Big data boosts demand for financial IT and BI pros
Data is growing and generating opportunities
Pros agree that soft skills are as important as coding
By Jon Boroshok
Data is growing bigger, and so are the demands for security, speed, storage, and consequently, IT professionals in the financial services industry to manage it all.
According to Linda Kreitzman, executive director of the master of financial engineering program at the University of California Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, “the increasing quantity of the data available now, and how to efficiently store, access and analyze them pose great challenges for companies and have created new IT back-office opportunities.”
Trading is also moving to a more electronic-based system, leading to a greater need for IT professionals to develop, test and maintain those systems.
“Everything is online, everything is IT,” says Dr Richard Flanagan, PhD, associate professor and director of IT auditing and cybersecurity programs at Temple University’s Fox School of Business (Philadelphia, PA). From operations to marketing, IT is involved.
“Development, programming, testing and maintenance are critical as customers expect convenience and speed in electronic transactions,” he notes. “Since the Volcker and Basel rules went into effect, financial entities’ core business is now based on transactions, and only electronic execution can produce the volume of business the institutions need,” says Kreitzman. “Increased reporting requirements are a further strain. Automated reporting is the main focus of the IT departments in financial services companies now.”
The Volcker rule prohibits banks from investing in certain types of funds. The international Basel rules regulate the minimum capital requirements of financial institutions.
What do financial IT and business intell pros need to know?
IT job candidates require experience in areas like C++, Java, Python, the R statistical computing environment, Java, and web development using SQL and NoSQL. Some knowledge of business is also a must. But equally important is a candidate’s ability to prove he or she can get a job done. “Analyze your own skills very well,” adds Kreitzman. “Explain exactly what you’re able to do.”
In Flanagan’s department, “There’s lots of emphasis on data analytics and how to use data to make decisions. IT professionals are much more valuable if they can look at a business, understand its need or problem, and then come up with a solution.”
Flanagan explains that the strongest job candidates bring both programming expertise and business knowledge. “We’re really teaching how to research technology and how to understand it,” says Flanagan. “Technology changes; IT professionals need to embrace and master the advances.”
Kyle Ramkissoon, a principal at IJC Partners, LLC (New York, NY), adds, “If a skill or technology is on their resume, a candidate needs to be able to talk about it in depth. And candidates need to show that they’re true engineers who can program and code well.”
All call for diverse pros
Kreitzman and Ramkissoon agree that diverse candidates are in demand, but it’s hard to find them. “There aren’t many out there,” says Ramkissoon. “There aren’t enough Americans going into math and science.”
Kreitzman notes there’s a push for diversity among IT firms and departments, where women and minorities are still underrepresented. Efforts to pique interest in STEM among underrepresented groups have led more students to choose computer science, operations research, engineering programs and math for their undergraduate degrees. That’s beginning to turn the tide, she feels.
Xaviea Pittman: VP in technology at Goldman Sachs
As a student in the Bronx, NY, Xaviea Pittman attended Catholic schools. Her high school guidance counselor saw her math and science grades and recommended that she look into Brooklyn’s Polytechnic University (now part of New York University). “I was impressed by the computer-generated special effects in the movie Forrest Gump, so I decided to major in computer science,” Pittman recalls.
Pittman studied engineering at Poly for three years while interning at the Securities Industry Automation Corp, now a subsidiary of NYSE Holdings. Unable to secure enough financial aid and loans, she put her studies on hold. She took a fulltime position at Spear, Leeds & Kellogg, which was acquired by Goldman Sachs (New York, NY).
“After a couple of years in the position, I was asked to form the system operations team for Goldman Sachs Electronic Trading (GSET),” she reports. She soon married and had a child. After her daughter was born, she worked at Goldman Sachs full time and attended classes at Poly part time. “After a year, between work and family, I decided that was enough for now, and did not finish my degree.” Fourteen years later, she’s still with the company.
Moving up the ladder
Pittman’s rising career has been guided by senior mentors and sponsors who provided good advice and support and encouraged her to grow professionally. She started out with responsibility for the maintenance and stability of the GSET system operations team’s client-facing trading platform. This role later developed into manager of the mission control engines team in 2004, doing production systems management for the firm’s electronic equities trading business and internalization systems. She was promoted to VP in 2005.
In 2007, she became project management lead, managing the development and deployment of strategic systems for the company’s electronic trading business, which services 6,000 external clients. She stayed in electronic trading until 2013, when she became a global technology program management officer for Goldman Sachs Asset Management. Her role is to ensure consistency and quality of the organization’s project management.
