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CTO Sessions: Ruchir Swarup, Addepar

In this interview, Addepar CTO Ruchir Swarup discusses emerging technology and his role at Addepar.

Ruchir Swarup is CTO at Addepar where he oversees the full technology stack of the wealth management technology platform and spearheads the company’s research and development efforts. Ruchir leads with his beliefs in building innovative financial technologies that support the fiduciary duty of financial advisors and democratize access to sophisticated wealth management tools to further the industry.

Prior to Addepar, he spent almost 2 decades at BlackRock as a managing director. He was responsible for all post-trade technology, including the company’s central processing system for investment management, Aladdin. Ruchir spent the first 15 years of his career in Japan working as a Systems Design Engineer for IBM, a Systems Architect for Dell, and a Vice President for Merrill Lynch Investment Managers, as well as the first half of his tenure at BlackRock. Ruchir earned a Bachelors in Computer Engineering from Pune Institute of Computer Technology.

Q: What was your first job?   

My first job was at IBM’s Mobile Computing Division as an Engineer, and I was responsible for writing embedded software and device drivers for what was known as the IBM Thinkpad at that time. I had the privilege of working with and learning from some of the most accomplished Engineers at several IBM research labs including the Watson Research Lab and the Yamato Research Lab in Japan.

Taking an Engineering role in Japan was possibly one of the most consequential life decisions and I was terrified at first – I had never been to Japan and didn’t know the language. I decided to take a leap of faith and moved across the world (and ended up living in Japan for 15 years!). In retrospect, I’m incredibly grateful for the experience as it gave me exposure to a completely different culture at a young age and had a major impact on the rest of my career journey.

Q: Did you always want to work in IT?

Not necessarily. I always loved sports and grew up thinking that I’d have a career as a professional sportsperson, but my parents always recommended that I pursue a more viable path.

I began experimenting with the first desktop computers at an early age, back when tape drives were used to store and load programs and I learned to code in Basic. Around the same time, one of my older cousins working for an Indian government-sponsored organization called the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (CDAC) was designing one of the first supercomputers in the country, the PARAM 8000. He helped me get a firsthand view into how the computer was being built and opened my eyes to what can be achieved via technology, which solidified my interest in computer science.

Q: What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they?

I earned a Bachelors of Engineering in Computer Engineering from Pune Institute of Computer Technology in Pune, India.

Q: Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss.

My favorite courses in high school were English literature and World History – clearly not much in common with Engineering. At some point, I even wanted to grow up to become an Archeologist! Eventually, I ended up pursuing a college degree in Computer Engineering which, at the time, was a relatively uncommon choice as professional career options were fairly limited.

Shortly after graduation, I started my career as a Design Engineer working for IBM, and then a few years later transitioned into a Systems Architect role at Dell Computers in their Online Systems division. From there, I took an opportunity that introduced me to financial services, spending the first five years as a Vice President at Merrill Lynch Investment Managers (acquired by BlackRock in the year 2006) and subsequently served as a Managing Director and a member of the Global Operating Committee at BlackRock. In June 2020, I finally joined Addepar as its Chief Technology Officer.

Q: What type of CTO are you?

As CTO, the most important thing for me is to make sure I’m creating a culture of camaraderie not competition, and empowering Addepar’s engineers to pursue innovative and creative solutions. I believe the most successful engineers are the ones always looking to solve complex problems that matter, and are approaching them with an open mind.  I’m honored to lead a team of tech-obsessed, solution-oriented engineers focused on making a difference in the lives of our clients and the clients they serve. 

Q: Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of?

I am a fairly simple minded engineer and believe that most engineering problems can be solved through simple and small iterative steps. Each step might seem small, but once enough small steps have been taken, a giant shift becomes apparent. 

An example of this approach is DeFi, where multiple small steps over the past decade have led to a wide adoption of the Distributed Ledger paradigm with impact not just limited to native digital assets such as crypto, but other types of non-digital assets such as alternative investments that include private equity, real assets, and other types of economic structures. The tokenization of these non-digital assets (and the asset owner entities) is expected to have a monumental impact on financial services – it will lead to a thriving secondary market with low execution costs and implicit proof of ownership, which could then lead to virtually zero trade failure rates and instantaneous trade settlement cycles. This would be in stark contrast to the current offline mode of operations where some of these transactions can take weeks, or even months, with several painstaking iterations and carry non-trivial costs.

Q: Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? Why?

With such a rapid pace of tech driven innovation across all industries, it is difficult to predict if a certain emerging technology will be successful in the near term or have a longer tail. For example, the growing trend of virtual real estate transactions on various Metaverse platforms raises questions about the worthiness of these types of investments. Though they might seem to be impractical today to a vast majority of people, it is possible that these types of virtual assets might carry value over the longer time horizon.

Q: What is one unique initiative that you’ve employed over the last 12 months that you’re really proud of?

At Addepar, we are on a mission to create an operating platform for the global financial services industry. To be successful on such an ambitious journey requires a world class team combined with a solid architectural foundation. 

