Are banks willing to pay millions for the right programmers?

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Sergey Aleynikov, you might remember, rose to rather inauspicious fame as the ex-Goldman employee accused of stealing highly sensitive trading codes from the firm.

His trial is proving to be quite revealing, showing just how much money such software makes for investment banks, and how much they're willing to pay those who write it.

Wall Street firms will make around $8bn this year through using high frequency trading programmes, according to Tabb Group estimates quoted in the New York Times.

It's not surprising, therefore, that the banks are keen to keep hold of their secrets, and seem to be willing to shell out on software engineers who are able to shave milliseconds off trading times.

The newspaper cites a lawsuit involving hedge fund Citadel Investments, which revealed that it paid two top programmers tens of millions over seven years.

"A geek who writes code - those guys are now the valuable guys," Bernard S. Donefer, a lecturer at Baruch College and former head of markets systems at Fidelity said.

Sadly, though, these multi-million dollar packages are few and far between.

For example, Mike Whittaker, recently hired by Citigroup as CIO capital markets, is rumoured to have been offered a 2-year guarantee worth around 3m, but he'll be leading team of 3,000 people rather than simply developing software.

Similarly, headhunters tell us that Liam Hudson, who was hired by BarCap as director, FX algorithmic execution in the wake of the Lehman collapse was offered "upwards of 500k".

"All the investment banks are trying to steal a march on each other to develop an FX e-commerce platform, which can then be rolled out to other asset classes, and seem willing to pay for top talent in this area" says one.

Paul Bennie, who runs banking IT search firm Bennie MacLean Associates says: "Electronic volatility trading specialists are few and far between and banks will fight to keep hold of them. Top people in this space earn around 250-300k. Those who can build and lead a team of developers can expect an additional 50%-100% of this total."

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