Meeting and exceeding challenges
“My job is consistently challenging, especially when influencing managers,” she says. “This industry offers many challenges. Electronic trading is fast paced, and other sectors are in need of fast new technologies. People in my field need to keep up with changing technology and cultivate strong communication and analysis skills.”
She recalls an experience when parts of one division merged, and another part spun off. Doing both at the same time was a technology challenge. “I asked lots of questions and listened carefully, and then by speaking up and sharing my thoughts, I was able to address many concerns. Don’t be afraid to ask questions,” advises Pittman.
The power of perspectives
“At Goldman Sachs, we focus on diversity because we have experienced the power of bringing different perspectives and points of view to address the complex and interesting situations our clients face,” says Anilu Vazquez-Ubarri, co-head of talent development at the company.
“The firm’s commitment to diversity, inclusion and excellence is essential to our success and our culture of innovation. We know to be the best firm, we must have the best people at all levels, and talent knows no boundaries.”
Manager Michelle David drives positive change for Citi customers
Filipino-American Michelle David was born in the U.S., but grew up in Italy where her father served in the military. She attended on-base U.S. Department of Defense schools. In high school, she recalls being intimidated by computers, but amazed by technology. The amazement won out.
She returned to the U.S. for college, earning a BS in computer information systems from the University of North Florida (Jacksonville, FL) in 2003.
“My plan was to become a programmer.”
She found an internship at Citi through Inroads (www.inroads.org), a nonprofit that develops and places talented underserved youth in business and industry and prepares them for corporate and community leadership. She interned at Citi each summer during college. “A CIO from Citi attended an Inroads award ceremony, remembered me, and three months after graduation, I was hired,” she remembers.
Her first job at Citi was as a Java developer for the Internet development team. “I worked on Citi brands North America development. I also attended graduate school one weekend each month as part of the professional MBA program at the University of Florida (Gainesville).”
Moving from team contributor to manager
She earned her MBA in 2008, and she’s using some of those skills in her current role. In fact, today David manages the team she started with. It’s an application development team of more than seventy employees and consultants. They implement technology projects to ensure compliance, enhance customer services, reduce fraud losses, and build on competitive marketing initiatives for the Citi card brand portfolio.
“I like being able to drive positive change as a manager. The people I work with are my favorite part of the job,” she says. “I met many of them years ago during my internships.”
David says soft skills are important. “Communications and the ability to face and manage ambiguity and change are crucial to IT success today,” she believes, adding, “Proficiency in Java, .Net, cybersecurity and mobile technologies are also important.”
David is grateful for her Inroads experience and the doors it opened for her. As a result, she’s active in several organizations that help young people. She’s a mentor and volunteer in Take Stock in Children, Achievers for Life, Junior Achievement and United Way.
Citi takes IT to the schools
In early 2018, Citi introduced a “Women in IT” career education program. Developed by Citi global consumer technology employees in the Jacksonville, FL office, it has already reached more than 3,500 students across fourteen middle and high schools in St. Johns County, FL. The curriculum is designed to build confidence and inspire students to learn more about careers in technology.
Prior to the sessions, only 26 percent of students indicated an interest in pursuing IT careers. After the sessions, those numbers jumped to 65 percent.
Elzbieta “Ela” Ocipka connects technical language with business audiences at Citi
Elzbieta “Ela” Ocipka was born in Poland and moved to Tampa, FL when she was five years old. She grew up in a family of engineers, but loved art as well. She wound up being strong in math and science as well as the arts.
Ocipka attended the University of Florida (Gainesville), earning a BS in digital arts and sciences in computer engineering, with a minor in business. She worked on campus as a graphic artist, then interned with a small software company, followed by an internship in network engineering for Sprint.
“I attended career fairs looking for leadership programs, because I wanted to combine my knowledge of technology with a business focus. My passion includes analysis and being able to understand a program’s interdependencies, impact and strategic direction,” says Ocipka.
In 2008, she was accepted into Citi’s two-year technology leadership program. “I made a lot of lasting friendships and experienced different parts of the business,” she says. She completed three leadership rotations: in management, Internet project management, and strategy and planning analysis.
At the end of the program, candidates apply for a fulltime position. Ocipka chose strategy and planning.
Delivering tech messages to a big group
As the manager of employee engagement for global consumer technology, Ocipka delivers strategic and executive messaging to the 6,700-member internal consumer technology audience at Citi.
