Inside the war for fintech talent with untapt’s Ed Donner

There’s a serious shortfall for technology talent in financial services and fintech. untapt‘s CEO Ed Donner estimates there are 120,000 open roles for technology positions and that’s just in the U.S. alone. Globally, that number rises to around 400,000.

Donner joins us on this week’s installment of the Tradestreaming Podcast as we discuss the war for fintech talent, how top fintech companies build successful teams, and the role for artificial intelligence in matching talent with job openings.

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Below are highlights, edited for clarity, from the episode.

Financial services are hungry for technology talent
Hiring is always painful. Hiring technology people is particularly painful. Hiring tech people in fintech is especially acute for two reasons. First, the demand for tech talent in financial services and fintech is insatiable, off the charts. We’ve estimated there are an estimated 120,000 open technology roles in fintech in the U.S. alone. Globally, there are around 400,000 technology positions that need to be filled in our industry.

In addition, fintech also has something of a brand problem with millennial software engineers. They know what it’s like to work at Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google, but they don’t understand the interesting, exciting problems being worked on in finance. It’s a perfect storm of incredible demand with people going elsewhere and in the middle, you’ve got hiring managers pulling their hair out trying to attract engineers.

What successful firms do to lure top talent
Some of the best approaches to hiring we’ve seen are when companies recognize that hiring is a first-class problem they need to solve and put it at the top of their agenda. People sitting in the C-suite need to focus on bringing in talent. Companies really need to take time to get their brand out there and tell the story of the interesting problems they’re working on. Some hiring managers think narrowly, with preconceived skillsets of what they’re looking for. Successful hiring managers think broadly about the tech talent they’re willing to bring in. It’s the old adage that “A players hire A players”.

Making decisions quickly across the company is also really important. The current market doesn’t support poor communication with candidates. Candidates kept waiting will quickly find a home elsewhere and be taken off the market. Everyone across the company needs to make decisive decisions and communicate well with top technologists.

Fintech job descriptions are a way to stand out
Some of it starts with the job description, with the time you spend to articulate your value proposition to the tech people you’re reaching out to. It needs to be something thoughtful, exciting, and reflects your culture. That’s something Google is very good at and something historically that large financial services firms haven’t really focused on.

Look through tons of jobs descriptions and you’ll find “problem solving skills required”. Great, that tells me a lot. Spend the time and energy to describe what the person will be doing everyday in his new role. Really sell the role to top talent and explain the problems you’re solving. On untapt, hiring managers can record a short video that introduces themselves, their team, and the role they’re hiring for. We find it’s an effective way to make that personal connection and gets your initial message across.

What skills are most in demand in fintech?
Things have been changing recently. There are three areas I’d talk about. The first of which is software engineering. Within  this category, we’re seeing a shift in skillsets to more modern programming languages, like Python and Javascript. Next, we’re seeing an emerging profession around data. The data scientist is becoming the heart of many businesses. There are really two different roles here: the data scientist, who comes from a math and artificial intelligence background who knows how to code and a data engineer, who comes from a computer science background but knows about math and statistics. The two of them typically partner together to build data-centric solutions for financial services.

The third category is really emerging and it is a hybrid digital role. These are roles that roll up to the business and require an understanding of the digital space and knowing how to implement it in the business. These roles are on the rise and I expect to see them more in the future. Traditional front office and business roles will have to have this digital component.


What a top creative agency exec has to say about hiring top talent at financial firms

The market for talent has become super competitive. Top firms not only have to fight against their direct competitors for elite people but also against firms like Facebook and Google, which seem to have their tentacles into most creative and technology businesses today.

“Everyone is in the content business and wants to be makers,” Katherine Moncrief, evp, director of talent at creative agency Deutsch said at the Tradestreaming Money Conference in November. “The recruiting business is tough.”

Financial firms remaking themselves into technology-led businesses need to attract top performers. Moncrief suggests starting by appointing someone entirely focused on attracting and retaining the best people. HR people tend to focus more on rules and regulations, while recruiters, typically commission-based, have their eyes set on the opportunity of scoring a monetary prize.

“I’m a talent specialist. All I do is worry about bringing the right people in and making them successful in our company,” she said.

Here are some tips that companies in the financial industry can learn from creative firms when competing for top talent.

Best straight about the opportunity

Know the job you’re recruiting for and don’t sugarcoat pitching it. Know the job description. Be completely honest and most of all, listen to what the candidate wants, so you don’t get someone into a role they didn’t want. “Many times interviewers at Deutsch end up talking about themselves and our company rather than listening,” Moncrief admitted. “That’s a big no-no.”

Look in unlikely places for talent

Think out of the box when you’re recruiting for a specific role. Deutsch won Microsoft’s business about five years ago. Because the technology giant had a retail problem, Moncrief didn’t start looking for a tech person to lead the new project. “We found the person who came up with Burger King’s hit Whopper Freakout campaign,” she said. “He thought the tech business sounded boring, but I told him that I thought he would enjoy it. He left, thought about it some more, and took the job. Years later, he’s still working with tech clients.”

Shepherd new hires

Deutsch likes to say that it isn’t the bank or the country. It also isn’t a company where new hires are thrust into sink-or-swim roles. Fresh employees are assigned to a mentor, providing ongoing oversight. This feedback loop is especially important if the employee isn’t performing. Deutsch will provide feedback in written form and give the employee 30 days to improve.

Find the best home for a hire

According to Moncrief, the lack of professional development is the number one reason people leave a job. Making someone feel that she’s growing in her field is a great way to retain them. Move her around if she’s able to contribute elsewhere. It may cause some short-term disruption but you’ll probably get more out of her in a role she wants to be doing.

Make your house a home

25 percent of Deutsch staff has left the firm at some point, only to return at a later time. These boomerang employees come back to the firm because they feel like they’ve done some of the best work in their careers there. That’s by design — Moncrief and her team have created an environment people want to come back to. It also helps with retention. The average time creative types spend at Deutsch is six years, compared to about one year elsewhere.

Pay for professional development

Investing in top talent should pay dividends. Deutsch gives each employee access to online learning community, That way, an employee can decide to learn new skills, like coding or graphic design, on his own schedule. Top performers are rewarded with trips to SXSW, Cannes, or other festivals, presenting their learnings and experiences to the rest of the company upon their return.

There’s also an admittedly silly-sounding suggestion box. Employees can provide constructive feedback anonymously. Deutsch’s chief creative officer responds to every suggestion. “Most of the time, it’s about little things, like snacks,” she said. “Sometimes, it’s about bigger things like crying over the election.” Giving people a say makes them more loyal to the team.

Bonding time

Getting employees spending time together helps to foster the feeling of being part of a team on a wider mission. But it also has another effect: it creates good natured competitiveness that encourages team members to constantly up their game.

Deutsch’s office layout is set up for collaboration. Office walls and doors are all glass, which adds to the feeling of openness and transparency. There’s also a section where employees can grab a snack with their colleagues that’s off-limits to meetings during certain parts of the day.

Raise the next generation

Lastly, internship programs that actually work are really important in creating a pipeline of young talent. Deutsch has a technology program where interested students can submit a two minute piece about why they would like an internship at the agency. Winners get a real budget and a blue-sky project to build something.

“Last year, with a $10,000 budget, students created a way to buy mobile minutes when you’re traveling abroad,” Moncrief said. “They designed it and coded it — it worked. They felt invested in our company and we invested in them. Some of them eventually joined us and the word of mouth marketing that resulted was very valuable.”

Whether you have a ping pong table or corporate kickball games isn’t really the point. Modern financial firms would do well to learn from other industries about developing a stimulating work culture that employees don’t want to leave.