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Kristi Nelson
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Bank Tech Expertise in Short Supply

Finding and holding on to top IT talent is a top priority.

The war for IT talent is heating up. "It's a new battle that is beginning much like it did in the last business cycle in the mid-90s when the Internet was starting to take off," says Marc Lewis, president of North American operations for executive search firm Morgan Howard Worldwide (Stamford, Conn.). "What you're seeing now is tremendous demand for the A players."

Recent mergers in the banking industry have only added to the frenzy. Before Bank of America could complete its $47 billion acquisition of FleetBoston Financial, every search firm in the financial services industry was already well into its calling efforts. The same can be said of the $58 billion merger of JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Bank One Corp.

In the face of these mergers, companies need to be more proactive in assessing their human capital and developing retention packages to hold on to star players, according to Lewis. "The better stars on the field have one eye on the exit," he says. "They have the benefit of the added stimulus of hundreds of recruiters trying to pick off the best people in this time of flux."

But finding those top players in large organizations is not as easy as it may appear. "There's a mixed bag of people in the technology organization, and frankly most of them need to be weeded out," says Lewis. "But you don't want to throw out the stars when you're dumping the masses."

Even without the added pressure that goes along with mergers, banks should be more proactive in investing the time and money to ensure that the human assets they have are the ones they need to get them where they want to go. "They need to protect those assets like they were at war," says Lewis. "[It's] like finding a new customer - it is at least 15 times more expensive to find a new [customer] than a repeat customer - and the same is true for talent. Hiring the right executive is a high-ROI proposition, but when you are lucky enough to have an A player on your bench, don't be short-sighted enough to lose him or her," Lewis asserts.

Banks are most interested in people who understand enterprise integration, service-oriented architecture and security and privacy issues, explains Lewis. Because of the sheer number of relevant technologies, however, it's rare for any one person to have a deep understanding of all of them.

The answer can be found where technology and business intersect. "The stereotypical chief technology officer is a technological genius who knows how to make computers sing," says Lewis. "But singing computers does not equate with making money. Banks need to focus on these architects of technology and masters of technology who understand how to make computers sing to the tune of business."

Those up-and-coming star players may be found outside the financial services industry, perhaps at an e-commerce business like Amazon or eBay. That requires bank technology leaders to open up their field of vision. The bonus is that the more talented technology experts in many information-intensive industries outside of financial services have not yet experienced the extraordinary salary expansions that have paved Wall Street with gold.

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