in May, we announced we would hire 500 initial jobs, and that was designed to open a new business unit here in North Carolina, our personal investments regional center. These 1,500 additional jobs, many of those are going to be added to that business unit. We’re excited. We’ve historically had a strong technology presence and 401k and workforce services business here in the Triangle, but this is a new business unit designed to serve our individual retail customers.
TW: Our understanding is that many of these positions are not going to require a bachelor’s degree, advanced degree, or certification prior to the hiring process. Can you tell us more about Fidelity’s strategy in shifting the process in this way?
Merdes: I wouldn’t say it was necessarily a shift. What we’ve seen is that when you are hiring for customer service type roles, we’re really interested in finding people who have those types of skills and a passion for helping people. When we think about that, and we think about some of our benefits that we have for assisting our associates with tuition assistance to finish degrees in many instances, or for folks who in many cases are coming in with degrees, helping them with student debt. We just felt it was an opportunity to bring in talented people that we could provide the type of onboarding and support to jumpstart a career in customer service, build a foundation, help them get certifications like licensing and stuff like that, and ultimately look at all the different ways you could build a career at Fidelity. We’re excited about the opportunity to bring these folks in, and we’re starting to see the fruits of the labor, we’ve seen some very talented folks come in so far. I don’t see any reason why that will stop.
TW: What can you tell us about the status, with regard to the number of jobs, or people hired, for the new business unit?
Merdes: We’ve hired almost 300 of those associates since the May announcement. We’re excited about the folks we’re getting, several of which have decided to start a little bit in person this week, which was fun, getting to see some folks come into Fidelity’s offices. Our strategy has been to hire, train, and in some cases upskill folks in a remote environment. We’ve kept things incredibly safe, and been conservative. As we continue to monitor how the pandemic evolves, we’ll make decisions on folks being able to come into the office. Those 300 folks are coming from a wide variety of backgrounds, we’ve got some new college graduates, we’ve got some career changers. I met someone who had been at a tech firm for 33 years, and she was talking about her experience onboarding. What we’re finding is that this business unit has allowed us to attract associates and potentially candidates that we haven’t been able to attract in the past.
TW: Are there any measure that you’re tracking internally about the diversity of the candidates that you’re hiring?
Merdes: We certainly strive for capitalizing on North Carolina’s diverse workforce. We’ve, it’s always been a part of our DNA, certainly. What I’d say is that we do have tracking mechanisms. We’re interested in attracting the best associates, and we’re finding that our associates represent the community we work in, so we feel really good about that, even if I haven’t seen any specific numbers on diversity, so far.
TW: Jobs are being hired for, people are being onboarded. What can you tell us about the process, and what the company has learned, and what the company is thinking about moving forward?
Merdes: We obviously learned a lot during the pandemic. We were fairly well-prepared to go virtual, we had started a hybrid work model before the pandemic, in a lot of different business units, both to support our ability to house everyone, with the physical constraints, but also our associates and candidates are demanding that flexibility. We really feel strongly that you can get the benefits of both, working from home, and working in the office. Certainly, when you’re here, there are opportunities for collaboration, networking, on the spot coaching, and when you’re studying for your series 7 exams, getting some quick help from your manager on a question, but also the flexibility and convenience of working from home. We learned a lot during the pandemic around our ability to execute at a high level and support our customers while working form home, so now it’s all about when and how we return to work, and our firm, Fidelity, has been very data-driven, backed by science, and we feel like we aren’t in a spot where we’ll announce when everyone would need to return. We’re going to let the data and the science inform us, so that everyone can stay safe.
TW: We’ve seen an increase in the cadence of stories about the rise in retail trading. You mentioned that’s the focus of the new business unit. What are the trends that are happening that led to this, and what’s the state of the industry?
Merdes: The rationale started, simply, with demand. I shared earlier this week that we added, since the beginning of 2020, Fidelity added 8.6 million new customers, which is an incredible number. When folks are home, working from home, and have different ways to spend their downtime, it feels like folks were paying more attention to their investing. With the market performing fairly well over the last several years, it’s gotten more publicity in the press. We saw a surge in client demand, which made it really critical for us to find more associates to meet those client’s needs. What we’re finding is clients like to have control in how they work with us. It’s really important to have incredible website functionality, a mobile app, but folks need to work with us on their terms, when it’s convenient for them, but Fidelity has a history of being there for our clients, whenever needed, 24/7, and so there are times they want to talk to someone for help with maybe a servicing item, or help talking to someone with a license about a trade, or they may need help with planning. That’s another part that we started to see is that financial services firms have been shifting around this marketplace it’s, for us, when we’re working individually with a client, we lead with planning. These roles allow us to service the clients that are getting that type of help, and my hope is that long-term, these folks will grow into the roles, continue to build their skillsets, and as we help them identify different career paths, I feel like some of them may want to try to become an advisor, to help clients with some of their planning needs, and I certainly think that is possible.
TW: From Fidelity’s perspective, what are the top skills that Fidelity is looking for in these new positions?
Merdes: You have to have a passion for service. You must really want to help people. Our business is the business of helping our clients be successful, whether that’s helping them solve a problem, or helping them with maintenance on their accounts, and it’s a huge opportunity for us to help our clients. I’d say the top skills are a dedication to service, desire to help folks, and we’re looking for folks who are looking to build a career in a place like Fidelity, which we believe is a very strong value proposition.
TW: Anything else?
Merdes: If there’s anyone out there interested in looking at these roles, what I would say is this. Some folks think you need to have a strong finance background. That’s much more about math and analytics. This is about helping people. Our onboarding programs, our training, and our licensing are top notch. We want to surround folks with support to help them through that process, and build a foundation for a great career.