“Our team is the central point of contact for all consumer technology communications. We provide executive-level information to Citi senior management and targeted messages to the whole organization,” says Ocipka. “Our objective is to ensure everyone in the organization understands the changes we are going through, the strategy we execute against, and how that will impact their roles.” Recently, Ocipka was given responsibility for employee engagement in support of a new transformational program in the operations and technology area.
“I do lots of external presentations and big-picture communications,” she says. “My job has lots of challenges, as it’s hard to predict highs and lows. Part of what I do is make sure senior IT management’s messages are presented clearly to the businesses. I serve as a technology-to-business translator, in a sense.”
Her upbringing also helps on this job. “Poland is a technical hub, so my language skills and background have been helpful on some international projects and calls.”
EVP Theresa Wilson grows with her career at Wells Fargo
Theresa Wilson grew up as the child of a military parent. “I moved every year until college, when I began at Howard University (Washington, DC),” she recalls. She had always done well in math in high school, so she decided that would be her major. She went to Howard on a scholarship.
As her education continued, she realized that she didn’t want to be a math teacher or an actuary, the most common careers for math majors. In her junior year, she started looking at computer science. “A computer science class taught by an IBM employee provided me with lots of real-world examples of ways this knowledge could be applied.”
As an undergrad in the mid 1970s, she worked in the School of Engineering computer lab. “I kept the computers up and running and did some tutoring.” She also got her first taste of the challenges of diversity and different cultures. “I was the only female in the lab, and some of the international male students did not want help from me at first,” she recounts. “Fortunately, some of the other students working in the lab with me were supportive, and eventually my help was accepted.”
After graduating from Howard with a BS in math and a minor in computer science, Wilson had several job offers in the Washington, DC area. But she chose instead to go to First Union Bank in Charlotte, NC, where she supported systems. She expected to stay for two years. Nearly thirty-eight years later, she’s still in Charlotte with the company, which is now part of Wells Fargo (San Francisco, CA).
Rising through the ranks
At the bank, her responsibilities grew. She also earned her MBA from Queens College (Charlotte, NC), and met her husband.
Through the years, Wilson has held technology leadership roles in application development for the bank’s retail, commercial and wealth/retirement businesses. She has led system conversions and managed IT support for many different areas.
She has held her current role as executive vice president and CIO for consumer lending technology for the past three years. Wilson leads a team that provides transaction services, deposit and statement processing, quality assurance, risk management and compliance. She also leads technology initiatives in personal credit management, student loans and other educational financial services, and indirect auto collections.
“I get great satisfaction in making a difference for the business by developing new processes and technologies,” she says.
The importance of speaking up
“I’ve seen lots of progress over the years, but the industry still has gender issues and good old boys clubs,” Wilson observes. “When I started in 1976, our department was just two people – me and one male. His salary was higher, despite the fact that we both had the same experience.
“Over time I learned that I needed to assert myself and ask for what I wanted,” she says. When she said she wanted to move into management, the company was supportive.
Now Wilson is helping others grow into their own careers. She’s a member of the North Carolina Technology Association and Wells Fargo’s Women in Technology and Women in Science and Engineering. She also serves on several nonprofit boards.
Mobilizing around common goals
“At Wells Fargo, we know there is power in mobilizing our global organization around common diversity and inclusion goals and priorities. By doing so, we create a sustainable culture that values and appreciates differences and is open to new ideas, leading to a competitive advantage in the marketplace,” says Jimmie Paschall, EVP and head of enterprise diversity and inclusion.
IT pro Tony Kioko brings broad expertise to Principal Financial Group
Antonio “Tony” Kioko was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya. He came to the United States in 1993 to go to college, choosing Northwestern College (Orange City, IA), a Christian school that is his brother’s alma mater. He later transferred to the University of Northern Iowa (Cedar Falls), and earned his BA in management information systems in 1998.
During his senior year, he interned at a small Internet startup. At the time, sponsorship and a green card were relatively easy to get, he explains, so his Kenyan citizenship wasn’t a problem. “After graduation, I was hired there. I learned to develop database-driven web applications. I also got experience in relational databases, Unix, application server setup and configurations and programming.”
Kioko joined the Meredith Corporation (New York, NY) in 2000, doing web application development. In 2003 he moved to Principal Financial Group’s residential mortgage division, which was sold to Citigroup.
“I wanted to work as a software developer and learn more about businesses processes, so I rejoined Principal Financial Group (Des Moines, IA) in 2004,” he says. He started as lead IT application analyst, designing, developing and supporting Internet/intranet- based server-side multi-tier distributed applications using J2EE technologies. He also worked as technical lead for small and large IT projects.
