Financial IT: tough times call for sharp skills
“It’s important to ensure that your skill sets are as up to date as possible
in case your institution is hit.” Wayne Hicks, BDPA
“Technology has taken over. I see a lot of growth and a lot more automation in the future.” L. Diane Evans, JPMorgan Chase
By Laurel A. McKee Ranger
From bank tellers to bank presidents, the financial industry is going through rough times, says Wayne Hicks, executive director of the Black Data Processing Associates (BDPA) Foundation. But despite all the problems, Hicks notes, folks in financial IT are probably least affected by the downturn.
“It’s important to ensure that your skill sets are as up to date as possible in case your institution is hit,” he advises. “If you’re working with proprietary systems, remember they may not translate well in the market,
so be sure to brush up on your general skills as well.
“I’ve noticed at conferences that IT pros are using
their networking skills much more than in prior years,” he adds.
Hicks, a former national president of BDPA, also sees progress in raising the hiring levels of diverse professionals. But there’s still a way to go. He points out that African Americans only hold about 4 percent of jobs at the executive level, for example, although blacks make up about 13 percent of the population.
“That’s a challenge,” Hicks says, “and BDPA is working to build a pipeline from the classroom
to the boardroom, and developing a strong executive protégée program toward that end.”
A safer environment
L. Diane Evans, diversity officer for treasury and securities services at JPMorgan Chase (New York, NY), says diversity is on the rise in IT, particularly for women. “Throughout the financial arena there is still room for growth for women in senior management positions. My area is focused on increasing the slate of women and diversity overall at that level.”
She believes the opportunities in financial IT are huge. “Technology has taken over. I see a lot of growth and a lot more automation in the future.”
Like BDPA’s Hicks, Evans feels that fallout from the downturn may impact IT less than other areas of the business. “IT tends to be a safer environment overall,” she says. “We’ll continue
to need and depend on technology skills.”
Niche skill sets are often in demand, and she also sees a need for savvy programmers, senior level professionals and project managers.
Karen Smith is IT QA VP at Chase Card Services
Karen Smith is VP for IT QA at Chase Card Services (Wilmington, DE), the credit card division of JPMorgan Chase. “My responsibilities revolve around QA and testing, but I have a matrix role on both the business and the IT side,” she explains. “I’m responsible for the quality of technical solutions for the IT infrastructure as well as the quality of applications being developed.”
Smith has five direct reports. Her work involves reviewing proposed solutions and design documents
and identifying issues and concerns as early in the process as possible.
She has a 1983 BSCS from California University of Pennsylvania and a 2004 MS in organizational leadership from Wilmington University (Wilmington, DE).
Over the course of her career, Smith has worked in a number of industries. She began in 1983 as a junior IT project manager at General Electric, and her first QA work was done at GE. She moved to ASA Legal (King of Prussia, PA), which developed technology solutions for law firms; Funds Associates (King of Prussia, PA), where she was responsible for software manufacturing and QA; and Sterling Diagnostics (Bear, DE), a medical imaging company, where she worked as a test engineer for firmware and hardware.
In 1998 she took a break for maternity leave, and stayed home with her two sons for a
couple of years. She returned to the workforce in 2001 as assistant VP for quality at Chase Card Services.
What originally sparked her interest in IT? Smith says it was the diversity and opportunity offered by the field. “I’m driven by the technology more than the specific industry. I like to work in places where it will be challenging. At Chase we’re constantly evaluating everything
in order to maintain the stability of our system.”
She’s proud of her participation in a five-year system-wide IT project with three levels of implementation. “It’s an entire IT solution, end-to-end, and will continue to meet the expectations of our growth plan as a business,” she says.
Smith mentors other professionals at Chase and also volunteers for the YMCA’s Black Achievers program. She’s president of the northern Delaware chapter of BDPA. “I spend a lot of time at the local school helping with computer and reading skills,” she says, “and at BDPA we’re teaching high school kids to draft and present technology-based research papers. One of our students presented a paper at the Supercomputer Convention in Las Vegas this year,” she adds proudly.
Dottie DeCarlo, SVP for leadership and organizational development, notes that “Inclusion and diversity are areas of focus for JPMorgan Chase. We feel it is fundamental to our success as a global financial corporation. Before making any hiring decisions we ensure that we have a slate of diverse candidates.”
