What Defines the Careers of IT Leaders in Financial Services?

Technology is the critical component in meeting challenges that capital markets firms face regarding issues from automation to data.

Ralph Achkar, Colt’s Capital Markets Product Director, discusses the results of Colt’s research and explains why pivotal moments in a CIO’s career defines its success

How does one define career success? Winning that big contract? Delivering on a truly innovative project? Or perhaps hitting financial targets?

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In the diverse field of financial services technology the parameters are varied and wide-ranging. IT leaders however, are near unanimous in what they believe constitutes career success. Our research has revealed that 78% of IT leaders at financial institutions believe that their careers are made or broken by single moments.

Technology is the critical component in meeting challenges that capital markets firms face regarding issues from automation to data and compliance, to name but a few. As IT becomes widely accepted as a strategic function, today’s IT leaders believe their career success is defined by pivotal moments – ‘moments that matter’- that have the potential to transform their business and provide a clear competitive advantage. With technology moving out of the server room and into the boardroom, IT leaders are under the same pressures as other executives.

The question is, what has made the professional lives of IT leaders so dependent on discrete instances of performance? To properly answer this, we should look at the consequences of non-performance. What would happen if the CIO/CTO didn’t do their job at a critical time for the company

The outcome could fall into one of two categories. Either the company suffers a catastrophic failure in its IT infrastructure, costing time and money; or it fails to take advantage of specific sets of market conditions (e.g. for a potentially lucrative trading opportunity), which also costs time and money.

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Clearly IT is central to the functioning of any business, but perhaps more so in financial services. The capital markets are built on multiple layers of technology, some of it decades old, and IT managers face a daily struggle to ensure these systems work cohesively with modern technology. The role of technology has reached the point where it is of strategic importance to all financial institutions and has become a competitive differentiator.

Ralph Achkar
Ralph Achkar, Capital Markets Product Director, Colt

With IT such a critical part of the business it’s essential that technology is used with business goals in mind. What are the firm’s growth plans? What’s happening from a regulatory viewpoint? Is the institution looking to enter new markets? Gain new clients?

Financial institutions depend on technology to do business and to increase the lead over their peers. Trading won’t happen without reliable connections and robust systems, compliance can’t work without these systems and those who have the best systems will get to market first. The increasingly global nature of markets has added competitive pressure resulting in decision makers being forced to innovate.

The technology supplier has been dragged out of the server room as well. Approximately 76% of IT leaders state that a supplier’s ability to help them through a crisis is more important than ongoing support. While no one is suggesting that ongoing support is irrelevant, in the same way that IT managers are defined by those moments that matter, so is the supplier.

According to the research, the major concerns for IT leaders in financial services is the ability to react to market events and emerging customer considerations. These are strategic concerns that require the focus of an in-house team. It is no surprise therefore that 58% of respondents want their team to concentrate on strategic IT projects, not the day-to-day running of systems. With more than half believing that working with the right partner is critical to driving strategic change and mitigating risk, the goal is to liberate IT leaders from the mundane and to help them develop innovate solutions to major business challenges.

Traders will continue to mistakenly execute fat finger trades, the head of trading will continue to demand access to trading venues in far flung corners of the world by tomorrow, and the CEO will decide he wants to use the block chain to reduce settlement times. Focusing on the strategic over the day-to-day is critical in ensuring IT leaders are able to react to these pivotal moments. These are the moments that will make careers or ruin reputations. They are the moments that matter.

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