Investment banks employ as many technologists as large IT firms, but this doesn’t mean that everyone working in these departments are hands-on. In fact, there is a huge array of IT jobs in banking across a broad range of divisions.
However, IT roles tend to fall into five camps; application development, business analysis, project management, infrastructure and technical support.
The developer is at the coalface of the IT department. Much of the technology is developed in-house, but when banks purchase software from third-party vendors, developers need to tailor it to banks’ individual needs. Banks also employ solutions architects, which act as the link between development, design and management and oversee the technical elements of projects.
The developer is at the coalface of the IT department
Within products traded in large volumes, such as equities or foreign exchange, developers aim for ‘low latency’ or reducing the time it takes to execute and process a trade. The speed with which a trade is placed can be crucial to its profitability. More products, notably corporate bonds in the past two years, are now being traded electronically.
Your skills as a developer will be assessed on two things – the programming language you know and the business knowledge you can acquire. Popular programming languages in banking are Java, C++, C# and, increasingly, Python. While these are valuable, it’s unlikely that you can really make the big bucks in a banking tech role unless you can also combine these with specialist knowledge of particular business areas in investment banking, such as equities, FX or derivatives.
Business analysts liaise between the IT department and the company. You’ll hear the term ‘stakeholders’ used quite a lot in IT projects and it’s often the business analyst who acts as the link between those outside of the IT department and those working on the projects. They’re a cross between a numbers guy – assessing the cost and scale of any particular tech project – and an effective communicator. They speak to the management teams on what they want the technology to achieve and try to relay this information to the tech teams so that projects don’t miss expectations.
Project managers oversee the tech project from start to finish. You’ll have to manage a team of developers, liaise with third-party vendors, and be answerable should plans go awry. Project managers are ultimately responsible for getting the product over the line, dealing with any issues that arise and ensuring IT projects are delivered on time and on budget.
In recent years, the job of a project manager in investment banking – and elsewhere – has changed massively. While investment banks were previously big fans of the ‘waterfall’ methodology – where each stage of the project would be planned over large period of time and separate teams would work on particular stages, such as testing – the new(ish) buzzword is Agile or iterative development projects.
This means that small teams work in bite-sized chunks of work – typically lasting one to four weeks – and have to work across functions, including planning, coding and testing. It’s only been in the past couple of years that banks have taken this approach, but if you’re a project manager without knowledge of Agile, don’t expect to be hired.
Technical support solves problems when they arise on the trading floor: glitches could cost banks millions of dollars within minutes. Traders are not shy in berating you for IT gremlins, so a thick skin is a must.
Infrastructure jobs deal with the IT nuts and bolts – from servers to operating systems to databases. If a bank has a shared email system, mobile application or messaging services, it’s the infrastructure team who will have selected these. Infrastructure teams deal in the overall IT network of a bank, rather than individual systems.
There is also the option of working for third-party vendors, which specialise in providing software to financial services.
If you want to work for a vendor, try sending your CV to major players such as Sungard or Oracle, or apply to specialist financial services software vendors such as Fidessa, Sophis, SimCorp, OpenLink or Charles River.