WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
Every business is becoming a technology business and nowhere is that truer than in the financial services industry, now as banks try to compete with start ups and established technology companies for tech talent they could find themselves getting into warm water…
Want to work at a bank? First you have to let them read your mind. No, seriously. And no it’s not some children’s magician who’ll be interviewing you.
At career fairs and on university campuses all around the UK as part of its graduate hiring scheme, Royal Bank of Scotland Group, one of the UK’s largest banking groups, has been strapping Brain Computer Interface (BCI) devices – AKA skull caps – to the heads of potential candidates, to measure their brain activity and attention spans.
While this might sound benign, quirky even, the use of BCI technology in interviews, particularly in light of the fact that companies can now use these devices to pull people’s darkest secrets from their heads, as well as uniquely identify them, should raise a whole host of privacy concerns for regulators, as well as the individuals and companies involved.
If you’re one of these candidates and the data from your brainwaves is being stored with no guarantee that it will be deleted then you might just want to stop and think about the future implications, for example on your credit worthiness. The data points that could be collected during these interviews would provide companies with the perfect profiling tool, and there’s no fooling the system – yet. One day this type of data collection will become the norm, and as for the fact that the system is also being used to classify and categorise candidates, well, that’s a view straight out of a dystopian novel.
As for the regulators, they should be taking note now and tabling a discussion about the use of BCI and its implications for data privacy sooner rather than later.
During the interviews students are played a series of images and videos for a few minutes while being monitored and 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,” said RBS CIO Patrick Eltridge during an interview (which didn’t involve mind reading), “but also give them valuable feedback.”
Banks face an unprecedented demand to hire talented technology employees because of the increasing need for speed in certain areas of their operations – from institutional trading to mobile banking, the changing demographic of their customers, and the growing cyber threat from state funded hackers to rogue teenagers. And now, in order 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, for example, 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 US 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 meanwhile 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, Google and Snap Inc all recently announced new plans to increase hiring in London, and even food delivery company Deliveroo is considering doubling its 150 strong workforce in its London headquarters, looking for data scientists and machine learning experts.
“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 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.
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, 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 and this compares to £110,000 pounds for a senior software developer with a similar level of experience.
Despite the difference in pay though, the 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,” said Cem Baris, director for information technology at search firm Morgan McKinley, “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.”
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 also increasingly in demand, as lenders grapple with new technology. And almost all banks now put on hackathons – marathon coding sessions often fueled by pizza and beer – in university campuses to seek out new talent to hire.
RBS, for example, regularly takes its executives on trips to Silicon Valley, and banks including JPMorgan, Credit Suisse Group and Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ) have been luring executives from tech companies such as IBM, cloud software company HortonWorks and Google.
Deutsche Bank and Lloyds Banking Group are both planning to use artificial intelligence (AI), from companies such as Enterprise Bot, to help answer the more routine questions handled by its internal IT help desk, 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 hundreds of millions of times faster than conventional machines – is now looking at growing its expertise in cyber security solutions including 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 UK 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.”