Technologists in the banking sector need to start thinking about broadening their skills-base. The days of working in siloed teams, in one single function with a narrow field of expertise are slowly being eroded as financial services firms embrace scrum and agile development frameworks for their technology projects.
JPMorgan is a case in point; the bank is about to embark on a recruitment spree that will see 100 new technologists added to its tech hub in Singapore, and is also hiring for its offices in Delaware in the U.S. and Bournemouth in the U.K.
The main motivation for this is its decision to roll out lean and agile development models across its core processing unit – which oversees technology for back office functions within its corporate and investment bank – having initially applied it to pockets of its securities business.
The new recruits will work in ‘feature teams’, and will be expected to come armed with a range of skills. “We don’t want testers to only do testing, or developers to only do developing – we want people who can pull together to get the ball up the pitch,” says Matt Winn, executive director and securities location coach for the Singapore and Manila at JPMorgan. “This means having a range of skills, so someone might have a deep understanding of Java or Oracle, for example, but might also do analysis, architecture or modelling.”
All of this is part of a quiet revolution in the way that JPMorgan works in technology. Lead by the core processing unit’s chief technology officer, Simon Cooper, and consulted by Craig Larman – who advises corporations on how to apply scrum and agile methodology on a large scale – the bank is slowly breaking down the silos that have traditionally proven restrictive to technologists.
If you were a developer, for example, previously you would have had to move up into a managerial role in order to escape the associate level. Now, says Winn, VPs and even some executive directors are maintaining their hands on development roles while moving up the ranks and being rewarded for their core skills.
“We used to have an artificial glass ceiling that made it difficult for core technologists to move away from associate level, but this has been changed so that excellent developers can remain hands on, but still progress their career,” says Winn.
The likes of BNP Paribas and Bank of America Merrill Lynch have moved away from the ‘waterfall’ system for running tech projects, where analysis, design and development of projects are completed before testing and user acceptance are rolled out. The idea of agile is to be iterative, meaning that testing and acceptance are carried out continually throughout the project. Therefore, it helps to have a number of different skill-sets.
JPMorgan started overhauling its technology team to an Agile methodology in 2012. It has around a third of its 25,000 staff working in IT functions – 3,000 of them related to the core processing unit – and said that it intended to increase the proportion working in comparatively low-cost centres from 26% to 40%, hence the focus on Singapore, Bournemouth and Delaware.
Unlike smaller banks, which often customise vendor packages to their technology needs, JPMorgan is keeping all development in-house, says Winn, which is spurring the need to staff up. “The people we take on are very capable, and can often quickly learn secondary and tertiary skills needed to work in the feature teams,” he says. “It also means that staff are empowered to see the customer feature from end to end, whereas previously they would have only seen a small slice of that.”
Winn admits that it will be challenging finding the requisite number of staff, and will be tapping the expat and local community in Singapore initially before opening up the search internationally. JPMorgan will also consider people without financial services experience, and already employs people in the team with telecoms and communications experience.
However, expect the competition to be tough. The initial screening process involves a tactical programming exercise – sent through the mail to prospective candidates – and it’s usually the top 10-15% of candidates who make it through to interview. Even then, don’t expect a conventional recruitment process.
“The team has the final say as to whether someone is hired, meaning that it’s a self-organised unit rather than having a manager push a new person into the team. The team itself has the final say,” says Winn.