Even in the digital age, many traders in investment banking would scoff at the idea becoming techies. More, however, are learning how to code to better perform in their day-to-day jobs.
“On our C++ and Java courses related to the financial sector, it’s a 50-50 split between those currently working in technology and finance professionals, primarily traders,” says Dionisis Dimakopoulos, course co-ordinator, computing at City University in London. “Some have taken it upon themselves to skill-up, while employers have paid for the training for good staff they want to keep.”
There is a cheaper way – keep training in-house. Where Google goes banks (slowly) follow, particularly as they’re increasingly competing for the same tech talent.
On Google’s official blog, Albert Hwang, team lead of the people technology & operations tools group, talks about I2P - a scheme where 200 employees have signed up to learn how to programme. “Some of my former students have even moved from roles in global business, finance and people operations to full-time engineering positions,” he writes.
Generally, though, investment banks are reluctant to offer technical training to their traders. “Investment banks sell human expertise, so even in the digital age it’s a leap of faith for them to accept that their non-technical people need to learn how to code,” says Douglas Rushkoff, author of the book "Programme Or Be Programmed". “However, there’s increasingly less demand for their traditional research and analysis done by banks’ trading teams and any trader who can demonstrate an aptitude for computer science can enrich their career.”
Dimakopoulos says that most traders taking the course don’t plan on making the move into a technical role, but simply want to better their understanding of technology in an increasingly electronified trading floor.
After all, last year Goldman Sachs said that it would get rid of staff that could be replaced by technology, while Morgan Stanley was hiring in IT specialists into its fixed income division at the expense of traders.
“You’re never going to be the James Joyce of coding,” adds Rushkoff. “It’s more about having code fluency and organisations that teach it benefit their employees. Tech firms like Amazon and Google understand this, but banks are slow to catch up.”
Recruiters say it's unclear whether learning to code will boost the careers of traders. Marcus Newman, partner – executive search, in the electronic trading division of recruiters Riversdale Consulting, says that banks still leave the programming very much to the technology teams.
“Just because more traders are seeing their jobs eliminated because of technology, doesn’t mean more people want to move into an IT role,” he says. “It’s possible that coding skills might help in product development roles within electronic trading desks, but it’s not a prerequisite.”
Nonetheless, increasing numbers of financial professionals are taking it upon themselves to learn how to code, according to Dominic Connor, a headhunter at P&D Quant Recruitment who also offers training in C++.
“Some of the best traders know how to programme, but the vast majority have been self-taught,” he says. “Most traders have a science degree and can pick most programming languages relatively easily.”