Wall Street battles Google, Apple for big data talent

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Tech giants with ongoing growth potential and Silicon Valley startups with newly minted investor funding are scooping up analytics specialists, leaving Wall Street’s big banks fighting for talent.

“This is a cross-industry war for talent and the science and modeling skills are significantly more important than the industry or business acumen skills as they can be more easily thought,” Brian McCarthy, a managing director in Accenture's financial services practice, told eFinancialCareers. “As such they are competing against the Silicon Valley start-ups, high-tech established players, information services businesses, consulting firms, etc. Having a clear analytics talent strategy is a prerequisite for success in this market.”

Research from the Accenture Institute for High Performance found that people with the ability to use statistics, quantitative analysis and information-modeling techniques to make business decisions are scarce and in big demand on Wall Street.

The shortage is global and driving qualified professionals away from the behemoth banks that once easily attracted talent across the board. Many Chinese companies hire Western-trained specialists to gain international business experience needed to thrive in a global marketplace.

Accenture predicts that the shortfall of analysts in the U.S. will exceed the surpluses expected in India and China combined by 2015.

Technology companies outside of the financial services industry planned to hire 22% more MBAs in 2012 than in 2011, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council's 2012 Corporate Recruiters Survey. This includes booming Silicon Valley startups that have just found new investors and that are seeking to build their ranks with quantative skills to develop their strategy and marketing plans.

Google has been hiring MBAs from the start, winning talent like Harvard Business School MBA and current Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. The American multinational courts risk-takers with an entrepreneurial spirit, while providing stability to its employees.

Apple has recruited MBAs into finance, sales, marketing and project management roles company-wide, and is one of the largest MBA employers in the Asian technology sector.

Founded by Harvard MBA Mark Pincus, social gaming company Zynga, which best known for  launching FarmVille on Facebook in 2009, has a reputation for hiring MBAs. eBay also is known for targeting MBA students and grads.

“There simply won’t be enough qualified candidates to play the key roles of data scientist, modeler and analytics business lead --someone who bridges between scientist community and business decision makers,” says McCarthy. “The fact that it is perceived as a hot skill is driving greater volume of relevant post graduate courses and demand for students but that will not be sufficient to close the gap. Clearly salary and compensation will play a key role in attracting and retaining this talent but so will having interesting challenging work and a clear career path for progression be equally important to the qualified candidate.”

No investment bank can rival Google's promise to provide a "workplace culture that encourages innovation and a healthy disregard for the impossible." The company's careers page invites the best and brightest to "do cool things that matter."

McCarthy says banks are offering significant incentives such as salary, sign-on bonus, retention bonus and flexible work arrangements, but it’s not enough in this competitive industry wide race for analytics specialists.

“The leading banks in this space have a clear analytics talent strategy which includes sourcing, organizing, managing, promoting and retaining analytics talent,” he says. “They are adopting a build/buy/partner strategy for sourcing analytics talent. They are building from within by offering training programs to IT and business resources to increase their analytics/data science capabilities. They are buying the skills from the outside through differentiated recruiting strategies for targeted roles and they are partnering with universities and services companies, where these skills are core to their business models, to source the skills for strategic projects for extended periods of time, as they don’t want them to work with them for a while and then leave and work for their competitor in a similar area.”