DeCarlo adds that all units of the company are looking for technical talent: business analytics, QA, Cobol and other mainframe skills, and Tandem-based and Java-based skills are needed. “Security, client server and database skills are always in demand,” she says.
My Hanh Chau is an apps development manager at MetLife
IT is a major focus at MetLife (New York, NY), the insurance and financial services company. The company has nearly 4,000 IT employees in the U.S. and more than 500 abroad; that represents considerable opportunity, as strategic staffing VP Roger Taylor points out. Typical IT-related jobs include apps developer, architect, Web designer, project manager, engineer, business analyst and operational support staff.
My Hanh Chau is an applications development manager at MetLife. She’s involved in two initiatives. One is an examination of MetLife’s financial framework to improve the data management process and create increased controls, consistency and transparency
for the company’s financial transactions. Her other focus is on centralizing and standardizing MetLife’s accounting. This will allow the company to retire some legacy systems and reduce maintenance costs.
“These are large initiatives that involve multiple departments across our lines of business. They’re being done in partnership with our business and IT groups. My responsibility is to support program communication and strategic planning.”
Chau’s work is matrix management. There are some 300 stakeholders to keep in the loop,
so communicating, understanding business needs and managing expectations are crucial parts
of her job. The communications are often complex, and she must tailor her information to technical and business professionals as well as senior management. She works at the tactical level, dealing with issues management and reporting, and the strategic level, ensuring that individual projects and new requests align with the overall framework of the initiative.
Chau has a 1997 BS in operations research and industrial engineering from Cornell University (Ithaca, NY), and 2004 PMP certification from the Project Management Institute.
Her first job after graduation involved consulting for PeopleSoft (Pleasanton, CA). She moved from associate consultant to consultant and then senior consultant, providing functional and technical services for PeopleSoft clients across the country.
“ERP was the rage, Y2K was coming, and there was the Internet,” she recalls with pleasure.
“I had a huge variety of clients, all sorts of business problems to solve and implementations
to help with. I developed a lot of hard technical skills and also soft skills, as I was working with people at all levels of the business.”
When the opportunity with MetLife came in 2000, “I realized I could grow in a different way, make more relationships and see the long-term impact of my work on the company. I did applications development and took the lead role in the PeopleSoft financial implementation
as MetLife moved from a mutual company to a publicly traded firm.”
In 2003 Chau was promoted to a management role with a staff of eleven developers. She moved into her present position in 2006.
The company has plenty to offer, she notes: rotational opportunities, mentoring, and “all kinds of avenues for you to stay motivated in pursuing career growth. It’s a very inclusive atmosphere that supports and promotes diversity.
“I bring a different perspective as well,” she adds. “I’m Asian American and my parents came over from Vietnam. I feel I bring a different style in working with others, especially promoting calmness in the face of tension.”
Since joining MetLife Chau has married, bought a home, and is expecting a baby. “Now I’m
a consumer of MetLife products as well as an employee,” she notes with a smile.
“The company’s vision resonates on a personal level for me, and that connection makes it exciting to be here.”
FHLBank of San Francisco: “A great place to work”
The Federal Home Loan Bank (FHLBank) of San Francisco is hiring. “We employ about seventy people fulltime in IT, supplemented by thirty to forty contractors,” says Greg Fontenot, SVP and HR director. Apps development, he notes, is one of the busiest areas for hiring.
FHLBank of San Francisco provides wholesale credit products and services to member financial institutions. It’s part of a network of a dozen regional banks chartered by Congress in 1932 to provide low-cost credit to residential housing lenders.
Benefits at the bank are substantial, Fontenot adds, including tuition reimbursement and full domestic partner benefits. Fontenot reports to the board of directors on workforce diversity
and demographics and is currently exploring a supplier diversity program.
“This is a great place to work,” he declares. “When you walk through our doors you see a workforce that is representative of our community.”
Anjanette Brown is a service desk analyst at FHLBank of San Francisco
Anjanette Brown is a service desk analyst at the bank. “We service the entire bank,” she explains. “Every business unit comes to us for its IT needs. My primary responsibility is our incident management process, which includes coordinating resources like staff if a production outage occurs.”
Brown is team lead for the three-person service desk and serves as a backup for the change management process team.
