Top Technologists Turning Away Investment Banks

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Can you become an elite technologist, coveted by all investment banks?

Now that banks are unable to offer big bonuses, or a creative atmosphere, the top 1-2% of the IT professional population is moving out of the financial sector and into “sexier” career options, according to research from London-based capital markets consultancy, Catalyst Development, which interviewed 40 individuals at eight investment banks. That’s giving those who meet the grade new leverage to dictate terms of their jobs.

Dr. Philip Ullah, a psychologist and specialist in organisational behaviour at Catalyst, says that banks want technologists that are able to see through the fog of panic that comes with a system breakdown, and offer a viable solution. They need to be strategic thinkers, able to give banks a competitive edge.

“A high-performing technologist needs to have excellent technical skills, have in-depth knowledge of one or two business areas, think strategically and commercially to develop products that can either make money or save costs for the organisation,” he says. “They can’t just be the stereotypical techie geek.”

As one chief technology officer of an investment bank describes it: “a good technologist does the work of five average technologists. But a High Performance Technologist (HPT) does the thinking of five good technologists.”

If you’re a high-performing technologist, even working as a business analyst can bring in a six-figure salary, says Ullah, while chief architects should expect over £500k.

The pariah of working in banking

Investment banks, however, are having difficulty attracting and retaining these rare IT professionals. The regulatory pressures on banks’ IT teams, combined with layers of management and bureaucracy within the tech divisions, is turning many away, says Ullah.

“Previously banks would have indulged elite technologists’ creative side, allowing them to follow their instincts to create something new. Now, as banks look to do more with smaller budgets, and direct more money towards regulatory projects, many people are simply leaving the industry,” he says. “This is leaving the banks facing often complex problems without the expertise in house to deal with them.”

One high-performing technologist who took part in the research said that the main downside of working in the financial sector was the “pariah of banking.” Many also don’t want the drudgery of general management duties that interfere with the coding and product development tasks they love. For every one or two chief architect positions, there are 200 IT management positions, says Ullah.

“It used to be like the Wild West here, but now it’s overly bureaucratic,” said one banking technologist who participated in the survey. “Put me in a position where I am challenged daily. Don’t leave me stuck doing the same thing.”

Not surprisingly, many of the top technologists are moving to pure tech firms like Amazon, Apple or Google – “whichever is cooler”, according to one investment banking CIO who spoke to Catalyst.

At a graduate level banks are struggling to wrestle computing science students away from the ever-popular tech firms and more entrepreneurial outfits.

Deutsche Bank, at least, appears to be recognising the problems banks have attracting this technology talent. Its Lodestone Foundation project aims to encourage banks to share their trading software secrets in order to allow the development community to download, customise and enhance for the benefit of all

‘Alpha’ technologists don’t like the corporate environment, will work on short-term projects but often don’t want to be publicly associated with working for a bank, said Deutsche’s head of investment banking IT, Tony McCarthy, during a presentation.