Trading tech skills shortages are fuelling a war for talent

THE commodity trading technology sector is suffering from a chronic skills shortage. As other areas within financial services are freezing recruitment, it sits as a pertinent contrast.

While increasing use of electronic trading continues to sit at the centre of strategy for most financial institutions, there is a noticeable lack of skilled talent in areas like programming, testing, business analysis and project management. Trading technology is at the very heart of the competitive race for banks, funds and asset managers, and investment in this area is seen as the way out of recent economic troubles. Faster, more robust systems to enable quicker trades has led to a race for the lowest latency, and high technology is required to make this work.

The UK has, however, missed a trick. A lack of investment in training in computer science and mathematics has led to considerable skills shortages in a number of areas. This is an opportunity for those with the right experience, or the ability to upskill. Where is this demand coalescing?

The public face of trading services increasingly needs to look flawless. It’s critical that systems provide both a quality service and showcase institutions at their best. As such, skilled testers have been in high demand, but there is low availability throughout the industry.

The Financial Information Exchange (Fix) is an electronic communications protocol for international, real-time exchange of market information. Fix connectivity has become fundamental for many institutions this year, and demand for technical Fix implementation, support and development staff has boomed. A lack of investment in this area in 2008 has led to a skills gap for professionals with two to four years Fix experience, with a subsequent salary boon for talent with the relevant experience or skills

Developers, project managers and business analysts with risk management skills are proving themselves essential to the trading sector, with regulatory changes and Dodd Frank coming to the fore. With the entire investment banking community forced to heavily invest in risk systems, there is a war for the best talent in this space.

Developers used to sit in dark rooms and be far removed from the business. But the movement of technology to the boardroom has increased demand for technologists who can translate and articulate high technology to senior decision-makers. There are precious few who have both excellent interpersonal and technical skills.

Skilled professionals in trading technology are in an enviable situation. The best candidates can be confident of at least three job offers, with pay increases in excess of 15 per cent being offered.

Technology graduates from the last 12 months, fortunate enough to gain relevant exposure at an entry level, have accelerated their careers by two to three years, with more expected from less experience. As there is no bespoke training courses in trading technology of any merit or standing, our advice to aspirants in the sector is to break into junior opportunities. While this may mean steps back in terms of title and salary for many, the acceleration to both career and earnings will be meteoric in the years to come. For mathematics, physics or computer science graduates, there has never been a better time to enter trading technology.

Toby Babb is director at Harrington Starr, the specialist financial services technology recruiter.


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