She attended Davenport Business College and Grand Rapids Junior College (both in Grand Rapids, MI). She is certified through the Help Desk Institute as a service desk analyst and team lead, and has ITIL certification at foundation and practitioner levels.
Her first IT job, in 1993, was with Levi Strauss & Co (San Francisco, CA), the clothing manufacturer. “I learned on the job to be a backup LAN admin, and moved into system admin and desktop support for the global tax department. In the end I was on a team of three supporting 350 people in the global finance division.”
She moved to CAS Systems (Oakland, CA), a telemarketing firm, where she was responsible for all desktop support and helpdesk functions. She also did part-time systems admin, including admin for telecom. In 2006 she started with FHLBank as a contractor and was soon hired on permanently.
Her career has been an exciting challenge. “I’m the only African American IS employee at the bank,” she notes. “But I don’t find that’s a problem. This company has been really good to me.”
Luis Pineda: team architect and more at Raymond James Financial
Luis E. Pineda is a software engineering manager at Raymond James Financial Inc (St. Petersburg, FL). Raymond James offers diversified financial services including investment banking and financial planning.
Pineda manages twelve associates who support a variety of systems on Windows and Tandem platforms. “We’re a software maintenance engineering team,” he explains. The team supports various businesses within Raymond James, including asset management services, Raymond James Bank and Trust, Raymond James Financial and the internal accounting department.
Pineda’s team manages production issues and upgrades of in-house and third-party systems, plus security issues and regulatory changes that affect the systems his group supports. “We also work on small enhancements and non-project requests, but when we’re working on an enhancement, production issues are addressed first,” he says. “We make sure the systems
are up and running.” His team, he notes, does relatively small implementations, on the order
of $30,000 or less. Special project teams handle the large implementations.
Pineda has a 1995 BSCS from the University of Southern Florida and has recently been certified on ITIL V3 Foundations. After graduation he worked for Sota Software Systems (Tampa, FL) as a senior Web and application developer.
He joined Raymond James in 2003 as a senior programmer analyst, conducting client needs assessments and developing and supporting Web reporting apps. In 2005 he was promoted to systems analyst, and to team architect the next year.
Leading the team can be challenging. Each of the twelve techies on the team specializes in
a specific business area. “We have a new structure now with dedicated project, testing and maintenance teams, and we’re cross-training team members to provide backup for each other,” Pineda says.
“With our team everything is time- critical. We support business areas like accounting and
the payroll systems. If checks aren’t going out, we need to act right away!” he explains with
Pineda grew up in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, and came to the U.S. for education. Once here, “I was drawn to networking, hardware and software when I got a part-time job in IT at the University of South Florida.”
His five years at Raymond James, a company involved in many financial areas, has been a further education. “We were affected by the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation. You have to be sure controls are in place and monitored when numerous people have access to a production environment. And when new legislation is introduced you have to be ready to respond to that as well,” he notes.
Walter McFarland directs business intelligence at Wells Fargo
Wells Fargo (San Francisco, CA) is one of the oldest brands in the country, Walter McFarland notes with pride. As VP and director of business intelligence there, he has reason to take pride in the company’s history, reputation and performance. Wells Fargo is a full-service financial institution and its lines of business include retail banking, mortgage, home equity, insurance and international banking.
McFarland’s area is traditional middle-market banking. “We have a very diverse customer population, ranging from farmers and churches to mid-size businesses,” he says. “We take a lot of disparate systems and data and transform them into information that lets our leadership deliver critical knowledge solutions for our customers.”
The business intelligence unit has just been formed at Wells Fargo Commercial Banking and McFarland is still developing the team. “Currently we have five or six professionals, but we’ll ultimately have ten to a dozen and use outside consultants as well.”
McFarland has a background in building customer relationship management (CRM) and knowledge management portals and systems; important components in his skill sets, he believes. He has a BA in political science and theology from the University of St. Thomas
(St. Paul, MN). He’s also a Six Sigma black belt and a professional career coach, and has started an MS in IT management.
He ran his own CRM and knowledge management consulting firm, ADR Group, for five years before joining Wells Fargo in 2001. He developed his IT management skills while working for
a software consulting firm based in Minneapolis.
“I’ve been successful in technology because my political science background gives me great insight into social structures and how they compete. That has helped me build applications and relationships that benefit Wells Fargo,” he explains.
