The Evolving Role of IT Project Managers at Investment Banks

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While an increasing proportion of development roles within investment banking gravitate away from expensive financial centers like New York, London, and Singapore, project managers are still being hired in mature markets. The role, however, is evolving.

“The traditional project management, role, where you would be expected to manage risks registers, lesson logs and budgets, while overseeing a diverse team in order to deliver a project on time is now something we are seeing a diminishing requirement for,” says Robert Grant, chief operations officer at IT in finance recruiters Cititec.

So, what are banks looking for in their project managers? After all, there’s no shortage of candidates in the market. So what can you do to stand out from the crowd? These, according to specialist recruiters, are the skills and attributes being sought by recruiting investment banks.

1. You must be able to marry two roles together

The ‘hybrid’ project manager, namely those who have enough knowledge and a diverse enough background to wear more than one cap, is something more banks are demanding. Grant says that often those with business analysis or development management background are often required to take on project management responsibilities.

“The key is to be adaptable, and be able to take on several roles to a high standard,” he says. “A lot of banks, particularly in technology, tend to look for individuals from a hands-on development or business analysis background.”

2. Near-shoring and ‘right-shoring’ experience

As banks look to shift more IT roles to lower cost destinations, project managers are needed for two streams. First, those overseeing the gravitation of the right jobs to the right locations – these so-called ‘right-shoring’ project managers, which were recently hired by Barclays and RBS, according to recruiters. Second, investment banks want to recruit project managers to lead the programs being carried out by development teams in these near-shore and offshore locations.

“Banks want a safe pair of hands for resource management and remote maintenance of offshore projects,” says Ben Cowan, director of recruiters Astbury Marsden.

“If you’re a project manager now, you need to be willing to travel,” agrees Martin Rennison, head of investment banking IT at recruiters the JM Group.

3. A background in global projects

Financial services organizations are keen to emphasize their global credentials and increasingly they’re keen to recruit project managers able to demonstrate that they can manage a geographically diverse projects spanning multiple timezones and cultures.

“Experience on global projects is highly desirable currently,” says Philippa Hills, IT banking and finance consultant at Hudson.

4. A sharp eye for cost-savings (particularly headcount)

Resource management is part and parcel of any project manager’s role, of course, but with the current restrictions on headcount, banks want to hire people who can complete a project with the minimum possible employees. This means utilizing the time of developers who may be working on other projects, identifying skills overlaps in the current team, or simply realizing when there are too many bums on seats.

“Previously, when there wasn’t as much scrutiny, it was well known that some organizations had three, sometimes four different operations, with enormous overlap in skillset and functionality,” says Grant.

“If you can borrow resources, or work out some way of getting a project done without throwing money at the problem, then banks want to hear from you,” says Cowan.

5. A blemish free record

It’s a well-known fact that truth can be stretched on resumes, but be aware that in the current climate – where headcount sign off is incredibly vigorous – banks will be doubly-vigilant when checking up on you. According to figures from pre-employment screening firm, 36% of candidates securing a position had some sort of discrepancy on their resume – this could be anything from a fake degree to an unpaid credit card bill, though.

“Banks will check every element of your resume, your previous salary to ensure you’re not raising the water mark and ensure that every project you’ve worked on was completed on-time and successfully,” says Cowan. “Quite simply, they’ll only take you on if they’re 100% sure.”

6. A wide range of subject matter expertise

There are some business areas where particular product knowledge is valued currently – notably fixed income, credit and risk, according to recruiters. However, following on from the theme of adaptability, investment banks want project managers who can demonstrate a broad range of subject matter expertise, or manage a project focusing on an asset class they’re unfamiliar with.

“Many project managers I have spoken to over the last six years have always argued that a good project manager should be able to manage any project,” says Grant. “This argument seems to be being taken up by the banks, who are trying to maximize their staff’s skillsets and workload without increasing spend.”

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