It pays to be something in the City

The hours are long, pressure high and competition fierce – but the rewards are big enough to make a financial services IT job worth its weight in gold


The hours are long, pressure high and competition fierce – but the rewards are big enough to make a financial services IT job worth its weight in gold

It has the highest paid IT jobs, the biggest IT budgets and the tallest buildings, so it is little surprise that the financial services sector has IT professionals flocking to it. Competition for jobs is stiff and the work is challenging, but the rewards can be great.

A boom period of mergers and acquisitions, together with a reasonably resurgent stock market have created a strong market for IT jobs in the financial services sector said Lisa Jobson, manager corporate accounts at IT recruitment firm Harvey Nash. “The market is very buoyant at the moment. It has been for all of this year, both for contractors and permanent staff.”

Middle-tier jobs are those in most demand at the moment, she said. “There is a lot of demand for business analysts, project managers, programme managers and office managers. A lot of support roles are outsourced, so we do not see so much of that.”

Financial services firms also have plenty to offer IT professionals. As well as the best-paid jobs, there is also a higher regard for IT than in many other sectors.

“Investment banks and retail banks use IT strategically to try to maintain competitive advantage and retain customers, especially with online banking becoming more popular. They also have well-designed career paths for the best IT professionals in permanent roles,” she said.

In January this year, the Computer Weekly/SSL Survey of Appointments Data and Trends showed a fall of 6% in IT recruitment overall, but a 6% growth IT recruitment in finance and banking. Permanent IT professionals in the Square Mile are paid an average of £50,500 a year. Outside the City, pay does not reach such heights, but rates are still higher than for comparable jobs in other sectors, and benefits packages are attractive.

However, with these attractive rewards, there is inevitably strong competition to get into the sector, so employers set very high standards when selecting staff.

“Vetting is very rigorous,” Jobson said. “You can have up to four interviews, including technical tests, line manager interviews and HR interviews. We do have candidates who are rejected at the final hurdle, having passed all the technical tests, so nothing can be taken for granted.”

Although firms will be rigorous about academic standards and technical qualifications, these alone will not get someone into the lucrative financial services sector. “A lot of it is about the person and how they interview,” Jobson said.

“Do the research and understand the organisation and its objectives. You have to demonstrate a real desire and passion for the City – it is not enough to have the technical skills and think you are worth it.”

The most senior financial services IT jobs are even more difficult for candidates to position themselves for, according to Marilyn D’Sa, marketing director at OTC financial IT recruitment. “For the very top roles, they know who they want already – it is really about referrals.”

As well as an exceptionally good track record of delivery in the financial services sector, successful candidates will need to be recognised by their peers, and this means networking, D’Sa said. “It is always best to keep in touch with people you have worked with successfully as they move up through the ranks.”

Glenn Martin, former CIO at investment bank Cazenove, agreed that recommendations are the best way to get a senior role in financial service IT. In fact, it was through a recommendation that he gained his first IT role, having moved from a senior business role in banking.

“Nowadays, IT has got to be board level, but if you aim to be on the board, you are not going to get there by being a project manager or a programme manager. You need to be able to see things the way the business views it. CIOs have to be business literate and that is not something generally associated with IT people.”

Some technology managers may even want to consider spending time outside IT, managing other areas of the business, in order to get the experience to win the most senior IT position, Martin said.

The reward, particularly in investment banking, is that IT is taken seriously, he said. “It is a good place because you are desperately needed by the business.”

With long hours and weekend working the norm, IT professionals can expect to be on call 24 hours a day. “They are not shy in ringing up even the most senior IT people. But you are compensated in the pay, so it is part of the deal,” said Martin.

Tale of the City

After six years working for an IT outsourcing supplier, Simon moved from Manchester to London to land a job in an investment bank as a problems and outage manager. After six months in the job he can reflect on his new working environment. 

“The intensity of the people around me is higher than anything I have experienced. There is a high level of importance attached to nearly everything we do – any problem is seen in terms of how much money it could lose the company.”

Because of this, mistakes are not treated lightly, he said. “Here there is a greater risk associated with making mistakes. Technical teams have ahigh staff turnover. The IT department is not afraid to swing the axe if it needs to.”

But sticking to such exacting standards can be a valuable education. “I have learned more in six months here than I did in the past 18 months elsewhere.”

This is an experience which will stand Simon in good stead in his career. “There is an awareness that being here for a couple of years could open up doors to other places. You can go to a competitor and say I can do this. But I feel happy now. I work for a good company and work hard.”

Read more on IT jobs and recruitment