From 2010 to early 2018, he served as IT leader/senior IT application analyst. “I was part of a software development team that collaborates with business partners to translate business requirements into technical solutions.”
Leading a global team
In March 2018, he became an assistant IT director, leading a team of fifteen-plus people supporting HR systems.
His team is based in the U.S. and India. His Kenyan childhood serves him well with his Indian team, Kioko explains. “The school I attended in Nairobi had lots of people of Indian descent, so I knew the culture. This helps me connect with the team in India. It also brings a global perspective to the job, as I can empathize with their challenges.”
Kioko enjoys mentoring, coaching, and building a high-performance team, helping each member utilize their creative and innovative skills. “I try to help all my team members reach their full potential,” he says.
“It’s a challenging environment, as IT keeps changing. There are new coding languages, devices and security issues,” he notes. He believes tech skills are important, but so is knowing how to collaborate. “Can you work well with others? Can you be part of a team to create solutions? If so, you’ll do well in IT.”
Kioko gives back to the community as president and co-founder of Tech Journey (www.techjourney.org), a Des Moines-area nonprofit. It gives youth with limited resources hands-on experience in technology led by IT professionals.
“The organization works with Des Moines public schools,” he explains. It also runs a summer camp where eighth graders learn basic programming.
D&I; has recognized value at Principal
“We recognize the social, business and organizational value that comes from a diverse and inclusive workplace,” says Kerry Gumm, HR recruiting and diversity director at Principal Financial Group.
“Our corporate diversity mission is to create and maintain a work environment of inclusion, respect and community that enables employees to contribute to their full potential in support of the company’s mission.”
VP Carolyn Bellisio wears her “financial analyst hat” at Liberty Mutual
Carolyn Bellisio is a vice president and IT chief financial officer at insurance company Liberty Mutual (Boston, MA).
Bellisio started college as a chemical engineering major, then switched her major to communications in hopes of working in pharmaceutical advertising. She holds a BA in communication with minors in business administration and chemistry from the University of New Hampshire (Durham). She also has a MBA in finance from New York University’s Stern School of Business (New York, NY).
Bellisio worked in New York for international advertising agency LD&P;, as well as Chase Manhattan Bank and Lehman Brothers, in increasingly responsible financial and operations roles.
Since joining Liberty Mutual in 1999, Bellisio has worked in IT for commercial market risk services, enterprise resource management, IT training and development, Liberty international underwriters, and global specialty IT. “I became CFO in 2013, but I’ve kept my financial analyst hat on all along,” she says.
As part of IT, her group is responsible for monthly book closing, business chargeback and reporting. She also oversees the IT procurement group. “Liberty Mutual’s IT is an expense-driven organization. My goal is to take the expenses and break them into cost pools by business unit.”
In the fast-paced global environment, her job involves visualizing data from a number of sources to help speed decisions. “IT is moving, changing, and evolving every day. What we do today will be very different in six months,” she says.
While working for the company, she has earned her masters in project management from George Washington University (Washington, DC). “Liberty Mutual has been very supportive of advancing my career and professional development. And being a female has never been an issue.”
Tools of the trade
Bellisio keeps her skills up-to-date and stays connected. “I listen a lot to what’s going on. I attend conferences, and I am involved with the Research Board,” an international think tank of CIOs.
Diverse thinking solves problems and creates products
“At Liberty Mutual Insurance, diversity and inclusion play an important role because they are directly tied to employee engagement, innovation and market competitiveness,” says Dawn Frazier-Bohnert, vice president of diversity and inclusion. “To continue our success, we need people with a wide range of experiences and diverse, creative thinking to solve problems and create new products and services.”
The company recently launched an intranet site to connect employees and provide a place for open dialogue. Formal employee resource groups link colleagues who share similar interests or backgrounds and create opportunities to expand networks.
“Like others, Liberty Mutual recognizes the need to strengthen the representation of women in IT. We have engaged executive men and women from across the enterprise to widen this and other critical talent pipelines for success,” says Frazier-Bohnert.
GE Capital’s Kim Holder: getting the best from everyone at the table
Kim Holder was born in Barbados, and was raised throughout the U.S., moving often as part of a military family. She loved the travel and the opportunity to learn about economies around the world.
Her high school teachers pushed her to take advanced placement courses. She attended Bentley College (now Bentley University) in Waltham, MA, where she earned her BS in international economics in 1998.
