Banking technology talent: a global leadership challenge

Catalyst develops banking technologists worldwide. In 2018 alone, we’ve led talent and leadership development sessions with over 500 banking experts in India, China, New York, London and Paris.

Expert engineers and ‘Distinguished Engineers’ are now found everywhere

For the past 15 years, the Catalyst team have had the privilege and pleasure of working on leadership programmes with global talent: outstanding banking technologists worldwide. Personally, I’ve facilitated technology and change leadership expert development classes in London, New York, Palo Alto, Vancouver, Toronto, Chicago, Paris, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Singapore, New Delhi, Pune, Tokyo and Sydney. In 2018 alone we’ve led talent and leadership development sessions with over 500 banking experts in India, China, New York, London and Paris. When you add our remote learning and coaching, this means we are now interacting monthly with all these locations as well as with experts in Ireland, Israel, South America and Eastern Europe.

Banking technology expertise is now a truly global phenomenon. This brings new strategic leadership opportunities and challenges. How to attract, develop and retain the best of the best? How to optimise the undoubted potential of distributed talent?

From labour arbitrage to expertise at scale

At the outset of the offshoring and location strategy transformation, labour cost arbitrage was the obvious key driver. The first payloads to be exported were generally high volume, repetitive maintenance and support activities; not likely to call for or inspire engineering brilliance.

The landscape now is very different. Remote locations have developed engineers and managers who can take global ownership and leadership roles. Talent has evolved through the industry’s Darwinian selection pressures. When the industry has needed to scale up development activity to cope with regulation and exponential transaction volume growth, off-shore locations have been able to respond and to scale equally rapidly.

There is a vibrant growth mindset outside London, New York, Paris and Frankfurt. The banks have great individuals and offshore teams who are very skilled in rapid response and consistently hungry to take on more.

Unforeseen Consequences

Although in many ways a success story, every new solution creates new problems and challenges. The issues that we mostly encounter in our global programmes and coaching work are not technical in nature, but do have significant technical consequences.

  • Poor connectivity between different teams in different locations breeds duplication and fragmentation rather than consistency and simplification. Each office does a decent job of organising and aligning their own engineers, but distance, time zones and cultural barriers create new silos.
  • There are very few high quality, partnership relationships between senior business stakeholders, sponsors and remote engineers. When technical leaders work in isolation from the business, costly breakdowns occur, and innovation opportunities are missed. This is exacerbated by behavioural conditioning that drives technical experts to act as ‘waiters’, taking orders when they should be operating as ‘doctors’: trusted advisors. We often train and coach in how to build effective partnerships and how to think and influence at the level of business value and client experience.
  • Added to this, the offshore perspective is often limited to technology platform enhancement, missing the bigger picture of process disruption, client experience transformation and technology adoption challenges. This results in a misalignment between investment in change and benefits realisation.

Future Challenges

Everything and everyone tells us that the next wave of transformation in banking technology involves global banks mastering agile at scale, DevOps, Cloud technologies to improve efficiency and to open up innovation in data science, machine learning and digital distribution. In many organisations work on this agenda is already well under way.

But the reality is that it’s the established global operating model and culture that represents the greatest challenge to migrating new ways of working from innovation labs to the larger enterprise.

There is a massive challenge in orchestrating the adoption of new solution architectures, closing the gaps between the application owners and the product owners and in creating a system of distributed innovation and rapid dissemination of emergent best practice.

These fault lines have the potential to become critical fail factors.

Building on success

The work that we have done over the last decade and continue to do today has to be sustained and scaled. There are great people and effective teams already established globally.

  • People need to be developed into ‘T’-shaped engineers, with both deep expertise and a broad enterprise mindset and network.
  • Teams need to be joined up to communities and these communities need to be fed with expert champions empowered to lead.
  • Organisations need to adapt to connect the business to the engineers more directly, and to change the way they lead change.

Without doubt, this agenda means that global talent development in banking technology has not yet run its course, even after fifteen years, and hundreds of thousands of air miles!

About the author

As a talent and leadership development specialist, I’m passionate about the role great technologists play in creating the engineering solutions and capabilities needed in today’s highly connected, agile world.