Witad Awards 2022: WatersTechnology woman of the year—Roben Dunkin, PGIM

In her home, Roben Dunkin sits in front of an expansive built-in bookcase, made of dark wood and lined from end to end with rows of bound books with cracked spines. She occupies the role of chief operations and innovation officer at PGIM, the asset management arm of US life insurance company Prudential Financial, but in another life, or if this one had shaped up differently, she’d have been a librarian.

Her fondness for words and literature translated into an obsession with data when she began her career at Lehman Brothers in 1991 on the trading desk. But a few years later, she moved into the technology side of the business after she had “annoyed” Lehman’s then head of technology by writing coding suggestions for the bank’s major IT systems.

“Finally, he just said, ‘All right, enough already. It’s clear that you’re obsessed with the data, and how it works, and the implications. Why don’t you come and work for us?’” Dunkin says.

She took pride in being able to work on projects that, at the time, weren’t particularly exciting to other people, but helpful to them, nonetheless. For example, she digitized the two-foot stacks of trading records that would cross traders’ desk each day. “People didn’t realize that was something I could do,” she says.

Dunkin worked for Lehman until 2008. She then joined Credit Suisse and stayed at the Swiss investment bank for 14 years, where she helped create Plus, an integrated client portal that provides access to Credit Suisse research, analytics, trading, and reporting.

At PGIM, which has been operating for nearly 150 years and has both a public and private business, innovators can walk a fine line. To that end, Dunkin must balance the pressure to jump on certain bandwagons—alternative data and ESG investing, for example—while adding real value to the firm in a way that makes sense for its clients.

“We have to be flexible, but we also have to have consistency for our client base,” Dunkin says. “But I think the monetization of data is a key thing for us. We have a lot of interesting data that we’re working with, so how do we leverage that? How do we continue to be thought leaders for our clients?”

The woman who acts as two chiefs—of innovation and operations—knows that asset management is increasingly not just a money-making game; it’s an exercise in adaptability, judgement, and expertise.

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