Software providers snapping up French IT staff

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Like the City of London and Wall Street, Paris is suffering from a shortage of technologists familiar with the financial services industry.

Recruiters attribute the country's deficit of talent to increased hiring among its financial services software providers. "It's the software houses and consultants that are recruiting," says Jérôme Bonnard, managing director of recruitment firm RCBF Consulting. "Banks are hiring very little, but places like Murex, Sophis and Reuters Financial Software are adding staff."

Bonnard says software houses' appetite for recruits marks a revival in banks' interest in investing in new IT systems: "A lot of projects were put on standby for several years, but there is now new software on the market dealing with fund management, compliance and risk, and there are not enough engineers to work on it."

Cadextan, a Paris-based subsidiary of Sungard that provides software integration services for banks such as Calyon, CDC Ixis, BNP Paribas and Société Générale is among those recruiting. President Didier Neyrat says the company saw revenues rise 30% during the past two years. It hired 60 people this year, bringing its total number of employees to 210. Next year it plans to add a further 50 to 60.

"In 2001 banks in France and across Europe stopped investing in IT," says Neyrat. "Since 2003, they've started to reinvest. As a result, we're hiring, but have found it difficult to find people with the right skills."

Neyrat says Cadextan's recruits typically have five years' post-Baccalaureate education and engineering training at schools like Centrale Paris, École des Mines and ENSIMAG. They also need an elusive combination of technology and financial services knowledge. He says difficulties finding people in France are encouraging Cadextan to cast its recruitment net further afield: native Moroccans, Tunisians, Algerians and Eastern Europeans now constitute around 10% of its workforce.

Raphaël Faure, head of the financial services division at French technology consultant Altran, also confesses to recruitment difficulties. He says Altran has already added 60 staff to its financial services technology division this year, and plans to add another 30 before December. And unlike Bonnard, he says French banks are a major competitor: "When we're competing for talent with other consulting companies, it's easy for us as we have a good name. But banks offer big pay packages and interesting positions, which makes it harder."

Bonnard says talent shortages are likely to remain an issue in French financial services IT for the foreseeable future. "One problem is that there are more and more young French people going to work in London and New York," he says. "But there is also a shortage of French engineers who want to devote themselves purely to financial services IT programming: they prefer to be traders or business analysts. Off-shoring is creating the impression that there is not a great future in the programming area." However, the French off-shoring market is currently underdeveloped, with just 5% of development work outsourced overseas, such as in India, according to Neyrat.

The shortage of young French students willing to devote themselves to a career in financial services technology may also be down to pay. According to Bonnard, a French programmer with five years' experience working in a software house can expect to earn between €50,000 and €55,000, plus a very petit bonus. "It's not as much as a trader," he admits.

Altran's Faure, however, is quick to point out that generous banking bonuses are the preserve of a select few. "The banking sector is quite simple," he says. "There are two or three people who earn lots of money, and plenty of others who don't but who hope to one day."

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