Banks are going the do-it-yourself route by embracing in-house tech training

Michael Wisler grew weary of the efforts needed to attract engineering talent when he worked for US bank Capital One four years ago.

“I was going from one tech center to another, where you had to throw in all the beers and rock stars you could just to keep everyone engaged,” the finance manager explains. “It wasn’t going to work.”

But the competition for tech talent has only intensified since he joined M&T Bank as chief information officer in 2018. And the difficulty of convincing candidates to move to the bank’s headquarters in Buffalo, New York – a six-hour drive from Manhattan – only added to the challenge.

So now M&T is focusing on creating its own talent. In January, the U.S. regional bank launched a free 12-week data analytics boot camp and joined a growing list of financial services employers offering training courses directly, bypassing the usual four-year university pipeline. year. The program, also sponsored by other local employers, is open to all members of the community and does not require participants to commit to any business.

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Many companies have always offered specialized training to new employees, says Nikolai Roussanov, a finance professor at Wharton and a research fellow at the US National Bureau of Economic Research. But an increase in the number of companies developing their own “academies” and “universities” has sparked some soul-searching in academia, he adds.

Graduates with MBAs, master’s degrees in finance, and related professional degrees can usually be hired by a bank or investment firm at the associate level, skipping the grueling training often endured by junior analysts. But recently some MBA recruits have needed an extra hand, according to industry sources.

“It’s much better to have people coming into the workforce with these skills acquired through formal training because otherwise what are we doing to teach people skills they don’t have need and not teach them skills they need? said Roussanov.

Wharton, which topped this year’s Financial Times MBA rankings and also offers master’s courses in finance, began offering a quantitative studies major in fall 2020 in response to industry feedback, Roussanov says. About a third of Wharton Business School graduates go into finance.

“This kind of expertise midway between finance and data science is in high demand,” he says.

Wall Street is now moving towards creating its own talent as the lines between finance and engineering blur. Many companies have moved from using Excel spreadsheets for routine tasks to more complex data visualization software, such as Tableau.

Major employers JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America launched coding courses for staff in 2018. Hedge fund Point72 opened its own academy in 2015, aiming to train early-career students in technical skills so they can eventually get hired. Hedge fund WorldQuant founded a free, public online engineering school in 2015, which officially gained accreditation in 2021.

Over the past four years, M&T has strengthened its partnerships with nearby universities to support technology education, but it plans to continue to seek talent elsewhere. “I don’t think there is a university that hasn’t understood that the world has become technical, but they will never produce enough [talent] for the country,” says Wisler.

“The ability to manipulate software and make technology work for business results should be considered the blue-collar jobs of the 21st century.”

JahJah Quarles, who grew up in Buffalo, where M&T is the second-largest employer, had never heard of the title “data scientist” until a friend recommended he apply for boot camp earlier this year.

Buffalo, which is the second largest city in New York State, has been struggling economically for decades after losing much of its manufacturing work.

As a result, Quarles’ mother initially didn’t understand why her 30-year-old son would want to give up the security and benefits of a government job for a career in tech. Still, he starts this month as a data scientist on M&T’s marketing team. “It brought us all into a new world,” he says.

JahJah Quarles, Business and Data Analyst at M&T Bank
JahJah Quarles, Business and Data Analyst at M&T Bank

At the same time, outreach businesses such as Multiverse and Revature have sprung up in recent years, offering to train workers from underrepresented backgrounds for jobs at big corporations, including Citigroup and Morgan Stanley.

Rhode Island-based Citizens Financial Group began partnering with Multiverse and Revature in January and has so far been successful in hiring more female and racially diverse talent. “It’s definitely a win-win,” says Michael Ruttledge, chief information officer.

However, while it’s easy to teach the jargon needed for coding in a boot camp, the critical thinking needed to generate ideas and action plans can be difficult to replicate in a short program, notes Wharton’s Roussanov. .

Similarly, encouraging student interest in more quantitative areas may be a bigger barrier than curriculum design. The percentage of engineering degrees awarded by American schools peaked in 1986 at 9.8% and has hovered around 7% in recent years.

Wisler’s team at M&T now offers tours of the bank’s headquarters to school classes, in an attempt to spark interest in the technology. But he concedes: “A bank might not be the most exciting place they can think of when deciding if they want to be a firefighter or an astronaut.”

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