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These are the skills you need to survive in banking tech: adapt or die

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Barely a week goes by without a major bank announcing a restructure, transformation programme, or rebalancing of their strategy.

Despite this, banks are still investing heavily in technology, but the mix of skills they need is changing.

As they seek to achieve digital transformation to engage better with customers and hold off fintech disrupters, they need technology people who can collaborate with peers in other professional disciplines, both within the bank and with vendors, partners and customers.

Banking technologists need to adapt to a new working environment of agile, multi-disciplinary teams and flattened hierarchies.

Purely technical roles continue to be offshored or automated away. Meanwhile, artificial intelligence (AI) is expected to automate some jobs, augment others with more sophisticated tools, and create new roles that we haven’t yet foreseen.

One consistent theme in all this is the continued blurring of the lines between business and technology. Banking professionals are expected to be more tech savvy, and technology staff are expected to know more about the business they support.

So what does this mean for bank technology professionals, and how do you position yourself to be a beneficiary of these changes, rather than a casualty?

While there is still some demand for specialists with deep expertise in their chosen domain, the emphasis on collaborative working and multi-functional teams increasingly requires tech professionals to develop skills beyond just one discipline.

The new type of banking techie

Enter the π-shaped professional: someone with deep knowledge of two disciplines, and broad knowledge of several others.

But what does it take to become π-shaped, and what are good pairings for financial services?

When identifying a second discipline, it can be helpful to think about complementary/adjacent skills. Look at the project teams being assembled in your bank right now, and the range of skills of their members.

Also look for disciplines that complement your own. If your primary discipline is mainly a left-brain activity (logic, analysis, facts), find one that emphasises right-brain activity (creativity, imagination, holistic thinking, visualisation).

The new skills YOU could add

Here are some possible complements to typical bank technology roles:

Front-end developers are expected to be proficient programmers, and also understand user experience (UX) and design concepts. Adjacent disciplines for them could therefore be in graphic design, game development or video production. Another useful combination is marketing, as it ranges across digital marketing, social media and the customer buying cycle.

IT infrastructure isn’t limited to system, database or network administration any more. Even in banks that retain on-premises environments, hybrid-cloud and virtualised architectures are now common. Infrastructure specialists are embedded in DevOps teams, so an agile mindset and knowledge of DevOps techniques enables them to make a strong contribution.

Data scientists are expected to have deep expertise in advanced analytics techniques, which are often applied in marketing or risk management. These, then, are suitable complementary disciplines.

Quant developers typically come from a mathematics-based discipline, overlaid with programming skills. This can be augmented with further skills in trading strategies or asset management.

Information security is closely related to IT audit and operational risk management, so these are useful skills to develop. And a new branch of the function, security analytics, involves collecting, correlating and analysing a wide range of data. Advanced analytics techniques are therefore a good complement.

Soft skills for techies

Overlaid on the above is the need for soft skills: collaboration, influencing, leadership, story telling, and cultural understanding.

In my own experience, I found that skills I learnt in one area could be transferred to another. The communication and stakeholder management skills I developed in leading tech projects was great preparation for IT consulting, for example.

Learning the bread and butter of your industry helps you communicate in the language of your peers, superiors and customers.

My earlier career in telecommunications was enhanced by further studies in digital communications, and studying applied finance now helps me speak the same language as the bankers I deal with as a finance tech consultant.

As with your primary discipline, developing a second discipline and broad understanding of others requires a commit to lifelong learning. Fortunately, there are several opportunities for achieving this.

In your current bank, you can ask to get involved in special projects, or network with the team whose speciality you want to develop. Many technology vendors make online training materials and trial versions available, so you can not only learn their products, but try them out.

It’s easier than ever to connect with communities pursuing a common interest, through meetup groups and professional associations. And massive open online courses (MOOCs) like Coursera and Udemy complement the longer degree and diploma course offered by universities and polytechnics.

Developing a second skill and a broad knowledge of other disciplines can help you anticipate, and position yourself for, the career challenges and opportunities of the future.

Jon Scheele is a former senior manager of research and innovation at ANZ in Singapore, who now runs a Singapore fintech consultancy.


Image credit: Schatzif, Getty

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