Suresh Kumar moved to the US at 24 to find a job in technology. Along the way to becoming CIO at BNY Mellon, he directed the first online brokerage, built a laudable technology stack at Pershing, and installed a software company back home in southern India. By Jake Thomases with photos by Amy Fletcher
The most powerful woman in banking doesn’t impress easily, or she wouldn’t be the most powerful woman in banking. But Karen Peetz is impressed by Suresh Kumar. Just look where his career has gone since they began working together at BNY Mellon three years ago.
Peetz earned the “powerful” title from American Banker Magazine in 2011, even before she’d been appointed president of the largest custody bank in the world. Back then, she was still vice chairman in charge of financial markets and treasury services. It was the year she handed Kumar the technology reins to five businesses under her purview—corporate trust, depository receipts, broker-dealer services, treasury services, and collateral management—on top of Pershing, BNY Mellon’s clearing subsidiary, which he already ran. At the time he’d reported to her for only a year.
“He brought fresh eyes to how we were approaching problem-solving: being more client-focused, being more of a partner to the business people, and doing it in a demanding way,” says Peetz. “And I mean that in a good way—he’s the kind of person who doesn’t go away until the business people address his questions.”
Kumar was CIO at Pershing when it came under Peetz’s umbrella in 2010. She came to realize that Pershing was ahead of the rest of the company when it came to innovation, client focus, and approaching technology dynamically. She put Kumar in charge of technology for those additional divisions—comprising over 50 percent of the company—in 2011, and liked what she saw enough that, in April of 2012, he was promoted again, this time to CIO of the entire bank.
Peetz remembers the moment she realized what Kumar was capable of. Her IT team was hammering out a blueprint for a new platform meant to reduce intra-day credit risk in the tri-party repurchase agreement (repo) market, for which BNY Mellon is the largest provider of agent services. The best the team could come up with was a five-year plan that left no one satisfied. Kumar joined, and soon a two-year plan was on the table. “It was brilliant,” Peetz recalls. “Absolutely brilliant. It addressed the risk much more quickly than the five-year plan did and had more elegant features and functions.”
“We pioneered in many ways what you now see as online brokerage. We were the first ones to connect online brokerage to NYSE directly without a Series 7 holder in between, approving each order.”
A Passage From India
The Bank of New York is the oldest bank in the US, having been chartered in 1784, eight years before the New York Stock Exchange. Interestingly, its deep American roots were planted by a man born outside the US, founder Alexander Hamilton, born on the Dutch Caribbean island of Nevis. Perhaps Kumar, raised and educated in India, is not such a fish out of water at one of America’s oldest institutions.
The Indian Institutes of Technology were established in the wake of the country’s independence from British rule in 1947 to produce civil engineers that could fast-track it to the future. Kumar had that career path in mind when he enrolled in the college at Madras, one of the nation’s three best universities. While there, he was drawn to the computer lab, not because of any interest in the refrigerator-sized IBM 360s, but because it was the only room on campus besides the library with air conditioning. Nonetheless, he learned about early computing, but most importantly he learned how to learn, skills he carries with him to this day. After Madras, he earned an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management at Ahmedabad, then moved to the US shortly after graduation in 1984 to pursue his career.
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