If you’re wondering how careers in banking technology have evolved over the years, Shakir Ladak is a good man to speak to. He started out at UBS in 1990, when the very concept of technology was light years behind what it is today.
With investment banks increasingly looking towards offshoring or nearshoring for development work, and off-the-shelf solutions rather than costly in-house projects, it’s more difficult than ever to make technical expertise count, he says.
“What I was finding was that with more development work offshored, the know-how of technology in banking was less valuable than it once was – everyone now is either a project manager or a business analyst,” he says.
After 25 years in various banking technology roles – including head of derivatives technology at UBS and director of equities technology at ABN Amro – Ladak left to start fintech firm Alpha Insight, which works across the front, middle and back office and provides application development and support. Currently, its major client is Deutsche Bank.
The process of innovation in investment banking has been stifled by both regulation and bureaucratic processes necessary to get a project up and running, suggests Ladak.
“Working for a fintech firm you get the innovation without the bureaucracy, and the climate is right to get a firm off the ground,” he says. “Investment banks are buying in more technology than ever and the requirement for configurable off-the-shelf technology has never been greater.”
Like most fintech start-ups, Alpha Insights is expanding. It currently has 32 staff and will be adding four more in January and has another 12 people in an offshore development centre. A lot of its employees are former investment banking technology professionals, whose knowledge of financial markets certainly helps, suggests Ladak, but it recruits from a range of technical backgrounds.