She interned through Inroads at the Federal Reserve Bank in New York City. “That set me up for success,” says Holder, who today is IT program manager of debt and derivatives for the treasury business of GE Capital (Stamford, CT).
She went straight through graduate school at Bentley, earning her MBA with a concentration on MIS and continuing to work for the Fed during summer breaks. Holder was also active in the National Black MBA Association.
“During an NBMBAA case competition, someone from GE saw my team’s presentation and was impressed,” she says. Holder joined the company in 1999. She entered a two-year information technology leadership program and completed four rotations with GE Lighting.
Her first job after that was just outside London, as the digital sales IT project leader. She came back to the U.S. in 2005 and joined GE Capital.
After several roles in integration and acquisition, Holder became a program manager for GE Capital America’s core leasing platform. “I led a team that delivered an eighteen-month, multimillion-dollar mainframe modernization project. We reduced annual application hosting costs by more than sixty-five percent, dramatically improved disaster recovery and created a viable, long-term, strategic platform.”
In her current role, she’s responsible for the strategic direction and implementation of platforms that support the trade management organization.
Communication is key
Holder says she loves people and talking with the teams she manages in the U.S., Ireland and India. “I get to talk through the most difficult challenges with some very smart people,” says Holder. “The challenge is to get the best out of everyone who has a seat at the table.”
Holder believes it’s important to give back as well. She has held leadership roles in her local NBMBAA chapter and within GE for the United Way and the African American Forum.
Diversity keeps GE Capital competitive
“Diversity is an essential part of the GE culture. Our diversity of thoughts, experiences and approaches is what keeps us competitive in the global marketplace and makes us a place where people come to build their careers and communities,” says Shelle Cleveland, diversity and community relations leader.
Leon Kambani manages projects and people at Progressive Insurance
Leon Kambani was born and raised in Zimbabwe, and received his BS in business administration from the Harare Institute of Technology (Harare, Zimbabwe). He worked his way through college at Nando’s, a fast food franchise, and remained there after graduation. Over five years, he was able to grow with the company, from a store shift manager to brand operations manager for Africa expansion.
“I was always intrigued by analysis and the stats of Nando’s expansion, and realized I wanted to do IT,” he says. He decided to move to the United States and set his sights on the Cleveland, OH area, where his sister was already living.
He landed a job with consulting firm Telsource Corporation and was assigned to work on a project for the Cleveland Municipal School District. “In this entry into IT, I worked on systemwide security projects across multiple platforms, and helped develop process improvements that ensured that IT system security project completions were on time and within budget.”
Finding his fit at Progressive
After six and a half years, he applied to Progressive Insurance (Mayfield Village, OH). “Initially, I wanted to work in project delivery, but at the time, Progressive did not have openings there, so I went for a quality assurance role. After eleven months, I was able to switch to project delivery.”
In 2013, he was promoted to his present position of manager of enterprise software configuration management. Kambani manages a core team that supports four different business applications.
“I am excited to work with a motivated team to fit business operations, and I love seeing people thrive in their roles,” he enthuses. “I also enjoy the challenge of making sure there is quality in any changes that need to be made.”
As he adapted to living in the U.S., Kambani says he experienced the same subtle adjustments that anyone else might face, such as miles vs. kilometers. But he says his background has provided him with extra tools. “My international experience helps me look at things differently. I approach work and life with ‘Ubuntu,’ an African term for team, community and interrelatedness.”
Kambani says that Progressive celebrates differences and new ideas. The company’s employee resource groups (ERGs) are independent, voluntary associations, started by employees with common interests or backgrounds, but open to all. He’s a member of Progressive’s Empowered Women’s group, and is also active in the Project Management Institute.
For job seekers, Kambani says that languages including .Net and C# are desirable. Like many others, Kambani feels soft skills are important – he emphasizes communications and time management – along with being a team player. “Focus on soft skills. That will take you to the next level.”
DIVERSITY-MINDED FINANCIAL IT AND BI FIRMS
Check websites for information.
|Company and location
|Citigroup (Citi, New York, NY)
|GE Capital (Norwalk, CT)
|Global credit and financial expertise
|Goldman, Sachs & Co (New York, NY)
|Investment banking, securities, and
|Liberty Mutual Insurance (Boston, MA)
|Home, auto, life and business insurance
|Principal Financial Group (Des Moines, IA)
|Global investment management
|Progressive Insurance (Mayfield Village, OH)
|Wells Fargo & Co (San Francisco, CA)
|Diversified financial services
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