September 19, 2013

Financial services IT expertise is hard to find and locating data scientists is all but impossible, say speakers at SIBOS.

While many discussions at this year's SIBOS conference have been focused on big data, data analytics and cloud computing, one common theme emerged during the Technology Forum presentations: finding IT talent.

Speakers and delegates at the conference in Dubai repeatedly mentioned that finding workers with big data skills was difficult and that finding data scientists — quants who can manipulate vast amounts of data — was even harder. "Finding big data talent is difficult, retaining it is nearly impossible," said Dr. Usama Fayyad, charmain of Oasis500, a start-up accelerator in the Middle East, and former CDO at Yahoo!. "And the role of data scientist is impossible to fill, especially outside of the US," he added during his keynote presentation at the TCS Technology Leaders dinner at SIBOS.

During sessions focused on big data, cloud and mobile, many speakers mentioned the challenges of finding and retaining talent. Fayyad even joked about the NSA's data skills during his address when a member of the audience mentioned the spy agency. "The NSA can access any data they want to, but they don't know what to do with it," Fayyad quipped.

In the "Big Data, Big Deal" session, David Cyr, senior vice-president, retail applications at Royal Bank of Canada, said that big data technology is no longer the problem. "I think the technology portion of big data is a commodity," he said. "The big challenge is the people and finding the skills to use the technology in the smartest way."

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Cyr was responding to a snap poll of the audience which found that 21% thought that talent was the top concern (product development was the biggest challenge at 29%). "We have moved from the developer, to the database administrator, to chief [data] scientist," he added. "You need to get people who can analyze the data."

Data scientists need to have technology skills, along with business acumen, responded Cyr's fellow panelist, Thomas Statnick, global head, Treasury and Trade Solutions Technology at Citibank. "It is difficult to recruit people right out of school for these positions," he said. "For big data, it is a hybrid role...business and technology. You have to train them or recruit them from business positions. It takes business, engineering and computer science skills. it is an interesting hybrid of a position, but it is really hard to find those people."

Jennifer Boussuge, head of Global Transaction Services, EMEA at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, agreed. The skill sets have evolved over time," she said. "The ability to find the analytical skills, and interpret it, and deliver it to the clients in a meaningful way, that is important. You need people who can do the work. It is a very competitive market."

Location, Location, Location

However, Chris Remondi, Global Head of Information Technology at Brown Brothers Harriman says that the talent battle is nothing new to the industry. "The Boston and New York areas have great IT talent," Remondi said in an interview. BBH has operations in Jersey City, NJ and Boston. "A lot of new startups have been happening in Manhattan." Remondi added that talent is always important, but BBH's Northeast locations may make it easier to find the right mix of technology and financial services expertise.

Other speakers and attendees reported similar talent challenges. When it comes to cloud, "you need talent that has virtualization and cloud experience to transition to a cloud environment," reports Bill Pappas, CIO for Global Wholesale Banking Technology & Operations and head of Global Delivery Center of Expertise at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, during an interview with Wall Street & Technology. "I run a business with 35,000 people. Talent is always one of the top concerns. Talent is a clear differentiator. We need the best of the best."

Pappas views talent in three different ways in his group. First he needs to have the talent to do what the bank is working on right now. Then, Pappas says he also requires talent to help with change management. "Managing change is much different than managing the day-to-day business," he adds.

Finally, the bank needs to look for the talent it will need in the future. "Looking at talent for what you are going to need [in the future], is more difficult," but just as important, Pappas Notes. "When you look out at what your target environment will be, how do you continue to develop talent for what you will need?"

Bank of America is working with the University of Virginia Darden School of Business and the McIntire School of Commerce in order to make sure it has a good pipeline of young IT leaders. The bank sends promising candidates through the program. "The trainees take a combination of classroom lectures, case studies and learning projects in different IT competencies at the bank, such as risk management, architecture and IT-business integration," according to Bank of America. "Bank of America decided to partner with the University of Virginia on the program so that the school sees the caliber of leaders that we're developing, so they're inclined to send us their best and brightest, and we're leveraging the school's resources to take our top talent to the next level. The program emphasizes communication and finance skills to help develop the business knowledge and teamwork capabilities that IT needs to work successfully with the bank's lines of business."

RBC's Cyr also says his bank works with schools to help develop talent. "We work with universities to give students experience, but we also try to influence the math and computer science programs at the schools so they produce graduates who are in a better position," Cyr said.

"We have a tremendous track record in attracting, retaining and developing talent across the globe," Pappas adds. "We have the opportunity to develop IT leaders. .. It has always been in the fabric of our DNA. It really is our number one priority. It is a core competency for the bank."

Bank of America also works with the University of Michigan Ross School of Business on similar training programs.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Greg MacSweeney is editorial director of InformationWeek Financial Services, whose brands include Wall Street & Technology, Bank Systems & Technology, Advanced Trading, and Insurance & Technology.