Career Advice Expert Advice

Grass is green for bank IT professionals

Traditionally, banking IT was quite a closed career. Professionals born and bred in international banks would spend their entire career in the same field. Yet with the changing economic and business landscape, we can see that some of these banking IT professionals are being offered more career opportunities.

In recent years, local and mainland banks have been aggressively catching up with international counterparts in their IT systems in order to abide by international protocols, paving the way for regional or global expansion. IT staff in international banks may still enjoy the more attractive packages while staying at the forefront of technology and upholding best practices. This may not satisfy the more experienced, however, who may want to venture into a wider scope of work and gain greater job satisfaction.

Some years ago, I placed a senior IT director from a European financial institution in a Chinese bank as CIO. The larger role provided him with opportunities to learn Chinese banking rules and regulations and the art of functioning in the business environment. After five years, the knowledge he had acquired and the network he had built up helped him in a second career in Australia.

One senior IT professional whom I placed in a local bank said he had gained immense satisfaction developing an IT system from incubation for a new market expansion. That was an opportunity he might not easily have been offered in a well-established international bank.

I have to admit that not all IT professionals who are used to the more structured and result-oriented international banking culture find the switch to local or Chinese banks a perfect fit. I therefore strongly recommend those who are interested to research extensively a company's passion for, and commitment to, growth, as well as its delivery in the area promised and the latest moves among its senior management. With the right opportunities, switching to local or Chinese banks can be a way for seasoned international banking IT professionals to prove themselves.

There has also been an increase in switches to industries other than banks. As always, the technical barrier is never an issue. The only obstacle to switching has been the lower remuneration packages offered by local and Chinese banks. However, I have recently seen improvements in packages offered by other commercial companies, especially for regional roles, making the move from banks to other industries more attractive.

With big data and e-commerce having an impact on the commercial world far and wide, many companies have customised their markets and communication with customers, resulting in IT organisational restructuring. Market customisation and fragmentation have created more mid-to-senior IT positions, and I have encountered CIO positions being broken down into senior director or managerial positions.

Companies in industries such as e-commerce, gaming and hospitality that require secure IT systems to exchange confidential data and process high-volume, real-time transactions create opportunities for banking IT professionals. An e-banking professional I once placed in a non-profit sporting and entertainment organisation happily told me he had gained a better work-life balance and had discovered the second spring in his career. The packages in these companies are still catching up, but switching to other industries will satisfy those wanting to be part of the exciting big data and e-commerce boom.

With merger and acquisition activities between the banking and insurance industries, I have seen IT professionals switch from banks, but cannot see a trend, as insurance companies generally speak a different language.

We foresee stable growth for the banking industry in 2014, and expect hiring packages to be more aggressive than last year, with candidates getting more room to bargain. Banking IT professionals are enjoying more diversified career opportunities. Depending on their personality and aspirations, wider choice will provide them with options that better fit their life stages and career goals.

Cody Szeto is the managing consultant of Kelly Services Hong Kong and has over 13 years’ specialist recruitment experience in the IT sector. Kelly Services is a Fortune 500 company and has been a world leader in providing talent-management solutions comprising recruitment, consultancy and outsourcing services for over 60 years.