Skills you'll need to work in financial technology
There’s a perception across all industries that IT is the domain of the nerd. Maybe so, but this is no longer the pejorative term it once was and investment banks face a bigger challenge attracting tech talent – convincing them that banking is a ‘cool’ place to work.
With the rise in fintech start-ups and competition from Silicon Valley, investment banks have had to shake up the way they think about IT. Teams are now agile, work in ‘cross-functional’ teams and banks are increasingly creating the sort of ‘funky’ work environments more associated with Google. Or at least they’re starting to.
Not surprisingly, banks are looking for technologists who can work in a team. “Having the ability to collaborate and work across various teams, locations and time zones is key to achieving common goals and objectives. It is also really important to be able to motivate and inspire those you work with,” says Mai Clark, a programme manager in Royal Bank of Scotland’s IT team.
We’re looking for people who can think logically and laterally – you need to be able to solve problems
“We’re looking for people who can think logically and laterally – you need to be able to solve problems,” adds Scott Marcar, head of IT infrastructure at Deutsche Bank. “We’re looking for innovators who can think outside the box. And we’re looking for communicators – the ability to communicate both internally and externally is critical. If you’re strong in each of these three things, you will have a very strong application.”
In financial technology, the majority of successful applicants will have a computer science degree, and those who don’t tend to come from a maths, physics or engineering background. However, for less technical roles, such as business analysis or project management, banks will consider other degree disciplines.
If you’re working in a project management role, planning is of course a key component of the job. “It is critical to know what needs to be done, who needs to do it and how long it will take. Good forward planning ensures people know what they need to do, by when, and reduces last minute rushes as well as stress on the people you work with,” says Mei.
You don’t need to be a whizz kid at entry level
If you want to move into a development role, experience with programming languages such as Java, C++, C# or Python is important. However, you don’t need to be a whizz kid at entry level.
Soft skills are valuable for business analyst. Business analysts, for example, have to be able to explain the benefits and pitfalls behind a potential technology investment, without leaving non-IT people swimming in a sea of jargon.
A fundamental skill among any IT employee in banking is to be able to adapt to the rapid pace of change. One example on the development front is Python – the programming language was non-existent in banking five years’ ago, but has now become a central component of systems at large banks like J.P. Morgan and Bank of America Merrill Lynch as well as others. Meanwhile, project managers have had to move from a ‘waterfall’ methodology of getting projects over the line to a more cross-functional ‘Agile’ approach and the job has changed massively over the past few years.
“Since technology continually evolves and develops you must stay abreast of industry trends and understand the needs of the future,” says Malcolm Harrow, managing director, head of technology for South East Asia at J.P. Morgan.