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Banks Face Rising Need for IT Talent

Hard Data

BankingITdpLayersARTYoung people studying information technology in college, or IT professionals seeking a career change, don’t always think about the opportunities afforded by the banking industry. But perhaps they should — banks are increasingly clamoring for top IT talent to support their digital platforms, maintain network servers, and tackle thorny cybersecurity threats. The challenge is wooing these individuals to a career path they may never have considered.

Steven Lowell occasionally visits high-school career days and speaks with students, so he knows how young people perceive banking jobs.

Steven Lowell

Steven Lowell

“Everyone thinks of the bank as either the teller or the loan officer,” said Lowell, president of Monson Savings Bank. Which is why students with an aptitude for information technology (IT) typically don’t think of the financial world as a viable career choice.

But they should, he said.

“Technology has come to the forefront and is a huge part of banking,” he told BusinessWest. “There’s definitely a lot of potential there for people who might be interested in a career.”

Indeed, opportunities have risen for IT talent in the era of online and mobile platforms — both to build and grow those platforms and in the broad realm of cybersecurity and data protection, for starters.

“From a cybersecurity perspective, there’s really a big push right now to make sure we have that talent on staff. It’s critical,” said Joseph Zazzaro, senior vice president and chief information officer at PeoplesBank. “People want their banking data as safe as possible. That’s what we strive to do. We all want that convenience, but it comes with a challenge from a security perspective. We’re always concerned with how to make things safer, always monitoring things, and you need the right people on staff to do it.”

The question, then, is how to attract those ‘right people’ to a field that doesn’t necessarily have cachet with young IT talent.

Joseph Zazzaro

Joseph Zazzaro says bank mergers often pose opportunities to hire another bank’s IT talent if their role is being phased out.

“If you have a technical hotshot and there is an option of going to a more traditional financial services bank or to Google, that’s a pretty hard sell for a financial-services company,” Judy Pennington, director of human capital in the financial-services industry for Deloitte Consulting LLP, told Payment Source.

Meanwhile, Bruce Livesay, chief information officer at First Horizon National Corp., told American Banker that “the banking industry has gotten so much negative publicity through the past several years, it has made it more difficult to recruit people. We’re seeing fewer people feeling motivated to get into banking.”

Financial IT leaders offer plenty of reasons why they should change that way of thinking, however, starting with the fact that banks don’t start and end with the teller and loan officer.

Multiple Paths

Gary Urkevich, executive vice president, Information Technology & Project Management and Berkshire Bank, ticked off a number of areas where banks need strong IT talent, with those roles including project managers, business analysts, program managers, systems analysts, developers, report writers, infrastructure engineers, help-desk support technicians, desktop support technicians, and information-security analysts.

Gary Urkevich

Gary Urkevich

Business analysts are a good case study, he said, in the way some finance professionals span the IT and business worlds.

“Typically, BAs are fairly technical, but, more importantly, they have a keen understanding of the line of business that they support,” he explained. “So a BA that supports mortgage lending would be expected to be well-versed in mortgage lending originations, operations, and compliance. This would be similar for BAs supporting insurance, finance, or deposit operations. Many successful BAs have transitioned to IT from long careers on the banking-operations side.”

Meanwhile, Urkevich went on, program managers own the IT oversight of a particular line of business, such as retail lending. Infrastructure engineers ensure that the e-mail, network servers, circuits, and phone systems are properly sized and working properly. Help-desk support technicians handle calls from users who have questions or issues accessing the banking systems. And information-security analysts work to ensure that the bank’s network, customer data, and company data are protected from malicious intrusion.

In short, that’s a long list of roles with widely varied responsibilities, but they all require some level of IT expertise at a time when computer technology is more critical to the industry than ever before.

To hear Lowell tell it, the recent technological evolution in banking is a direct response to what customers crave: convenience.

“Everyone wants to their bank to be more convenient, and the way to do that is through technology,” he said. “We’ve got people accessing us through all kinds of devices and through all kinds of different networks. We need to be able to serve all those needs.”

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Banks access IT talent to develop applications that are easy to use, and also to offer live support to customers who have issues accessing them, he noted. On the commercial side, they help businesses interact with the bank’s systems efficiently.

Of course, the more robust the digital platform, the greater the need for security, Lowell noted. “That has become such a huge issue. You cannot afford to have a breach in your financial system, so that’s getting a lot of emphasis right now. We’re constantly testing out the network to make sure we don’t have any openings, so people can’t get in and steal information. Cybersecurity issues are huge now.”

Urkevich agreed. “Cybersecurity has become a critical area of focus across many industries, including banking,” he told BusinessWest. “We are routinely investing in staff and systems to ensure that our network is protected.

Zazzaro said one key to attracting and retaining customers is offering competitive, easy-to-use products, and to maintain those products, IT staff are critical.

“We need to have the right personnel in place, supporting the infrastructure for customers on many channels, from digital channels to voice service, the call center. People want convenience, but they want to be able to talk to someone.”

At a time when digital channels are only expanding, though, banks often struggle to make their case to career seekers with a techie bent. One factor is that people see banks constantly merging and fear their career won’t be a secure one. Millennials are also known for seeking employers they believe in on a philosophical level, and banks don’t tend to occupy that ground in their psyche.

Which is why banks often wind up drawing talent from other banks.

“Most of us network to an unbelievable degree, so there’s a great opportunity for us when a merger occurs,” Zazzaro said. “I network with people all over New England, and I’ve seen employment positions filled by a person who lost their job, or their position changed, or they were able to find another great opportunity in the banking arena.”

Lowell agreed. “It’s difficult to find good people. We have a very experienced IT person who worked at another bank, and we were able to hire him because he lives in Monson, and it was a great move for him.”

In most cases, he added, strong tech skills are more important in a potential hire than financial experience, because banks are willing to provide plenty of internal training in their specific processes. “It’s very specific, so we know they’re not always going to come in with that knowledge, but it is something they can learn, and we provide opportunities to do that.”

By All Accounts

Considering the opportunities for skilled IT talent in banks, and the fact that continuous training is a given, Zazzaro asked simply, why not seek a job in banking?

“It’s cutting-edge,” he said. “A lot of things go on with banking, whether in house to support greater efficiencies or what’s happening in the back office; whether it’s customer-facing, bricks and mortar, or on the mobile side. All these things are extremely critical. If a young person is coming out of school, a bank can be a great opportunity to further their career and gain additional training — not just for greater efficiency for the bank, but to help build their careers, too.

In the end, Lowell said, IT talent ranks right up there with regulatory-compliance experts as critical 21st-century needs for financial institutions of all sizes.

“If someone was looking at a career,” he concluded, “I think they’d be well-advised to consider a bank.” u

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

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