An insight into IT

How can you apply your technology skills to a role in investment banking? Lucy Mair speaks to an IT analyst and a graduate recruiter from BNP Paribas to find out

Dipen Shah, IT analyst

What's your current role at BNP Paribas, and why is it important to the bank?

I'm an analyst in credit trading risk and profit and loss technology. My team and I support the trading floor by monitoring the IT system to make sure that the traders' screens constantly display the right information. We develop tools to track applications used by the bank and monitor trading activity and market movements, and we also catch and fix any incidents that arise in the system.

IT is important to the bank because all transactions are carried out electronically, so the bank's day-to-day business is dependent on its computer system. On the trading floor nanoseconds can make a big difference to the business, so we're constantly working to make the system faster, more stable and more secure to give us a competitive advantage over other banks.

What attracted you to working in IT at an investment bank?

I studied computer science and business studies at the University of Warwick. I became attracted to working in investment banking because IT is a very important part of a bank and there's a lot of investment in this area. I wanted to find out more, so I applied for a summer internship at BNP Paribas.

What skills and knowledge do you need for an internship in technology?

There aren't any specific technology skills that are essential, but you need to be comfortable with the core fundamentals of IT, including the basics of programming, databases and system architecture. If you're studying a technology or computer related course at university, you'll be well-equipped for the internship.

It's important to have an interest in finance and to follow the business news, but you don't need to have an in-depth knowledge of the industry. At the beginning of the internship there's a week of training, which introduces everyone to the bank and the basic financial knowledge that's needed.

What did the internship involve?

I was assigned to the credit trading risk team for the duration of my internship and given responsibility for a real project. The bank makes thousands of credit-related risk assessments every day, which are entered into a master system, but many of these assessments contain errors. My project was to design a transparent system to process, categorise and assign responsibility to these risk assessments, so the bank could separate the accurate information from the inaccurate and determine the causes of the errors. Taking ownership of my project was very rewarding and, when I returned to the bank as a graduate the following year, the system I designed had been adopted across the bank's server.

Throughout the internship there were also lots of networking events, presentations and Q&A sessions, so we could learn more about the bank and get to know the other interns, recent graduates, and managers.

How has your role progressed since joining the bank?

I've been at BNP Paribas for almost two and a half years, and in that time my role has advanced a great deal as I've become more confident and knowledgeable. At first, I was responsible for carrying out daily system checks, but now my work is more innovative.

Recently, I led a project which made a change to our method of profit and loss processing. I began by talking to the traders to understand exactly what they needed the system to do. Then I set up the system, tested its performance, and rolled it out to all the users. To complete the project I had to make sure that the system was easy for everyone to use, and simple to fix in the event of a problem.

Do you have any advice for students who'd like to work in IT at the bank?

Don't underestimate the importance of communication skills. A lot of people have the specialist knowledge and technical ability for a role in IT, but in order to differentiate yourself when applying you need to be able to speak clearly, be concise, and use common sense.

Sarah Harte, graduate recruiter

Why should students interested in IT consider a career at BNP Paribas?

BNP Paribas is an exciting place to be because we use the latest products and systems and we invest heavily in technological innovation. Whether you join the bank as an intern or a graduate, you'll be given responsibility very quickly. Our programmes aren't rotational, so you'll be hired to a specific desk and be able to build a rapport with your team, make a real contribution to their work, and progress much faster than you would elsewhere.

What IT opportunities are there for students and graduates at the bank?

For first year students we run a technology insight programme during the Easter holidays. Students come to BNP Paribas's offices in London, learn about different areas within the technology division, and are given the opportunity to network with our IT experts from across the business. If you impress on the insight programme you'll be fast-tracked for a summer internship the following year.

Our summer internship is a ten-week programme open to penultimate year students and is a very individualistic and structured programme. Students are hired to a particular desk and work closely with their manager - they'll also be given training specific to the project they're assigned. All of our interns also participate in a corporate social responsibility (CSR) project to learn more about the bank's values and develop transferable skills.

We also have a one-year graduate development programme, which involves three weeks of initial training followed by continuing learning at your desk and development initiatives throughout the first year. Our IT teams are extremely international with many global teams, two of our graduates who started in London are now working in our offices in New York!

What skills and qualities do you look for in IT?

The most important thing we look for in candidates is a genuine passion for technology. A numerate or scientific background is important, but we also look for evidence that candidates have the appropriate transferable skills for the job, such as problem-solving, flexibility and the motivation and ability to learn.

What are your top tips for making a successful application?

I advise students to research the bank thoroughly and form a view of the organisation, and to come and meet us at campus events to unearth the information you can't find on the internet. A background in finance is by no means essential to work in technology at a bank, but it's definitely an advantage if candidates can show a good level of commercial awareness. It's also important to be honest and accurate on the application form, and don't over-complicate your answers - just make sure everything you write is clear and concise.