Rockefeller Capital's private wealth head explains why his firm is more like a startup than a big bank. Tech overhauls take months, not years.

Business Insider | Jul 19, 2019, 11.25PM IST

Chris Randazzo, Rockefeller Capital Management's head of wealth management and head of technology & operations, with Business Insider's Meghan Morris in New York.

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Chris Randazzo, Rockefeller Capital Management's head of wealth management and head of technology & operations, with Business Insider's Meghan Morris in New York this month.

  • Wall Street veteran Greg Fleming's Rockefeller Capital Management is expanding its private wealth management - and upending an entire online platform.
  • In a recent interview with Business Insider in New York, Chris Randazzo, the division's head, said he's been able to move more nimbly at Rockefeller than at larger firms when it comes to overhauling tech.
  • Randazzo previously held executive leadership positions at Morgan Stanley and Bank of America Merrill Lynch's global wealth and investment management units.
  • Visit BI Prime for more stories.

Chris Randazzo knows a thing or two about the technology that major investment firms depend on to manage clients' wealth.

Before he joined New York-based Rockefeller Capital Management to lead its private wealth division, along with technology and operations, Randazzo was the chief information officer for global wealth and investment management at Morgan Stanley and at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

Now, after a little over a year at Rockefeller, Randazzo is feeling liberated. Dealing with old systems at big firms can be frustrating, he said, and it can be nearly impossible to build something new while supporting a sprawling existing business.

"The hardest thing with the massive legacy systems that were built over 10, 20, 30, 40 years, the challenge was trying to innovate at the same time while you're running multi-billion dollar businesses supporting millions of clients and millions of accounts," he told Business Insider in a keynote interview at the InVest conference in New York when asked about his tenure at Morgan Stanley.

"Now at Rockefeller, for the first time, I have a blank piece of paper ... I get to do a few things that are exciting," he said.

Read more: Rockefeller Capital expects to have almost doubled its assets to $35 billion in Greg Fleming's first 21 months as CEO. He highlights the 2 trends shaping the industry.

When Randazzo started enlisting advisors late last year for Rockefeller's fledgling private wealth management arm, he wasn't satisfied with the firm's online client offering as it prepared to enter the crowded, competitive space. So in March he pulled the plug on it and decided to rebuild entirely.

"It didn't have all the functionality that I liked. I didn't care for the design and the experience," he said.

His team's platform is now in beta and readying to launch later this summer. Randazzo told Business Insider that the turnaround was must faster than would have been possible at a bigger firm.

The platform's final form will come together in a "matter of four to five months," Randazzo said, "and that's inclusive of getting feedback from clients and making changes on the fly."

"At a bigger firm, it would have taken a minimum of two years, and the cost would have been 10, 20, 30 times," he said. "That's a big differentiator for us."

Randazzo added: "I decided now is the right time, let's rebuild the entire platform. We think of that in terms of bigger firms, that would take a lot longer."

Rockefeller's foray into private wealth management marks a further transformation for the 137-year-old firm that Randazzo said is still in many ways like a start-up.

Read more: Ex-Morgan Stanley rainmaker Greg Fleming's new firm is putting in place 'the building blocks' to reach $100 billion in assets - and it's just made its biggest move yet

Last year, the Wall Street veteran Greg Fleming joined the firm and said he wanted to expand the multifamily office's capabilities into investment banking and other areas. He says the firm could hit about $35 billion in assets under management by the end of the year - up from $18 billion when he joined a little over one year ago.

At a conference in New York last month, Fleming, the former president of Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch, said digital is key for wealth management.

Still, Randazzo draws a line between defining financial services and technology firms' roles as the two fields increasingly intertwine on Wall Street.

When Business Insider asked whether tech companies trying to be banks were under- or over-rated, he responded, "Overrated." And banks trying to be tech companies?

"Very overrated."

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