72-year-old Fidelity bets on the future with blockchain, virtual reality and AI

“What are you doing here?” a young engineering student asked Vipin Mayar, the head of artificial intelligence initiatives at Fidelity Investments, at a MIT conference in San Francisco.

As Mayar recalled, “They were all just… surprised.”

Fidelity executives are getting used to the confused looks and double-takes their company booth draws at Silicon Valley job fairs.

Although the 72-year-old, family-controlled firm is known for managing retirement plans and mutual funds, by many measures, Fidelity is a tech company. The firm is spending billions of dollars to compete in new technologies like blockchain, artificial intelligence and virtual reality. According to executives, Fidelity wants to measure itself against tech firms like Nvidia, not its more traditional Wall Street rivals like Charles Schwab.

Fidelity was doing fintech before fintech was cool, as CEO Abigail Johnson explained it during a panel presentation at the company’s headquarters this month. Her grandfather, Edward C. Johnson, founded the company in 1946 and is still quoted as saying it’s better to “take intelligent risks rather than follow the crowd.”

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