Platform Development Should Not Pass into a Wild West
Based on the interview with Rich Romano, CTO of Fiduciary Exchange LLC — FIDx
Fiduciary Exchange LLC ( FIDx) empowers advisors to deploy a comprehensive range of annuity offerings as core components of their clients’ managed portfolios — integrated within the same wealth management platforms they use every day. FIDx has partnered with major WealthTech companies, such as Envestnet Insurance Exchange, and top-tier insurances carriers, in an effort to seamlessly integrate the brokerage, insurance, and advisory ecosystems.
Rich Romano has been helping to spearhead the development of the annuity exchange project at FIDx over the last two years. In an effort to move the industry forward and fill the gigantic gap between insurance and investment firms, Rich has had to alter his perception of the intersection of insurance and wealth-management that he gained through years of work.
In this article, we’ll discuss FIDx’s “bootcamp” approach for onboarding new team members, how knowledge transfer and transparency of the project can guarantee the ball keeps rolling, the DNA of FIDx, and Rich’s leadership best practices that lead to success.
Bootcamp for newbies
FIDx has a remarkable way of onboarding new employees. Every hire, whether they’re a developer or a senior vice president, enters a “bootcamp” during their first two weeks with the company. This includes being put into a quality assurance (“QA”) group, running test cases, and taking part in bug and project calls. This helps to ensure newbies receive full exposure to both the product and process.
“I think it’s really important, whether you’re an app developer, QA, or project manager, to understand the platform that you’re working on in its totality. I always tell people ‘buckle up’ when they join, and it’s really great because we have the opportunity to watch people grow.”
Romano is a huge fan of knowledge transfer. He usually brings new team members into a room and spends an hour just talking with them. He imparts the vision and history of the company, the importance of the roles they play, and how everything fits together. He says that this enables the processes to function day and night without his direct involvement:
“[I’ve] got to make sure that if I get hit by a bus, the day moves on.”
Also, they conduct weekly “lunch-and-learns.” At these events, the entire company comes in for pizza, and each team does a 45-minute presentation on what they’re doing, their mandate, what they’re accountable for, and what their work means to the organization. If anybody else wants to get involved in a project, the group will help include them.
However, knowledge transfer at FIDx isn’t limited to these activities. They have also built out a confluence site to store knowledge and are involved in a lot of industry events and groups, like the Innovation Research Interchange. Romano also personally pushes his teams to pursue external certifications.
The organization’s DNA
According to Romano, everything that his team does is managed through backlog management:
“We have the right controls in place, so we have separation of duties, and no one has the keys to the kingdom. That way, we’re making sure that it’s not the wild west; we protect against bad actors outside, and we protect against bad actors inside.”
FIDx has some powerful partners, which holds them to a high standard of transparency in their business. For instance, they are required to report and provide visibility to their clients in terms of service availability and how things are going.
“We have 100% visibility into scope management, sizing effort, [and] insertion into the sprints. We’re in yellow- and green-light management versus red-light management, where we get alerts when something breaks or goes down. As we manage defects in that process, they are also tied back to requirements and epics, so we have full accountability and traceability of what the actual developer was working on.”
Also, Romano empowers his team to be accountable and responsible for their own choices:
“I make sure that I do not get CC’d on every email around a bug that’s going back and forth. They only put me on when I need to be involved in those critical issues.”
Romano believes that people who are likeminded and share similar principles will work better together than those who are very smart but may not be matched from a personality perspective:
“Someone who is the smartest person in the world, but doesn’t match our culture, will not do as well as somebody who’s got 80% of that person’s capability but is a 100% personality match.”
Describing how critical the DNA of the organization is to FIDx, Romano says:
“Imagine that you see 30 people that are literally moving together, and when one person moves out to the left, somebody inevitably walks out and pulls them back in. Or, they say, ‘Why did you move to the left?’ And this person says, ‘This is where we need to be, and here’s why.’ Next, everybody moves to the left. […] It’s such a highly dynamic, interactive, open environment with such transparency.”
Being a successful CTO requires discipline and self-development. So, it’s crucial for Romano to make sure that everything the company does is aligned with the strategic vision:
“We talked about what’s the difference between a CTO in my environment versus a CTO in a Fortune 100 or 500. I have no assistant. Every day, I’m my own assistant. I almost get Scrum with myself.”
Romano loves to read. He says that he just finished “The Platform Revolution” by Geoffrey Parker. In his opinion, his team needs to think of themselves as a network and a platform in and of themselves, and that they have a lot to learn from the culture at Amazon and Google.
Regarding collaboration and communication tools, Romano might be old school, but he’s proud to be a huge fan of interpersonal communication:
“I’m a visual person. Anybody who knows me will generally have a bet on how fast I go to the whiteboard and pick up a marker in a meeting. I believe in drawing pictures, diagrams, and conveying information through things that are easily consumable. It’s important to give people artifacts versus just talk about things and say, ‘Go do it.’”
He likes to understand what people are doing at the coffee machine or by the pizza boxes versus having a conversation over Slack or an overly formal one-on-one meeting. It allows people to be conceptually, logically, and physically relaxed in his presence, which fosters connectivity and productivity.