The War for Talent: A view from the front line

Posted on : 28-01-2013 | By : jo.rose | In : General News

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One of our readers contacted us following our publication of our survey, in particular regarding the war for talent and specifically how it relates to their experience in financial services. We thought it was an interesting insight…let us know what you think;


Seeing the item in the Broadgate Consultants 2013 Survey regarding the talent wars for technical staff that banks will find themselves in prompted me to describe my brief experience of being on the “front line”, and some suggestions on how to improve things.

There are several companies on the internet that allow talented computer programmers to compete to demonstrate their coding prowess by coming up with the most efficient algorithm to complete a particular problem. Winners get cash prizes, and the most successful participants get invited to an expenses-paid, in-person competition in the USA.

In order to raise my bank’s profile and attract technically skilled recruits, it was decided that we would sponsor the conference for a particular year and have recruiters on-site to interview potential hires.

Working within Investment Banking (even in technology), there is a certain assumption that we have the best talent, are the best paid, and that people need to convince us why we should let them work here. Speaking to attendees at the conference showed that this no longer holds true in all cases.

Our recruiters were used to recruiting a certain profile of technology candidate – one that was interested in investment banking, had interned at Goldman Sachs, and that “reads the FT for fun”.

In contrast, the typical conference attendee was a very, very bright Eastern European male in his early twenties, and speaking to them at the time, it became clear that Google was their employer of choice (anyone over a certain points threshold was guaranteed an interview there).

From their perspective, the benefits were clear. They would get all their meals (and even their laundry!) taken care of, they could roll into work at 2pm wearing shorts and code all night, and their potential earnings from options would beat anything that we could offer as a salary. They wanted to work on interesting computing problems, in an informal atmosphere, and be well rewarded for their efforts.

Clearly, our hiring efforts were not destined to be successful.

I’d suggest that if banks want to be an attractive employer for these types of candidates, then they may have to make some changes.

Firstly, the culture within IT Departments.  Developers have a reputation for being non-conformist, and sometimes the most talented are the most eccentric. Although deadlines need to be kept and deliverables met, assessment should be based more on the “what” rather than the “how”.

Meetings and bureaucracy is another source of irritation. At Facebook, if your keyboard breaks you can get a new one from a (free) vending machine. How long would it take to order one where you are now? Would you rather your employees were coding, or calling the helpdesk?

Another issue that a lot of banks face is the lack of a technical career path.  Typically, within a bank’s technology function, the only way to progress in terms of seniority and salary is by managing people. Some of the brightest and best technical people have no interest in this and would be happy to stay technical and work on harder and more significant technical challenges for their whole career.

Finally, there is the issue of “respect”. At a lot of banks, anyone not Front Office is treated as a clerk. However, as more and more of banking becomes a technology business, then developers have the capability to make revenue changing impact on the business lines they support and should be recognised for this fact.

Clearly, this doesn’t apply to all IT Staff, but for that top 1% of technical contributors, perhaps you should treat them less like typists, and more like quants.