How to Move into Investment Banking IT... or Not

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You're a systems developer or a technology project manager with a record of successful achievement in the healthcare or oil and gas sectors. What are the chances of shifting sideways and applying your skills in the lucrative world of investment banking?

Variable, according to recruiters practising in the area: many banks prefer their recruits seasoned with prior banking knowledge.

"It's not easy," says Guy Pickrell, a consultant at financial technology recruitment firm Nationstaff Inc. in New York. "I get technologists from outside the industry calling me all the time and not many succeed."

"There's not a lot of interest among investment abnks in technologists with no industry experience," says John Carter, a consultant at rival recruiter Hagan-Ricci Group. "In the financial services universe, hiring managers are typically looking for people with previous production environment experience."

The Good News

So far so gloomy: if you're not a fresh-faced university leaver, you could be forgiven for swiftly ditching your aspirations and making the most of your existing niche. Fortunately, not everyone is quite so downbeat.

"It all depends what you've done in the past," says the head of IT at one European bank. "If you come from the oil industry, for example, you might have worked on risk management software and you'd already know the products. We have a few people with this background."

Scott Gerson, CEO of technology recruiter Focus Capital Markets in New York, says the move to banking is eminently possible for strong candidates. "If you're an outstanding object-related developer with a real desire to break into quantitative software on Wall Street, you can do it regardless of the field you come from," he says.

According to Gerson, pre-requisites include an excellent academic record and demonstrable achievement in your existing career. For top technologists, the incentives are considerable: Gerson says Wall Street banks will often double their pay.

How to Do It

There are several well trodden routes for technologists looking to move from 'sector-X' to investment banking:

Move into the 'back office.' So-called 'back office' (non-client facing) roles are not always specific to financial services and may not require prior banking experience. "Without industry experience, it's almost impossible to go straight into the front office and develop technology for trading teams," says Pickrell. "But if you're working on settlement systems in the back office, industry knowledge is less necessary." The problem is that having moved into a back office role you're still likely to find it hard to land one of the really lucrative positions working on cutting edge trading systems. "If you want to go into the front office, it's good to do so directly," advises Pickrell.

Join a financial services software provider. Another alternative is to start off at a software supplier favored by investment banks. Companies such as Fidessa, Murex and Summit supply trading systems to banks. Gerson says vendors look for people with outstanding academics and strong communication skills - prior banking experience is not mandatory. And time spent at a vendor should make you appealing to banks for your next job move.

Study for the CFA. Recruiters recommend taking time to study for the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) exams. "A CFA is a good intro to finance," says Pickrell. "It won't automatically open doors, but if you don't have a banking background, it will get you ahead. There are a lot of technologists out there, but very few who understand the financial services business."

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