For banking technologists, money is no longer enough

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Despite spending billions on technology every year, for an IT professional, working in an investment bank has never been considered truly cutting edge. The lure of big pay packets has always ensured a steady stream of top technologists entering the sector, however.

This is changing. Silicon Valley is already winning in its battle for technology talent with Wall Street, and now there are signs that people are leaving financial IT roles in London for tech start-ups and social networking behemoths.

"The sheen has come off banking for a lot of technologists in London," says Mark Warburton, director of financial IT recruiters Pioneer Search. "People we've previously placed into 500k MD roles are now walking away for internet start-ups. Investment banks pay a lot, but that's not technologists' main motivation. They want, in their words, to do 'something cool'."

The most common move, he suggests, is for people working on banks' e-Commerce platforms to make sideways move into an internet start-up. But there's a general gravitation away from the City and towards less hierarchical, and more entrepreneurial, organisations.

"Technologists generally don't want to get bogged down in the minutiae of politicking involved in working for an investment bank," says Paul Bennie, director of IT in finance headhunters Bennie McLean. "Increasingly, they're shunning this corporate environment. For example, we placed one ex-Goldman guy into another US investment bank on a 250k package a year ago. Now, he's applying for relatively junior roles at Google and Facebook."

It seems that banks are still losing the battle at the junior end. This year, graduate intakes for investment banks' London technology divisions were increased, but due to shortage of suitable applicants, the recruitment process (which normally concludes in November) was extended into January 2011.

This is partly down to a steady decline in the number of Computer Science graduates in the UK, but also because banking isn't the first choice for most people looking to break into IT, according to university course leaders we spoke to.

One technologist, who declined to be named, tells us he found the perfect solution in contracting.

"I've worked in investment banking and private equity e-Commerce roles for about 13 years now, but contracting means I only need to work eight months a year," he says. "I spend my spare time on my own projects and have created around 60 websites over the years."

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