Banks Turn to Mind-Reading to Head Hunt Top Grad Students

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By Giles Turner | 8:06 am, December 15, 2016

Want to work at a bank? First you have to let them read your mind.

At career fairs and on university campuses as part of its graduate hiring scheme, Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc has been attaching sensors to the heads of potential candidates, to measure brain activity and attention spans.

Students are played a series of images and videos for a few minutes while being monitored. Depending on how they react, they’re presented with a description of their personality type, followed by an area of the bank’s business they might be suited to.

“We are using gamification and online simulation” to create experiences for graduates to be assessed from, RBS ‎Chief Information Officer Patrick Eltridge said in an interview, “but also give them valuable feedback.”

Tech Battle

Banks face an unprecedented demand to hire talented technology employees, due to the increasing need-for-speed from institutional trading to mobile banking, the changing demographic of their customers, and the growing cyber-threat from state-funded hackers to rogue teenagers.

But to convince graduates that working for a bank might be better than joining a startup, lenders are keen to show new hires they are technology companies first, and banks second.

Deutsche Bank AG has doubled the size of its technology graduate pool over the past two years. “The majority of the technology graduates we want to bring in are people with a focus on software engineering,” said Scott Marcar, Deutsche Bank’s IT boss in London.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. last year began ramping up the number of technology staff it was hiring. The U.S. lender already spends $9 billion a year on technology, a budget covering developer salaries to cybersecurity, with roughly a third targeted at new investments. Bank of America Corp. has an annual budget of $3 billion for new technology projects.

Despite the financial firepower from the banking sector, there is stiff competition for those with a technology background. Facebook Inc., Google and Snap Inc. recently announced plans to increase hiring in London, and food-delivery company Deliveroo is considering doubling its 150-strong workforce in its London-headquarters, looking for data scientists and machine learning experts, according to a person close to the situation.

“There’s definitely a challenge in the sector that’s born out of historical reputation and some of the legacy impact from the global financial crisis,” said Paul Aldrich, head of financial services technology at search firm Odgers Berndtson.

It’s not just new tech firms that are looking to poach talent. New banking startups are also competing for young programmers.

“We tend to find it easier to attract and retain people than the bigger banks,” said Tom Blomfield, a 31-year technologist who secured a license from the Bank of England for Monzo Bank Ltd. earlier this year. “People want to work on really hard problems from scratch with other talented people, rather than be small fish in a big pond, maintaining software that’s been there for 30 years.”

Monzo also publishes its technical plans on the internet, which leads to developers seeking to join the firm, according to Blomfield.

More Money

Traditionally, the technology business within a bank was not seen as a remunerative place to work, especially compared to high-profile startups. However, the mood has been changing. Damian Sutcliffe, head of technology in Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., said that the number of those with a tech background at partner level — one of the more lucrative positions in finance — has significantly increased over the past decade.

A senior mergers banker or trader with over 15 years’ experience could expect a pay package of around 300,000 pounds ($375,780) in 2016, according to data from Emolument.com. This compares to 110,000 pounds for a senior software developer with a similar level of experience.

Despite the difference in pay, momentum is with the developers. Senior M&A bankers have experienced an annual drop in pay of 23 percent since 2015, while senior software developers have enjoyed a 14 percent increase, according to Emolument.com.

“People were drawn to the startups because of the culture and the stock opportunities,” Cem Baris, director for information technology at search firm Morgan McKinley, said in an interview. “But we’re now seeing a change. People are now becoming a bit more interested in the banks, especially as we’re beginning to see some startups reach the end of their cycle.”

Specialist Skills

While banks are on the hunt for more programmers, coders, and software engineers, those with more specialist skills — such as machine learning and cybersecurity experts — are increasingly in demand, as lenders grapple with new technology.

Almost all banks now put on hackathons — marathon coding sessions often fueled by take-outs and beer — in university campuses to seek out new talent to hire. RBS takes its executives on regular trips to Silicon Valley, and banks including JPMorgan, Credit Suisse Group AG and Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. have been luring executives from tech companies such as IBM Corp., cloud software company HortonWorks Inc. and Google.

Deutsche Bank is planning to use artificial technology to help answer the more routine questions handled by its internal IT helpdesk, which currently deals with thousands of staff queries a month. “We are aiming to get that number to as close as zero as possible,” said Marcar.

RBS, which last year invested in 1Qbit — a Canadian startup developing software for quantum computers, which perform calculations much faster than conventional machines — is now looking at growing its expertise in securities solutions. These include blockchain and distributed ledgers — the technologies that underpin digital currencies such as bitcoin. It has recently made an investment in GFT Technologies, a German IT service provider that has partnered with the U.K. bank on using blockchain-based technologies.

Banks are focusing hiring a core set of “highly skilled computer scientists”, said Goldman Sachs’s Sutcliffe. “But we are also seeing areas of specialization, whether that be in machine learning, artificial intelligence, data science, we are definitely seeing much more of those types of skill sets.”

 

This article was written by Giles Turner from Bloomberg and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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