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From second class citizens to the forefront of banking tech projects

Recent technology blow-ups in the banking sector have not necessarily prompted firms to hire better developers, but have instead placed a greater emphasis on the much-maligned testing (or quality assurance) teams, elevating them from an after-thought to a fundamental part of any IT project lifestyle.

When technology goes badly wrong, it can be very costly for the firms involved. RBS’s botched upgrade to its payment system has cost it £175m, while the faulty release of a trading system at Knight Capital last year lost the firm $440m and forced it to accept a $1.8bn takeover bid from rival Getco.

“Testing was always viewed as something of an afterthought – let’s get the development done and, in a short space of time at the end of the process, make sure everything works,” said Nick Mayes, head of research at Pierre Audoin Consultants. “Savvy organisations are now building their testing teams and introducing the process much earlier in the project lifecycle, employing Agile techniques and embedding it throughout the development process.”

Banks and financial services firms are by far the best industry for testing standards anyway, said Mayes. However, while most banks spending up to 25% of project costs on testing, according to a recent survey by Sungard, over 61% of financial services firms still cite a lack of time to meet deadlines as the main challenge their firm faces when it comes to testing. 40% of respondents also said the biggest issue stopping them improving testing standards was a lack of resources.

Stephen O’Reilly, author of the report and quality assurance and testing practice lead at Sungard Global Services, said that a large proportion of testers working in the banks were not sufficiently skilled to undertake the task: “There is clearly an extraordinary amount of pressure on untrained, in-house staff. Small wonder then that they feel the need to request more budget to ensure they get things right.”

PAC’s research suggests that there are around 30,000 people working in testing positions, but a large proportion of those in the banking sector are liaising remotely from offshore centres in India. However, banks are increasingly looking to hire testing staff closer to major financial centres.

“Historically, it’s been viewed a second class job compared to developers and architects, but there’s a growing demand for test project managers who can bridge the gap between onshore and offshore centres as well as those with more specialist skill-sets,” said Mayes.

Investment banks are not hiring testing staff in droves, but there’s a recognition that it needs to be seen as less of a commoditised skill that can easily be shipped out to cheaper locations, said Paul Bennie, managing director of IT in finance headhunters Bennie MacLean Associates.

“Banks are more aware of the criticality of QA in ensuring top quality and robust trading platforms and are making sure they have the right resource. If it’s a front office system where competitive advantage can be gained, then they want testing staff close to major financial centres. There are a number of senior testing evangelists emerging at investment banks now,” he said.

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