Filling the financial IT skills gap

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the need for digital transformation and appears to have indirectly impacted the availability of certain skill sets, particularly those around financial IT.

Typically, financial IT skills are deployed in the IT departments of the banking or insurance industries. “The challenge when recruiting for this sector is not necessarily finding potential candidates who have worked in financial IT, but rather finding people who have had specific exposure to certain domains within these industries,” explains Sue Richards, IT Consulting and Resourcing Manager at JMR Software. “For example, it’s extremely difficult to find people with experience in areas such as quantitative analysis or forex trading.”

Specific domain experience is often paired with a post-graduate qualification in mathematical finance or another quantitative discipline (maths, stats, engineering, computer science, econometrics, physics or actuarial science).

Roles that require both these skills and qualifications include business analysts, project managers, software architects and developers, data architects and analysts, UI/UX designers and application testers, among others.

“Not being able to find the right skill sets could hamper a business’s future growth plans,” says Richards.

She attributes the financial IT skills shortage primarily to rapid technological advancement. “The financial industry has evolved so fast over the past few years through modernisation, digitalisation and automation drives. Artificial intelligence and robotics are being embraced and these call for very specific and niche skills, which are scarce. To deliver on client expectations, competition and advancement within the industry, financial institutions need to continuously improve on their customer experiences by implementing new offerings, often through new channels. To make this happen, they need skilled IT resources.”

COVID-19 contributed to the skills shortage by bringing a sense of urgency to digitalisation and automation with a focus on making clients’ online experiences seamless. Projects that were slow to get off the ground before COVID were suddenly critical and had budget and resources thrown at them, often forcing recruitment drives.

In addition, lockdown has normalised remote working, which not only allowed skilled people to job hunt across national borders, but also internationally. A global report by PWC says that as the economy starts to show signs of recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, companies are looking to hire. However, nearly two-thirds (63%) of them are concerned that they won’t be able to find the people with the requisite skills. Technology and engineering firms are struggling the most with the shortage of skilled employees.

The report said that with many industries facing skills shortages, employers might have to compete with foreign companies for local talent. In the past, employees might have been hesitant to emigrate owing to administrative and legal complexities, but now they can be employed by foreign companies without leaving the country.

Richards believes hiring newly qualified graduates could go some way to resolving the crisis. “Large financial institutions are often reluctant to take on graduates with no work experience. We receive so many applications from graduates with science, maths and statistics qualifications who battle to find a first job opportunity. They often end up in roles outside of IT or immigrating. Young people are our future, they come with great ideas and energy, and we should make employing them and growing their careers a priority.”

However, once companies have found the skills that they want to hire, bringing them on board during COVID can prove tricky. Richards says: “A structured onboarding programme during this time of physical distancing will follow the same steps, but with no physical human interaction. Instead, these are done off electronic platforms. Everything happens digitally: Interviews are over video calls and contracts are exchanged and signed digitally. It is not uncommon to start a new job and to never meet your team in person.”

As a closing piece of advice, she says although everything can happen digitally, it’s vital for companies to continue to meet with their resourcing account managers regularly and share future project and staffing plans with them. “Be proactive and flexible when it comes to finding ‘that perfect candidate’ and consider taking on a graduate in each team to mentor and upskill.”

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