Frontline technology

European Head of Investment Banking IT at Credit Suisse, Phil Kent, tells Lucy Mair why the bank is an exciting place to work in IT

Why is IT important to an investment bank?

The advent of both the internet and electronic trading has completely transformed investment banking over the past 25 years. Today, it's very difficult for any bank to operate profitably without an effective electronic trading system, which means it also needs a reliable IT division to build and service the system. Credit Suisse spends in excess of $1 billion annually on investment banking-related IT. If the division were to be spun out as an independent company, it would be as big as a FTSE 100 software house.

What is the Investment Banking IT department responsible for?

Investment Banking IT has teams devoted to the investment bank's equities, fixed income, derivatives, and prime services desks, and we build and support the systems, from front to back, that they use. We also build the systems for functions, such as trade processing and credit and market risk management in the Operations division. We have a Production Technology Services team, which provides technical support to users across this division of the bank and, occasionally, when we build applications that are exposed to the bank's clients, we also deliver on-site client support.

The investment bank requires a variety of systems, including those to automatically generate prices for trades, publish them, and take orders, and ones for derivatives products which can simulate trades, accurately price them, and manage the risk around them. The IT systems we provide to traders in the division have to operate at a microsecond level to take full advantage of opportunities in the market.

What roles are available within Investment Banking IT?

There's a variety of roles within the department, not all of which are technical. The two main job families are development and business analysis. Developers either build new systems in line with business needs or work on enhancements to existing systems. Business analysts are responsible for understanding exactly what the users need, so that the developers can build the right systems.

We also have project managers who manage the timeline for the delivery of a project and assess the risks involved; user and production support teams that take calls from users and resolve any issues they're having; and business managers, who run the departments and look after budgets.

These roles are not always independent of each other and, depending on the size of a project, people may operate in two or three different capacities. For example, on a small project one person may be responsible for business analysis, development and project management, whereas on a bigger project there could be one project manager, three business analysts and seven developers.

Can you tell me about a project your team has worked on recently, and how graduates were involved?

We completed a big project last year called Credit Suisse Plus, which involved bringing together multiple internet-facing applications within the Fixed Income division and putting them under one portal so there was a single look and feel for external customers. We had to take existing applications and re-skin them so they looked consistent, and re-architect them so that clients could access them all via a single log-on. The project took six months to complete and involved 130 people across Credit Suisse's offices in London, New York and Singapore.

A number of graduates contributed to the project, because we like to put our trainees into positions of responsibility within a few weeks of joining the bank. Graduate developers were overseen by experienced developers as they picked up some of the tasks, and business analysts began by shadowing senior members of their team before taking on their own duties.

What did you study at university, and how did you make the transition into investment banking?

I studied computer science at the University of Warwick and when I graduated I went into consulting. After two years, I moved into investment banking IT because I was attracted to the opportunities offered by banks and the speed of the turnaround of project work here.

When I moved into investment banking, I found particular elements of my university course very useful, including source code control and managing releases. It was challenging at first to understand the products that the bank trades and how the bank actually makes its money, but Credit Suisse provides lots of training in this area.

What kind of training does Credit Suisse provide for graduates in Investment Banking IT?

We deliver a three-pronged training programme. First, graduates receive training specific to their role, so developers will receive technical IT training and business analysts will complete business-focused training. Then, there's training on the bank's financial products and how we generate a profit. Finally, we provide training in soft skills, such as communication, presentation and business writing, to help graduates be as effective as possible in their roles.

What do you look for in graduates?

In IT, the technical skills people need change on a regular basis, so we look for the raw ability to learn rather than any specific technical skills, and then train people as necessary. For roles in development, we look for graduates from science-led backgrounds, but for non-technical roles we take graduates from all degree disciplines. We also look for people who have an interest in finance and want to understand how the bank operates, but it isn't necessary to have any knowledge of finance.

What do you enjoy about working in Investment Banking IT?

Investment Banking IT is very fast-moving - you receive feedback from users and see the results of your work very quickly, which is rewarding. But the speed at which you're expected to deliver your work is also a challenge. You have to be able to do a high quality job in the shortest time possible.