Stark jobs warning from senior Singapore banking techie: don’t become a specialist

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Jon S

Advances in financial technology aren’t just jeopardising jobs in functions like trading and operations – they’re increasingly putting the technologists themselves in the firing line, says a leading Singapore-based IT banking expert.

“This is particularly so if your tech job is focused on just one specialist application,” says Jon Scheele, a former senior manager of research and innovation at ANZ in Singapore, who now runs a fintech consultancy. “Specialists are most at risk of their role being automated or handed to someone in a lower-cost market because they don’t have other skills to fall back on.”

He adds: “There are, for example, fewer specialist coding roles at banks in Singapore than there used to be. As banking technologists, we’re always working to automate systems that might do us out of a job.”

“Until recently you could build an IT banking career around a particular skill like a programming language, but now you must be more flexible. You can’t predict where the industry or your job will be in five years,” says Scheele.

Digital design jobs at banks, for example, are a “blend of art, marketing and coding”. “Banks have addressed this up to now by assembling teams with each of these individual skills, but increasingly they’re looking for people who understand all three,” says Scheele.

Meanwhile, information security analysis is moving from a specialist function to a skill that is crucial to all technology roles. “Security needs to be built into every part of a technology solution, so it’s not enough to just engage a security expert at the start or end of a project.”

Scheele says even so-called “T-shaped tech professionals” (experts in one IT area with the ability to collaborate across other disciplines) are being replaced by “Pi-shaped” ones, who have the same collaboration skills but know two sectors in-depth.

“Agile working practices at banks are also fuelling this change away from specialist jobs. Techies are increasingly working in small groups of multi-skilled people rather than in huge teams where people only understand their own silos,” says Scheele, who started his tech career in telecoms before shifting to banking in 2008.

Graduates looking for tech roles at banks should prioritise those which give them the widest skill sets and exposure to the business, he adds. “Banks here in Singapore aren’t offshoring IT people who deal with the rest of the bank on a day-to-day basis.”

“I’d therefore encourage grads to not just consider the technical aspect of their skills – they should find other disciplines that they’re interested in, like marketing, risk management or investment management,” says Scheele.

“Technology at banks now has the opportunity to come out of the background and solve customer problems, but you can only take advantage of this if you have the ability to work with people across the bank.”

Case in point: while at ANZ Scheele helped to set up a technology training programme for the bank’s senior executives, held at MIT in Boston.

“As IT people we need to put a lot more effort into educating the business on the threats and opportunities posed by technology. Business leaders need a far greater understanding of technology than they once did - the dividing lines between ‘them and us’ are becoming more blurred.”

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