Before the recession, the investment banking sector was seen by many as a great place to work, but as various financial institutions crashed, the government was forced to offer bail-outs and banks reduced their bonuses, the situation changed.
Investment bankers hit the headlines but often for the wrong reasons and this tarnished the reputation of many high-profile financial organisations that were once viewed as an employer of choice. This has made it hard for many of these City-based organisations to attract quality IT professionals from other sectors even though the market is improving. So what are these employers doing to change perceptions and what do they really have to offer IT professionals?
The recession has had an impact on IT departments in many financial institutions as teams merged and departments re-structured, resulting in redundancies and creating leaner workforces. External recruitment was also hit due to budget tightening, meaning some employers were unable to continue their strategy of trying to attract talent from outside the sector, which was the case before the downturn.
Now the City is back on track and confidence has picked up, many employers are being allocated budget to recruit externally to re-build their IT functions. IT is an area that can potentially introduce business efficiencies and cost savings, helping to create competitive advantage, so it tends to have a bigger recruitment budget. But companies recognise there are only so many IT people working in the sector which means there is still a shortage of professionals with the right skills. Therefore, many organisations are again looking outside the sector, particularly when recruiting for middle- and back-office roles where staff have no front-office exposure.
Technical managers are recognising that those who have previously worked in sectors such as defence, pharmaceuticals, telecoms, or online gaming and betting are well placed to make the transition into these positions as they are used to working on large-scale, fast-paced projects. This exposure lends itself to the working environment of financial institutions and bringing in outside talent can also mean a fresh perspective and new ideas.
However, many people still perceive the City to be a risky and volatile environment. While some IT professionals will be attracted by competitive salaries and benefits packages, there are other aspects that are important. IT roles in the City's financial organisations offer huge scope for career development because of the range of applications and brand new technologies individuals will get the opportunity to work with.
The City is one of the most technically up-to-date sectors for IT professionals to work in as organisations need to have best solutions possible to flourish in a faced-paced business world. It can also offer professionals the chance to work on both short-term solutions, to solve immediate problems, as well as longer-term projects, providing much desired diversity - this exposure can also help aid career development.
For example, Rahul works within an IT department of a large investment bank, but used to work for an oil producer within a shipping function. Having recently made a move to the City, he speaks positively of his new role, "It is fair to say that is it a fast-paced environment, but working in the City can be very rewarding. The majority of people I interact with are very focused and precise, and this motivates me to further develop myself. Business knowledge is also key when working within a bank, so I am learning something new on a daily basis."
Banks also tend to be good employers in terms of offering training and development as they have some of the best internal training facilities, which will support individuals' professional development. Some City organisations have also introduced two new, clear career paths for IT professionals. Previously, individuals had to become less hands-on and focus more on people management to progress. Now, various banks offer two separate routes, one that focuses on management and the other which is more technical where professionals become real experts in their fields. This is great news for those who are keen to advance their careers but still want to work closely with the technology and development side of the business.
Victoria Cowie is a director at recruitment specialist Hays Finance Technology.