Four ways to attract (and keep) top tech talent

Perhaps the Nasdaq’s doldrums will turn the attention of the nation’s top IT talent from tech to a banking industry in dire need of their services. 

Kris Kowal, global retail banking lead, SAP America

Perhaps, but don’t bet the company on it. In a banking business rolling out steady streams of innovative, technology-dependent products amid a massive cloud transformation, that’s what you’d be doing.

The safer wager is that banks must continue to work hard to attract and retain the best of the best. Banks can do so in four ways:  

  • Promote what you have to offer; 
  • Change the culture to one that puts IT on even footing with business units; 
  • Delineate your tech strategy to workers interested in interesting work; and  
  • Develop a comprehensive talent plan.  

Promote what you have to offer

Banks are technology companies, and they are finally making a point of trumpeting that fact. It’s more than talk: Gartner has estimated this industry’s annual IT outlays to be in the $600 billion range. That’s roughly the combined state budgets of California and New York — with Ohio thrown in for good measure.  

Those investments are pouring into the backend cloud transformations that the industry now recognizes will be necessary to compete, much less thrive. But that money is also going into new products that depend heavily on technology from the customer-experience standpoint on through analytics. Which brings up a key point: IT talent in banking is about more than software developers; we need diverse skills. In addition to developers, banking lacks automation specialists and analytics experts. Each of these fields involves many subspecialties that a potential hire can evolve into over time.  

Among other areas, those diverse skills are necessary to develop the products that can meet — and ideally exceed — customers’ increasing expectations. A few examples include browser plugins that find coupon codes, personal financial management and financial literacy tools, automated interest rate rebates based on payment behavior or product bundling and carbon scoring and suggestions for offsets based on transactions such as airline-ticket purchases.  

That’s in addition to ongoing — and increasingly demanding — banking-industry needs related to customer interfaces, cybersecurity, fraud detection, risk management and countless other areas. Also, banks are at the forefront of the environmental, social and governance (ESG) movement, a fact that aligns with the sensibilities of young tech professionals in particular. 

Oh, and don’t forget that banking is, as before, generally profitable and stable — and it pays well. 

Change the culture

A recent Deloitte report on the challenges of tech hiring in the industry noted that tech workers in banking bemoaned their status as “second-class citizens.” Fair or not, an industry deeply dependent on technology can ill afford such sentiment to perpetuate. Fortunately, it’s just not true anymore. American Express CEO Steve Squeri’s rise to the top from the chief information officer job may be the clearest example of technology’s importance to this industry, but examples abound of recent high-end banking industry hires from the likes of Google, Microsoft and others.  

Banks want to operate like tech companies, so they’re hiring tech leaders who are shaking up old hierarchies. The long-brewing transition of banking technology from back office to customer-facing is leading to a dismantling of traditional banking pecking orders, breaching silos and embracing the sorts of flexibility and collaboration that is good for banks in general and, specifically, for tech workers.  

Delineate your tech strategy

Yes, banking still involves paper, which to a prospective hire from a top computer science program or tech company may as well be a stack of cuneiform tablets. Yours and every other bank is working to change that, and you’re going to need tech talent to do it. Your core technology may seem outdated (another complaint in that Deloitte report) — that’s why you’re moving to the cloud, and that’s where tech talent can engage in a mission-critical way.  

Tech talent doesn’t want to be feel like they’ll be shunted off in a coding shop working on patchwork solutions for finicky business users. Your technology roadmap is much more exciting than new hires would guess; don’t be shy about sharing it with them. 

Develop a comprehensive talent plan

Talent planning requires looking at your existing workforce as well as the needs to be filled through hiring. What skills do you need now? What will you need two years out? How can you cast the widest possible net and eliminate the sorts of hiring biases that reduce an organization’s cultural diversity and cause excellent candidates to be overlooked? These are some of the core questions of talent planning. 

Technology can help in many ways, among them, through talent-assessment platforms that can automate the screening process and match applicants to jobs better than the old resume-based approach. But the reality is, if you haven’t put considerable thought into what talent you need and how to develop it, you probably won’t find it. 

The tech industry’s dipping fortunes won’t last forever. Now is the time for banks to exploit what’s sure to be a temporary advantage in the long-term competition for tech talent. 

Kris Kowal is the Global Retail Banking Lead for SAP America. 

Bank Automation Summit US 2023, taking place March 2-3 in Charlotte, is a crucial event on automation and automation technology in banking. Learn more and register for Bank Automation Summit US 2023.