U.S. Markets

Fidelity names tech executive Neff to run asset management

BOSTON (Reuters) - Fidelity Investments on Friday named technology executive Steve Neff to run its big asset management division, a move that shows the growing importance of data systems for fund companies.

Neff, a 22-year Fidelity veteran, replaces Charlie Morrison, whose pending retirement the privately held Boston firm announced in October.

“It’s an opportune time for Steve to lead Asset Management, as technology is becoming increasingly important in our efforts to deliver outstanding investment performance and solutions for our customers,” Fidelity Chief Executive Abigail Johnson wrote in a memo to employees seen by Reuters.

Johnson said Neff will continue to report to her and remain a member of the company’s operating committee. His successor as head of technology and global services will be named soon, she said.

Fidelity had $2.5 trillion in total assets under management as of March 31, according to the company’s website. In its latest annual report, Fidelity’s parent said assets under management rose more slowly than at some rivals, but reported strong investment performance and said its operating profit rose.

Neff previously held jobs supporting Fidelity investment operations. In the new role he will oversee more than 500 investment professionals running Fidelity’s best-known products like the $120 billion Contrafund.

Lately Fidelity has been aggressively lowering and eliminating fees as it battles industry rivals for cost-conscious clients, a dynamic that has increased the importance of smooth technology operations.

John Bonnanzio, who edits a newsletter for Fidelity investors, said via e-mail the selection of Neff could raise cultural questions since Fidelity’s analysts and fund managers are “investment geeks, not techno geeks.”

But the pick could make sense, Bonnanzio said: “Perhaps it’s also a reflection of the fact that technology is integral to everything Fidelity does and, increasingly, security selection, too.”

Reporting by Ross Kerber; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall