Top Fidelity executive builds investor confidence

 In January 2021

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Recalling her mom’s struggles managing money motivates Kathleen Murphy in her senior post at investment giant Fidelity.


Family-owned Fidelity Investments is based in Boston, but North Carolina is a hub with more than 3,000 staffers, mostly at a Durham operations center. Kathleen Murphy, president of personal investing, expects continued growth as people park their money with bigger, trusted companies amid the pandemic. Overseeing a business unit managing $3 trillion in client assets, Murphy, 57, regularly ranks among the nation’s most powerful women in business and finance, according to business publications such as Barron’s. She is a former general counsel at Aetna and later was CEO of ING U.S. Wealth Management before joining Fidelity in 2009. Her comments were edited for brevity and clarity.

Kathy Murphy

Kathleen Murphy

► What has been Fidelity’s experience in our state?
While we do have a big investment in North Carolina, we feel very lucky to be there. It is one of our largest sites in the U.S., and we continue to grow there. In fact, we’re hiring hundreds of new people again this year in technology roles and customer service roles in our branches across the state with our financial advisers. First, there’s a very talented employee base, and we have been rewarded with the high quality of the people that have come to Fidelity. But the other key thing for us, obviously, is our client base in North Carolina continues to grow as we serve people in our branches and across workplaces, whether it’s hospitals, health care systems, universities or corporate America.

► Fidelity released research showing four in 10 women may step back from careers because of covid-19 issues. Did that surprise you?
The [multiple] challenges that this COVID environment has presented has been stressful for everyone at different ages and life stages. But working women have really felt it from the perspective of children. Remote learning and how do we take care of children while we’re trying to be on Zoom calls all day? Or maybe someone has toddlers but no longer feels comfortable putting one’s children in a day care situation. Or I have elderly parents and with COVID, they need more of my time. All the stresses of trying to balance all these things seems to have fallen a lot on women. Women have made a lot of advances in the workplace, [but] it’s not perfect yet, for sure. This COVID environment has challenged that in terms of continued progress while people sort out how best to meet both their family needs as well as what they can do in their careers.

► You’ve said that 90% of women will oversee their finances at some point in their lives. Could you explain that and the implications?
On average, women live longer than men by five to seven years. So if you are married, you will likely outlive your husband. Also, 50% of people get divorced in this country, or they never get married. What we have found is that women have been historically underserved by the financial-services industry. This is something I’m really passionate about because of what happened to my mom a long time ago. It’s not that women aren’t smart enough to engage in investing, it’s that they often don’t have the confidence. In fact, when women do invest, they actually do quite well. But it’s that confidence gap.

So we set up an entire business unit at Fidelity focused on helping women engage and invest in their finances because of the impact it will have on them across their lifetime. Women have made progress in terms of advancing in the workplace, but if you are going to live to 90 or 100 years old, we have to make that money work hard for us.

► What was your mom’s story?
I’m that problem middle child, the third of six. My dad died of a massive heart attack unexpectedly at the age of 57, and my mom was then working part time. My mom and dad had the traditional division of duties: My mom paid the bills and saved, [and] my dad did the investing. And unfortunately, that pattern persists 30 years later.

When he died unexpectedly, she didn’t know where to turn. And she didn’t know anything about investing. She was intimidated and didn’t know whom to trust. She wasn’t as well positioned as she could have been or should have been.

I wasn’t in financial services at the time, but fast forward 30 years and now she has Alzheimer’s. Now I’m dealing with another area that I have become passionate about, which is how to help our elderly maneuver through all the things you’ve got to think about as you approach your 70s and 80s and making sure you’re protected against a variety of circumstances, whether it’s cognitive abilities or just physical health care abilities.

► Why is Fidelity hiring so many people, including an October announcement of 4,000 more jobs nationally?
We hired 2,000 over the summer, and a lot of those jobs are financial professionals because of increased demand and engagement from existing clients as well as new clients. I want to make sure every one of our associates takes our clients’ issues as personally as they do. We need to step up and provide broader support because of this increased demand.

In my business, we’ve had a 55% increase in new client accounts this year. So as more and more people turn to Fidelity to help them, we need to make sure that we’ve got all the right financial professionals and advisers to be there for them.

► What caused that 55% increase?
We’ve seen an acceleration in our business over time in any event, but I think that this environment has caused people to say, “I really need to make sure I know what’s going on, and I want to work with a firm I can trust.” Frankly, in challenging times, people switch to brands they really trust. And I’m pleased to say I think Fidelity has a strong brand.

► This pandemic has crushed many small businesses. Are you concerned about that?
Small businesses have been so hurt. Big businesses like Fidelity, particularly those that have invested in digital capabilities, will ride this out. But it is those small businesses that are so vibrant and the local community that we have to watch out for. I think it’s a big worry, and it’s important from a policy perspective to do as much as we can to help them get through this. We’d hate to see all these small businesses that have worked so hard get crushed by this, where if we provided a little more help, they could make it through.

► How did you come to be the vice chair of the National Football Foundation, which sponsors the College Football Hall of Fame?
I’m responsible for our 403(b) program, which supports universities and hospitals, including some very big ones in North Carolina. Because of that, we’ve sponsored the scholar-athlete program at the foundation, which celebrates both the scholar athletes and the teachers who helped them become scholars. As a result, they asked me to be the vice chair of the board.

So Archie Manning is the chair while Kathy Murphy is the vice chair. Who knows her? I have a lot of fun, even though I don’t know enough about football. ■

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