When banks go to recruit top IT talent, they face some challenges — many, if not most, of the best IT grads would rather work for a hot tech company than for a bank.
“It is harder to get people to want to go into banking now than it was 20 years ago,” said Pete Cherecwich, president of asset servicing at Northern Trust. “It used to be the training program at banking was top of the heap, now it is tech. We have slipped down the attractiveness scale for careers.”
In response, Northern Trust promotes its value, and its values, and structures its IT roles with greater autonomy and closer collaboration with the business.
Northern Trust divides its operations between a wealth management and private banking group and the corporate and institutional group, where Cherecwich is president. It is responsible for custody of pensions and other institutional investment plans and provides services such as hedge fund and mutual fund fund administration, accounting and securities lending. It also offers some commercial lending as a service to existing clients, he added.
New grads want to work for an organization they can be proud of, they want to make a difference and they want some autonomy in their jobs, he said.
“I have children now in their early twenties, and listening to them think about where they want to work and asking questions about what the companies do, it’s not just a job. They want to work for a company that is making a difference.”
Since most developers’ ideas of bank operations are based on retail banking, and usually very simple retail banking like a checking account and a car loan, one of the first steps is explaining what a custody bank does, and why that’s important.
Cherecwich makes it personal.
He talks about the pensions their parents might have, or investments like a 401k for retirement, and how Bernie Madoff robbed so many people of their future security, and why it’s important for a custodian bank to safeguard assets.
“We are taking care of that, we perform due diligence and provide tools to help them oversee fund manager performance, manage risk and prevent another Madoff from taking their money.”
Northern Trust, like many other financial firms, has also changed the way IT works on projects.
In the old days, the business would develop detailed requirements for software and then toss it over the wall for developers to provide the necessary functionality in waterfalls.
“Now everybody wants to be really close to the business and have a purpose for what they are developing. Folks want to have autonomy and be able to build and release things fast, so we have to address for IT the structural problems with the ways IT operations have worked in the past.”
The bank also takes diversity seriously in its hiring, he added.
Diversity isn’t just a nice goal, it is necessary to win business.
“When we talk about diversity and inclusion…you sit down today, if you do not have a diverse group of people in your pitch you will have a reduced chance of winning. We will sit at a pitch and it could be all females across from me. That never happened 10 years ago.”
Going in with a bank team of only white males reduces the chances of winning the business, especially if the client has a mix of genders and races.
No surprise that Northern Trust makes integrity a core value, but Cherecwich takes an interesting approach — he says he never looks at a contract after it is signed. So if a client has an issue with the bank over a loss, perhaps caused by a software problem, Cherecwich does not call in lawyers, take out the contract and show where the fine print absolves the bank.
“We don’t go to court. Instead we sit down and figure out a resolution that makes sense for both of us. You may pay a bit at the beginning because you split something, but clients will see that we are great to work with and they may tell three people. But if they are unhappy, they will tell 33.”