Is the financial services sector facing a tech skills gap?

13 March 2014

The financial services industry has made major strides in terms of technology and the use of big data to boost the products and services it provides, using information to understand and analyse the technology required to improve services, meet more stringent compliance regulations and increase internal efficiency.

However, a new study has revealed that the industry could be facing something of a skills shortage in the coming years, with 62 per cent of respondents who took part in a MathWorks poll indicating a skills gap is developing in the UK.

This divide is the difference between the skills graduates entering the industry require, such as ability with IT and real-world problem solving, and those that actually possess them.

Just over a third of those questioned said the skills gap has worsened in the last three years, putting the financial services sector in a difficult position, as companies are increasingly turning towards more complex and intricate ways of capturing, manipulating and understanding data. Without the skills needed to make use of this data coming into the sector, many firms will face difficulties in the near future.

Steve Wilcockson, industry manager for financial services at MathWorks, explained: “Effective models have become the key to success for financial firms, as they seek to harness the wealth of data they hold in order to manage risk and identify competitive advantages. As such, the financial services industry seeks to recruit graduates capable of navigating equations, statistics, and models and implementing them through code to offer reliable insights. Our survey has made for worrying reading, as finance experts describe current student cohorts as potentially lacking the core skills required to succeed in their industry."

While firms can put time and effort into training new recruits, this can stretch already thinly spread resources even further. This is not an option for some organisations operating in the financial services sector and these are forced to turn their search for talent beyond their own borders.

MathWorks indicated that the results of its latest poll of financial services experts aligns with other studies carried out around the world, such as the 2013 Programme for International Student Achievement (PISA) report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which indicated that students in the UK are not performing as well as students in other nations when it comes to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Evidence from surveys conducted globally indicate that the UK financial services sector is facing a skills gap, so what can be done to improve the financial technology skills graduates possess?

Experts taking part in the MathWorks survey identified a range of measures they believe will help to tackle the issue, such as the application of real-world project-based learning, cited by 44 per cent of respondents, and increased collaboration between the education sector and industry, a theme that was described as a "key to success".

Just under two-fifths (37 per cent) of those questioned recommended universities should encourage students to combine IT and mathematics skills, with these areas highlighted as key skills in the financial services sector.

Mr Wilcockson added: "Industry and academia need to work together to address this problem and ensure students are well prepared for their careers by understanding the needs of industry and reflecting this in curricula. Whether through guest lectures, providing practical examples of real-world problems, or improving internship programmes, industry needs to become more engaged in the development of graduates. Also, integrating industry-standard software, hardware, and thinking into the curriculum lets students effectively prepare for their careers and enhance their ability to hit the ground running once employed.”

By Gary Cooper

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