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Future Tech Skills Come Under the Spotlight

Future Tech Skills Come Under the Spotlight

The global financial crisis of 2007–08 was an agent of significant change across the financial services industry, not least because large numbers of buy- and sell-side firms were forced to shrink their staff numbers across the board and increase their reliance on technology. That period of upheaval and uncertainty coincided with the emergence of a new breed of disruptive technology firms and start-ups, which led to increased demand for new technology skills, not only from across the financial services landscape, but all industries. This meant that capital markets firms were competing not only with one another for the top technology talent, but with large Silicon Valley-based tech firms too.

Current and future technology skills have also changed in recent years. Whereas pure engineering/coding skills were a prerequisite for any capital markets technologist during the first decade of the millennium, those functions can now be outsourced (offshored) with no loss in quality or delivery timeframes although, understandably, some firms prefer to retain them in-house, especially for mission-critical projects.

According to Christine Nolan, head of trading technologies at MarketAxess, what she is looking for in prospective team members are skills that are not typically acquired at university or at the coalface: a passion for technology and the propensity to solve problems. “The skills required by our technologists depend on the level,” Nolan explains. “If they come in at the junior or mid-level, we look at the technologies and how they’ve utilized them. If they’re more senior, then the expectations are higher—we look at what technologies they know, what systems they’ve built and whether they are familiar with the peripheral systems that impacted them. But, regardless of whether they are junior, mid-level or senior, the first thing we look for is a passion for technology. The second is whether they have a real desire for problem-solving. Finally, we look for how much they know about the business and whether they understand why they built what they built and whether the end-users got what they wanted.”


Among Nolan’s notable technology successes at MarketAxess is driving the firm’s Agile strategy, an initiative that has already been rewarded by wins in the best use of the agile methodology categories in the 2020 Buy-Side Technology and American Financial Technology Awards. Crucially, Agile is all about iteration, collaboration and establishing clear and auditable feedback loops so that both technology consumers (end-users) and producers have a stake in, for example, the development of the functionality, the look and feel of user interfaces, and the delivery (sprint) cadence of the products/tools yielded on the back of that collaboration.

“Traditionally, pre-Agile, we worked very closely with the business side and, in terms of our DNA, ‘client first’ is very important,” Nolan explains, emphasizing the premium MarketAxess places on close collaboration. “Once we made the transition to Agile, that relationship became closer,” she says. “Our scrum teams consist of a product manager, a product owner, a scrum master, developers and QA [quality assurance]. The product managers and owners, who sit between the business and the technology teams, work with the developers on a daily basis so that they understand why they are building something. It also means that product managers and owners develop an understanding of the capability of our technology.”

Retaining Talent

Attracting the right technology talent with the requisite passion and proclivity for problem-solving and the ability to translate users’ needs into practical and intuitive workflows and solutions is only half the challenge for fintech firms. Retaining that talent and ensuring that team members remain focused and motivated is the other half.

“Aside from compensation, the other things that are important from a technologist’s perspective is what they are learning, whether they are staying current or not, and whether their quality of life in the workplace is what they want,” Nolan explains. “From MarketAxess’ perspective, we always try to be innovative and use new technologies, and we also look to upskill our employees. We don’t just bring in consultants to build something for us and then send them away—we integrate them with our employees so that they can learn from them.”

Addressing Gender Inequality

No discussion about the industry’s future technology skills would be complete without mentioning its future technologists. And, while the technology domain has traditionally been dominated by men, things are changing. One need look no further than Nolan herself for an example of the significant strides the industry has made in addressing the gender imbalance in recent years. Yes, there is still a long road ahead—and it’s unlikely that women will ever account for half of all technologists across the capital markets—but, with role models such as Nolan and other high-profile women in capital markets technology, young women entering the industry can appreciate first-hand the extent to which hard work and resourcefulness can be rewarded.

“The key issue for us is how we can increase our pipeline to make it more diverse,” Nolan says. “Currently, about one in 40 or 50 résumés we receive is from a woman, so we need to increase that.”

To that end, a number of years ago, Nolan started a women in tech group at MarketAxess, which holds internal and external networking events. Early last year—shortly before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic—the firm held an event in its Hudson Yards, Manhattan, office, attended by approximately 100 women. “That was great because of the visibility,” she says. “It also allowed us to let them know that we are hiring and that we want more women in the company.”

MarketAxess’ gender-equality initiatives extend beyond its own premises and include membership of the UN’s Women’s Empowerment Principles, a set of principles offering guidance to businesses on how to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment in the workplace, marketplace and community. It is also a member and sponsor of the International Capital Market Association (ICMA), with a number of its women employees working closely with the ICMA Women’s Network, a forum for discussing issues relevant to professional women with the view to establishing networks and fostering career progression across the financial services industry.

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