We believe that over the past 12 months, we have assembled an incredibly talented global R&D team that is highly motivated to solve some of the hardest tech problems in finance. Our core philosophy has been to hire the best talent, wherever it may exist, and provide them with interesting problems to solve and the freedom to innovate without boundaries. 

I don’t believe that our work is done by any stretch – we still have a long way to go but the journey is a lot of fun when you have an incredible team that challenges the status quo every single day. Our clients appreciate the value creation that helps them win against their competition.

Q: Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasize customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two?

According to a BCG Global Wealth Report, the global investable asset pool is $250T+, most of which is still managed via spreadsheets in a fairly rudimentary fashion. Due to lack of modern technology and access to financial data, many independent advisory firms, private banks, family offices, institutions (and their clients) still struggle to answer basic questions like “what do I own?”,  “where do I own it?”, “does my portfolio allocation deliver the desired investment outcomes?” and “what action do I need to take?”, quickly and completely.

Addepar was founded in 2009 with a mission to Be the tech and data platform that connects the global investment ecosystem. We provide a complete set of portfolio data aggregation, analysis, trading, and reporting capabilities built on top of a unique data aggregation model that is realized through a set of highly scalable and robust APIs integrated with a wide collection of Addepar-native and industry-leading partner products.

We believe that Addepar is driving a digital transformation across financial services – our platform supports a combined asset base of over $4T and adds over $15B in assets per week. Addepar serves more than 850 financial services firms from single family offices and multi-family offices to financial advisors in more than 35 countries. The company’s continued high growth rate is evidence of our client-centric business model, combined with a relentless focus on platform innovation.

Q: What is the biggest issue that you’re helping customers with at the moment?

One of the biggest challenges our clients are facing is managing the diverse nature of their portfolios in terms of geographical and asset class dispersion. For example, a typical Addepar client would have sizable exposure to non-marketable securities such as private equity, private company shares, real estate, or even fractional ownership of sports teams along with traditional stocks, bonds, and cash. 

Our key strengths at Addepar are representing these complex mixes of investment types, driving simplicity through a set of consistent portfolio views via a highly versatile data model, all while maintaining a sophisticated compute capability. We are constantly evolving the platform to natively represent a myriad of other asset classes that our clients are exposed to, with a consistent focus on being the foremost data aggregation platform designed to serve all of our client needs.

Q: How do you align your technology use to meet business goals?

Historically, solutions have been built for financial services – with services at the forefront and tech coming in a distant second. Addepar took the opposite tact and built technology first. This investment has given us a foundational, robust platform with flexibility and scale that we can continue to build on. 

With 60% of Addepar’s employees allocated to R&D, tech innovation is a cornerstone of our business – ensuring that our technology stack and the product features are congruent with our client needs worldwide. In addition to providing the underlying platform, we have committed to an open platform model that enables us to offer access to the best software, data and service providers in the industry.

Q: Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy?

Addepar is first and foremost an operating platform for financial services which requires a robust data fabric capable of aggregating, processing, and provisioning a wide variety of financial datasets at scale. The robustness and scalability of the platform is always a priority, and our roadmap is weighted heavily towards it. 

We believe that any incremental investment into the platform pays off in multi-folds as it benefits the entire Addepar product ecosystem and our partner integrations. From a client perspective, we consider this to be a winning value proposition as they can have the confidence in knowing that their business growth potential is significantly amplified with Addepar as a core part of their operating platform foundation.

Q: What makes an effective tech strategy?

I believe in a “build to basics” philosophy where simple solutions to complex problems always triumph over complex and groundbreaking tech. We have a strong bias towards action at Addepar and we don’t admire problems for too long – instead, we focus on iterative solutions that lead to shorter feedback loops, including our clients to provide proof points along the way.

Q: What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future?

In my opinion, the role of a CTO has already evolved into an investor of company growth, where everyday decisions fundamentally drive the future prospects of their business. I believe that successful CTOs will continue to focus on evolving their core operating foundation, and guide the business to a risk vs. reward scenario that makes sense in the economic climate.

Q: What has been your greatest career achievement?

I have been fortunate to have a number of important milestones along my professional journey thus far. Though most importantly, I find it incredibly satisfying and personally enriching to see the teams (and individuals) I work with flourish and scale new heights in their respective careers.

Q: Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently?

I generally follow a no-regrets philosophy in life, as every step along the way is a learning moment. Having said that, I do reflect on some of the earlier phases in my career where I feel that I should have spent more time with my family and maintained a better balance between work and family commitments.

Q: What are you reading now? 

I’ve been re-reading “Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman – it’s one of the best self-discovery books in my opinion. And, most recently, I really liked reading “The Technologized Investor” by our good friends Dr. Ashby Monk and Dane Rook. It’s an excellent, well-researched book.

Q: Most people don't know that I…

Moved to Japan when I was 21 and lived there for 15 years!

Q: In my spare time, I like to…

I enjoy spending time with family, wine tasting, and catching up on shows.

Q: Ask me to do anything but…

Physical work around the house! 😅