It is no secret that financial services pays more than any other IT employment sector. Ask any recruitment agency about wages in one of the other sectors and they will often respond: "It's good, but it doesn't match up to financial services".
Financial services is one of the largest sectors for IT staff in the UK, accounting for more than a quarter of vacancies advertised, according to research firm Salary Services.
So just how rich are the pickings? Adam Stokes, operations director at the IT Job Board, explained, "The more specialised the skill, the higher the salary. But, for more generic roles, the City still pays more. An average IT manager's salary across the country would be £50k, but an IT manager working in finance could easily earn £75k."
Despite being a high paying sector, many positions remain unfilled. Corinne Dauncey, marketing manager at TipTopJob.com, said not only is there a shortage of project and programme managers, but "there is a severe lack of development and programming staff across all computer languages who have knowledge of the financial services sector."
According to Michael Arben, financial services strategy director at LogicaCMG, an additional factor is the reliance of financial services on IT. "Financial services firms have done well from IT," he said. "They have used it to displace a lot of cost from their operations. Those organisations are now being tasked to create much more value: 'how do I use this stuff for growth?'
"To do that, you really have to understand the workings of financial services, the principle of creating value, and its assets. Financial services companies are making much higher demands on IT. And I don't think there is a lot of skill to go round."
The shortage of IT people who can work in financial services in the UK is not helped by the efforts of companies in mainland Europe who are trying to staff up.
Mark Verghese, who runs a dedicated capital markets IT team for recruitment firm Greythorn, said, "There are massive skill shortages for niche applications within the investment banking sector across Europe, and the law of supply and demand is putting upward pressure on contracting rates.
Some of the biggest changes in financial services revolve around compliance, which is leading to further shortages. As well as the Sarbanes-Oxley act, which affects US companies and British companies that have their shares traded across the Atlantic, there are EU regulations focused on the financial services sector alone.
However, experience with compliance does not mean developers have to be fully conversant in the details of the law. Jeroen Gruijters, vice-president of professional services at compliance software specialist FRS Global, said the company looks for accountancy and economics people who can understand the compliance legislation. And those people are extremely thin on the ground.
But for IT staff, their software skills are more important than compliance rules. Just because there are shortages in a number of areas, it does not mean financial services IT is easy to break into.
Paul Gillott, MD of Oracle HR system implementation specialist Symatrix, said, "For us, the challenge is finding people who understand both the technology and the business processes it underpins.
"One of the main problems is that there are a lot of people out there who have limited hands-on experience. It means that we immediately reject more than 40% of the CVs we receive."
Stokes added, "The City is notoriously difficult to cross-train into. Industry knowledge and experience count for a lot, particularly as many technologies are so specific to individual banks and processes."
However, it is possible to move into the City if people can combine business acumen with technological skills. Norman Burden, MD of recruitment consultancy Imprint Search and Selection, said, "Employers are looking for individuals who can communicate effectively between the business and technical functions. They must be able to communicate complex ideas to the business."
According to Robin Unsworth, consultant at Qedis, the work is not for everybody. "IT professionals work under high pressure and are continuously up against tight deadlines," he said.
"Due to the nature of the work, and the global reach of the sector, they are also expected to work out of traditional office hours, across multiple time zones.
"However, the work is often more interesting than other sectors and, because the value of IT is very much appreciated, this can provide a more rewarding experience than other industries."
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