Believe the hype and you might think that working in a banking technology job is the best place to be right now. Banks are battling for CIOs able to lead their technology functions into a new era, the threat of fintech start-ups means they’re fiercely competing for developers to stay one step ahead, and the race for the best digital platform has elevated us all in the eyes of the management.
But here’s the thing – we’re still seen as a support function. We’re still sneered at by big-swinging investment bankers who think we should be fixing their computer. Our flashy offices stacked with cushions, airy meeting rooms and break-out areas are our new ‘basements’ designed to keep us away from the front office.
I work for a large bank in the City and we’re in an entirely separate office. They’re in Canary Wharf, we’re on the outskirts of East London. Every time I have to leave our funky ‘innovation centre’ to go into the financial district I feel like a troll that has emerged from under the bridge.
I travel extensively for work and in each of our international offices I only ever meet with other technologists. The culture is still one where bragging moves you up the ladder and my encounters with snobbish bankers who know nothing about technology have nearly been enough to make me quit on multiple occasions.
It’s been a particularly difficult transition for me because I came from a mid-sized technology company. There, technologists are the stars and the product you create defines whether the company succeeds or fails.
There’s the same culture of collaboration in tech firms as you now find in the good banking teams, and the traditional advantage that banks had – compensation – is no longer relevant. The likes of Google easily pay as much as the banks for tech roles, and even the mid-sized firms are competitive with banks now.
Working for a start-up is totally fly-by-the-seat of your pants, and the risk of collapse is ever-present – especially if funding dries up. But this doesn't mean banking is always a better bet. There are still banks firing hundreds of skilled technologists in developed financial centres to move jobs to India. Lessons have not been learned that the cost differential is easily outweighed by the low quality of work and the cycle of offshoring continues.
The work is interesting at banks and if you land in the right institution you can have a well-paid and relatively stable career. But still it’s no surprise to me that banks are losing people to tech firms. For all the efforts to keep technology professionals engaged and happy, we still feel that we’re second class to the front office.
James Drake, a pseudonym, works in a digital role for a bank in London.
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