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2018 IA 25 Fintech/IT/AI Winners

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Amazon’s Jeff Bezos received a lion’s share of the votes in the IA 25 Technology category. Despite attempts by the U.S. president to muddy his company’s name, Bezos (owner of The Washington Post) still is the man to beat when it comes to the ability to meld the latest technology with a variety of businesses.

The tech giant has integrated itself into consumers’ purchasing and entertainment, with healthcare activities — though a venture with Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan — and perhaps even banking on the horizon. The entrepreneur has said that the ability to make quick decisions, have “obsessive customer focus” and embrace large trends are some of the ways he keeps Amazon moving forward.

Could financial advice be next? Never underestimate Bezos. “Your margin is my opportunity,” he often says. Although he may be focused on healthcare now, perhaps the allure of the investment advisory business, as it rapidly assimilates robo-advisors and other technology, will be the next endeavor that attracts him.

The man behind one of the most tech-advanced firms in the business, TD Ameritrade Chief Information Officer Vijay Sankaran cites a company mantra, “transforming investing and lives for the better,” as a guide to the development and adaption of technology. The firm has introduced a “chatbot” to its retail clients and added voice-enabled search for stock quotes through Alexa, Amazon’s virtual aid.

Adapting to change is key, says Sankaran, a former Ford Motor executive, as disruption in all businesses has become a constant. He recommends that firms stay away from outdated thinking, such as traditional market segmentation, and figure out how they can best use data to improve their operations and their clients’ lives in the future.

With a focus on customer delivery systems, he opts for mobile first and then self-service platforms. He also says firms should “embrace the robo [and] see what it does and how it can add value.”

Sankaran summed up a 2017 industry speech by stating what firms need to do to stay ahead: automate, use data analytics, work with technology partners to integrate tools and interfaces, and take cybersecurity seriously.

Few people could lose or gain billions of dollars of personal wealth while giving Congressional testimony, but that was the case for 33-year-old Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder and CEO of Facebook. The Harvard dropout turned billionaire is now in the crosshairs of politicians for a data scandal involving as many as 87 million Facebook profiles. The social-media platform has more than 2 billion users worldwide and a market valuation of $480 billion.

Questions remain about how the Russian-linked firm Cambridge Analytica harvested FB user data for its own dark purposes during the 2016 presidential election. Zuckerberg hopes to maintain the tech company’s right to self-police, but that seems unlikely.

Meanwhile, social media use by advisor continues to expand, especially Facebook, according to a study released in April by Putnam Investments. In fact, 86% of those surveyed say using social media helps them gain clients.

In creating and expanding the Facebook platform, Zuckerberg has been a big believer in the idea that the more time you devote to a goal, the greater your success. He’s also come to appreciate feedback and holds regular town halls with staff.

Some more of his best practices: Don’t be afraid to make mistakes (but learn from them), hire executives you would work for and hang around smart people, as they enhance your game. As CEO of Apple, the world’s most valuable company with market valuation of $870 billion in mid-April, Tim Cook took the reins from one of the tech world’s most iconic figures, Steve Jobs, in 2011. During Cook’s term, Apple’s iPhone has dramatically changed the telecommunications business — including how advisors and clients share financial information.

Cook joined Apple at Jobs’ insistence but also due to “gut instinct.” Speaking at a 2010 commencement ceremony, he said, “There are times in all of our lives when a reliance on gut or intuition just seems more appropriate — when a particular course of action just feels right.”

The tech titan also told the graduates: “And interestingly, I’ve discovered it’s in facing life’s most important decisions that intuition seems the most indispensable to getting it right.”

— Read the profiles of the 2018 IA 25 winners in the other five categories: