Vanessa Menendez-Covelo used to work for a bank. She used to work as a developer in risk technology for J.P. Morgan in London. She worked there for nearly five years and before that she spent a similar amount of time in fixed income tech at Goldman Sachs. And now? Now, Menendez-Covelo is training to be an acupuncturist. She’s done with technology in finance.
“It just became unsustainable,” she explains. “For ten years I woke up at 4:30am to go to yoga class at around 5:30am, do yoga until 7am and then be at my desk by 8am, and then work until about 7pm and get home by 8pm. It got to the point where yoga just didn’t merge with my banking life. They were such separate environments and they were starting to grate.”
Menendez-Covelo is just one of thousands of technologists at J.P. Morgan and her extracurricular interests were clearly pretty extreme, but they should still offer food for thought to banks as they try hiring technologists who don’t adhere to the banking stereotype and who might be more attached to life outside work than the average analyst in IBD.
In a blog post relating to her exit, Menendez-Covelo says she felt like an outcast in banking. People judged her based upon her appearance and asked her if she was the receptionist: “I wanted to go to work in combats and pink hair.” She says banks need to lighten up if they want to retain top technologists: “The people who studied computer science and who really love it tend to be quite eccentric. Banks need to accept that if they want the kinds of people who are really passionate about solving problems.”
We didn’t ask J.P. Morgan to comment for this article, but the bank is among those going out of its way to attract and retain people like Menendez-Covelo, who left in June last year. It’s spending £28m upgrading its Bournemouth technology centre in the UK. It gave Menendez-Covelo a year’s sabbatical between 2014 and 2015 (which she spent studying in India), but the pull of a completely different lifestyle was too strong. “J.P. Morgan are very good on internal mobility,” she says. “I could’ve moved onto another project, but it got to a point for me where I wanted to do something different. It was too much like project management instead of small groups of tech people quickly delivering things.”
If you’re thinking of taking a technology job at J.P. Morgan or another bank and you want the kind of dynamism you might get in a start-up or the better big tech firms, Menendez-Covelo advises working on important new platforms close to the front office, where there’s less bureaucracy and less need to maintain creaking legacy systems. At J.P. Morgan, she says this means working on Athena, the risk pricing system developed by the bank to compete with Goldman Sachs’ SecDB platform. Conversely, she cautions against roles where you’re simply maintaining established technologies: “My last job in risk technology involved an enormous amount of process and procedure.”
Like others before her, Menendez-Covelo says technology jobs in banks aren’t all they’re made out to be. “Technology in banking is suffering,” she says. “Since 2008 budgets have been squeezed and you’re asked to do more with less. What I saw in the last few years was that it was all about maintaining systems that were old.”
Even so, 10 years in banking technology brought one advantage. It allowed Menendez-Covelo to save enough money to start her new career: “I was very sensible with the money I earned in banking. Acupuncture won’t pay nearly as much and without financial security I would have been really afraid of taking this leap,” she tells us.