Financial Services Information Technology

A Backbone of Financial Services Firms

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Financial Services Information Technology Career Overview: A background in computer science, including facility in writing and interpreting programming code, is almost always the fundamental requirement for this field. As computer technology both becomes more pervasive in the financial Services industry and changes rapidly, skilled information technology professionals are becoming increasingly more valuable.

According to an article in the 12/5/09 issue of The Economist magazine ("Silo but deadly"), the financial services industry was on track to spend over $500 billion worldwide on information technology in 2009. This was greater than any other industry, and also exceeded the aggregate spending by all governments, at all levels worldwide, on information technology. Interestingly, prior to the 1968 Wall Street paperwork crunch the securities brokerage sector was a technological laggard. The response to that crisis effected deep and lasting changes. 

In-House Information Technology Staff: One attraction of pursuing a career in information technology is that these departments are among the most progressive in allowing staff to work from home (that is, to telecommute), being much further along this curve than most other groups in most companies.

Advancing Your Career: To advance in an in-house information technology department, or to create opportunities for a potential switch to the management side of the company, you have to be more than someone who takes directions and writes code.

You must develop management skills, beginning with learning all you can about the organizations that act as your internal clients, to anticipate their needs and to suggest solutions. This way you become a valued strategic partner rather than a mere specialist mechanic.

On the other hand, if you desire to remain a technician rather than a manager, your opportunities for advancement in pay and prestige are limited in traditional corporate settings.

A growing number of forward-thinking companies, however, are seeing the value of rewarding top technical experts without moving them into management positions, for which they may be ill-suited.

Managing Expectations: The best information technology people do an excellent job of managing expectations of their business partners. Making accurate, realistic estimates of what you can accomplish, and in what time frame, is a key factor in establishing credibility. Just as failing to deliver what you promise is unacceptable, so is grossly overestimating the time and resources that you need to finish the job right.

Systems Liaison: While the core of systems consulting (see this discussion of operations consulting that also encompasses the narrower field of systems consulting) includes people with expertise in programming and other technical fields, there also are jobs for people to serve as liaisons between the "business side" and the "technical side." These liaison people are able to understand the business requirements for a given systems project, and to communicate them cogently and logically to the technical staff. Likewise, the liaison people must know enough about programming, systems design and systems implementation to advise people on the business side about their options and to manage their expectations realistically.

It often becomes especially challenging to deal with upper management, where systems knowledge and expertise often is minimal.

The systems liaison role is also very important within companies that have their own in-house technical staffs, but rarely gets assigned to anyone as a full time job. Instead, this responsibility frequently ends up being an unofficial side job for those people who acquire an aptitude for it. In the financial services industry, the systems liaison role regularly falls to people in the financial organization, especially departmental controllers.