McFarland’s biggest challenge today is finding and developing talent. “Coaching people around you is always worth doing,” he says. “It’s very satisfying to create knowledge solutions for my business, but encouraging personal growth in others is my real vocation.”
Mercedes Soria manages enterprise apps at Deloitte LLP
At Deloitte LLP (New York, NY), a firm that provides audit, tax, consulting and financial advisory services to businesses, Mercedes Soria is in the enterprise applications group, managing development and implementation of enterprise-wide systems.
“Our applications impact more than 40,000 people in the U.S., so twenty-
four-hour availability is crucial,” she says. She’s involved in all phases of the project, including lifecycle, scope, requirements, delivery and support of existing systems. Her team, based in the U.S. and India, includes fifteen Deloitte employees and often a couple of dozen contractors. With part of the team in India, her day starts at about 6:00 am, when she checks from home on the status of projects and resource management.
When she gets to the office at 9:00 she handles more project calls. “I touch base with all my direct reports every day,” she says.
Soria has a 1996 BSCS and a 1998 MSCS from Middle Tennessee State University, plus management and leadership certification from Harvard Business School (Cambridge, MA). She’s currently working on an executive MBA from the Goizueta Business School at Emory University (Atlanta, GA).
When she completed her MS she found a job with Gibson Guitars (Nashville, TN) as a web designer in the marketing department. She moved into the IT department, worked on systems development projects, and was eventually appointed to lead implementation of a new system for order entry, inventory and accounts receivable. “We handled $10 million in transactions every month,” she notes.
In 2003 she joined Deloitte as a senior Web application developer, moving into various roles
in project management, systems development and analysis.
Soria, who grew up in Ecuador, thinks that being a woman and an Hispanic from a different country gives her a special perspective on things. “When I came here I knew no one and couldn’t speak a word of English. But I learned the language, succeeded in school and figured out how to operate in a new country. Failure was not an option!”
Her drive makes her a good fit for Deloitte. “It is very supportive here at Deloitte. It’s a fast-paced environment, and very exciting.”
In her spare time Soria works with Habitat for Humanity and other service-oriented organizations. She is founder and president of Deloitte’s Tennessee Hispanic/Latino business resource group and a committee member of the company’s women’s initiative, and serves on the board of the diversity and inclusion council. She was named one of the “forty under forty” leaders of Middle Tennessee in 2005. She’s also a competitive ballroom dancer, and has won
at the national level and been a world semi-finalist.
Diversity and opportunity continue
TIAA-CREF (New York, NY) is a national financial services organization that manages retirement benefits for folks in the academic, medical, cultural and research fields. IT hiring remains moderate to strong, notes Veronica Leonard, manager of talent acquisition. “Each of our clients is looking for specific skills, but security expertise is key in all our businesses.”
Renee Alexander Sherrod heads up the group’s diversity and community affairs. “The true strength of our company lies in the talent, dedication and varied perspectives that are possible only through diversity,” she says. “The diverse group
that makes up our trustees, executives and employees reflects our values and heritage.”
TIAA-CREF has hubs in Charlotte, NC and Denver, CO.
The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), with U.S. offices
in northern Virginia, is also committed to diversity. It’s a global corporation with a workforce of fifty-five nationalities.
“Diversity is part of our DNA at SWIFT. We aim to attract, retain and develop the best people across a diverse talent pool to help support our globally diverse customers,” declares Michael Shepelak, director of HR.
DIVERSITY-MINDED COMPANIES IN FINANCIAL IT
Check the Web for the latest opportunities and openings
|Company and location
|Chase Card Services
|Credit card services
(New York, NY)
|Audit, tax, consulting and financial advisory services
|Federal Home Loan Bank
of San Francisco
(San Francisco, CA)
|Wholesale bank; low-cost credit products and services to member financial institutions
(New York, NY)
|Insurance and financial services
(St. Petersburg, FL)
|Diversified financial services
|Robert Half International
(Menlo Park, CA)
|Professional staffing and consulting services for financial IT and more
(Society for Worldwide
Interbank Financial Telecommunication)
|Financial messaging services and software
|The Capital Group Companies
(Los Angeles, CA)
|Global investment management; most IT
positions are in Southern California, San Antonio, TX, London and Geneva
(New York, NY)
|Financial management services for customers in academic, medical, cultural and research fields
(San Francisco, CA)
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