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Why developers leave investment banks

I've worked as a developer in the investment banking sector for years, and have observed at close hand the dynamics that govern employment in this industry. When banks talk about a shortage of talented engineers, they're not talking about recruitment; they're talking about retention.

Hiring is not an issue in banking technology. There is always a queue of developers looking for jobs. The problem is that banks hire engineers, and the best ones leave again very quickly. Retention rates are shockingly low. In my business, the average tenure tends to be around 14 months. 

Why do people leave? It's a combination of a lack of recognition, the difficulty of managing legacy systems and the bureaucracy associated with working in a highly regulated sector. Add to this the kind of poor management that's pervasive in the banking sector and a lot of people lose motivation and move on to something else. 

The people who leave tend to be the best. - These are the people who are really, really, good at their jobs. We try very hard to retain them, but it's often impossible. 

My experience is that this varies little across institutions. Some might be slightly better - others may be slightly worse. In the worst cases, the level of internal politics is off the scale, and you're expected to work across time zones and take calls at all hours of the day and night.

The situation has worsened since COVID. Last year, a lot of our developers were onboarded remotely, and keeping them has proven even more difficult than before. Nor is outsourcing staff to India, Dallas or Delaware the solution - those places have their own retention issues. 

So, what can be done? Making technologists feel more integrated into the business would help. So would giving juniors a clear career path and helping them to navigate banking careers from a political perspective. - Banking can be a highly political industry, and young developers often don't have the soft skills needed to progress.  

It's an issue that needs to be addressed. Our best engineers are leaving the industry. The engineers who stay are often those who are less technically able but more adept at navigating the politics. This isn't good news for anyone.

Amelia Hely is the pseudonym of an engineer at a major bank in Europe.

Photo by Ankush Minda on Unsplash

Contact: in the first instance. Whatsapp/Signal/Telegram also available (Telegram: @SarahButcher)

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AUTHORAmelia Hely Insider Comment
  • Ma
    20 October 2021

    Very reasonable article. I've been working for different banks in London for last 10 years and can confirm that most often the IT in banking is working like a negative sift - best leave, worst stay. The most interesting place in banking is work together with PNL generating team, like market making, eTrading. Large banks build their own eTrading systems, smaller ones buy 3rd party products and integrate them with each other

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