Financial regulations offer career opportunities for IT professionals

Forthcoming corporate governance regulations, such as Basel 2 and Sarbanes-Oxley, will require IT systems to be integrated across...

Forthcoming corporate governance regulations, such as Basel 2 and Sarbanes-Oxley, will require IT systems to be integrated across subsidiaries worldwide and data will have to be verified and cleaned up, as part of multimillion-pound projects that could make or break careers.

But how can IT staff become involved in this high-profile work? What extra skills might they need? And what challenges will they face when working on the projects?

Analysts advise that IT staff should take the lead in preparing businesses to meet the Sarbanes-Oxley rules and other regulations on corporate governance.

British businesses with a significant US presence, such as HSBC and British Airways, are already preparing their IT systems for compliance deadlines.

Experience from the US shows that businesses are likely to find thousands of IT-related holes to fill before they can demonstrate that they meet the US standard for financial reporting, said Malcolm Marshall, a partner at professional services firm KPMG.

"To help them comply, it is absolutely critical for their financial reporting that companies understand how to embed the processes into the IT organisation," said Marshall.

There will be an effect on both front-office and back-office IT, as accounting changes will find their way to front-office systems, which will then have to be modified to be able to feed the data to modified back-office systems. Such an extensive range of changes will lead to a great deal of complexity for those involved in the process.

However, in many cases, IT staff are not being allowed to get involved in compliance. A survey of 120 senior executives conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit found that two-thirds of firms did not involve their IT departments at a strategic level when planning for compliance.

The study also warned that a lack of integration in IT systems had added cost and complexity to compliance programmes among almost three-quarters of those surveyed - illustrating the need to involve IT staff at an early stage.

Peter Redshaw, principal financial services analyst at Gartner, said that as corporate governance legislation would require organisations to report on an increasingly wide range of business processes they would need the right staff in place to manage the vast amounts of historical data that would be created.

IT professionals look set to benefit from the raft of corporate governance regulations. Compliance projects are driving much of the new IT investment and helping to nudge up salaries, according to Ann Swain, chief executive of the Association of Technology Staffing Companies (Atsco).

IT skills widely used on regulatory projects include SAP, PeopleSoft, Oracle, Hyperion and Sybase. IT staff who want to work on compliance projects should specify a preference for risk management or enterprise resource planning, according to Atsco.

What areas do the new rules affect?       

Basel 2
Due to come into force at the start of 2007, Basel 2 is a new framework for international financial regulation to create more transparency in businesses' financial activities.

Challenges include linking disparate databases and ensuring accuracy of data. 

Sarbanes-Oxley is a US act to encourage greater information transparency, accuracy, and accelerated reporting. Everything from financial records to e-mail communications are affected, notably in relation to management, maintenance and archiving of data.

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