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IT Spotlight: Banking

IT Spotlight: Banking

Behind the scenes of the increasingly fast-paced banking industry, armies of tech professionals work diligently to ensure technophobes can operate ATMs and keep hackers away from bank accounts. With banker's hours long gone, techies are essential to an industry that now operates 24/7.

"The weekends are gone, particularly for the technology people," says John Bock, executive vice president and CIO of ViewPoint Bank. "Banking is anyplace, anytime, anywhere."

Of course, not all IT professionals in banking work weekends. But make no mistake: Banking industry changes over the past 25 years have raised technology's profile, requiring technologists across disciplines -- from database architects to network engineers -- to have up-to-date skills, business acumen and a customer focus.

Technology pros eager to work in banking don't necessarily need an MBA, but they shouldn't expect to work with Cobol, either. Techies in banking now often focus on technologies such as .NET and DXML that enable seamless data communication, Bock says.

Major trends driving technology use in banking include:

  • Demand from consumers and businesses for around-the-clock, easy-to-use banking services, making well-designed online and ATM experiences a must.
  • Banking professionals' need for instant access to information and services, requiring more complex systems and more tightly integrated services.
  • The stricter regulatory environment spawned by Sarbanes-Oxley and other measures, requiring technology to help banks meet more stringent reporting requirements.
  • Greater concerns over privacy and security, leading to stepped-up efforts in all IT projects to eliminate vulnerabilities.

Not Your Father's ATM

Just consider ATMs. Thanks to technology, they're being outfitted to go far beyond dispensing cash.

Whereas ATMs were once built, tested and deployed without substantial modification, ATM development is now "a more evolutionary process," says Tim Michalk, vice president of human resource operations for Diebold, a leading provider of technology for the banking industry.

As these self-service terminals evolve to include ticketing, reservations and other services, software experts will be needed to connect the terminals to other systems, design interfaces and otherwise provide a seamless customer experience. "The applications end up being kind of endless," Michalk says.

These changes make for a more dynamic pace in the industry. Says Bock: "For a technical person, the financial industry -- in particular, banking -- is becoming more exciting."

Take the Business Context to the Bank

With their increased focus on pleasing customers, it's no surprise that banks and banking technology vendors such as Diebold seek techies who understand business. "We want people who have business savvy," Michalk says.

Because they work with customers regularly, even ATM field-service engineers must have sales and customer-service aptitude," says Mike Ziarko, staffing manager for Diebold. "They're not just (engineers). They're a contact in selling and servicing."

Technologists also need well-developed soft skills in order to work successfully with other banking professionals, such as business analysts and product managers.

"We want all of our technical people to understand what the financial customer is looking for," says Vince Scafaria, CEO of DealMaven, a provider of software for financial professionals.

Jennifer Campe, director of organizational effectiveness at consumer credit information provider TransUnion, says techies need to "demonstrate an understanding that technology solutions are applied within a business context.

Lack of Industry Experience Won't Break the Bank

Industry experience isn't required to break into the technology side of banking, but financial services knowledge will help. If you're a recent grad, Bock suggests looking for a job in computer operations or on the help desk of a banking or financial-services firm, where you can gain the necessary experience to move into other positions.

For senior positions, banking experience is more likely to matter. Developers often need experience working on banking or financial-services applications; other technical professionals will have an edge if they have worked with a vendor that makes IT systems specifically for the banking industry, Bock says.

Furthermore, because security is an essential part of all banking-industry technology projects, any experience with security issues will help techies differentiate themselves, Campe says. "More and more project plans have security components right at the beginning," she says. "The security of our data is sacred."

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