Q&A: Morgan Stanley’s head of cross asset risk programmes on why less in more in a technologist’s job application

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Simon Holden, MD, global head of cross asset programmes at Morgan Stanley spent years programming in “weird and wonderful” places before gravitating to the financial sector 13 years ago. If you want to know how to impress him during interview, and where he believes the technology jobs in banking will be over the next year, then read on.

How long have you been working in financial services? How did you break into the industry?

I’ve been in financial services for nearly 14 years. Before that I set up and ran the IT group of a small environmental consultancy firm for 8 years. I did a fair amount of freelance stuff on the side as well, writing bespoke systems for small companies. I always had a lay interest in finance and had many friends working in the City. I saw an ad for Morgan Stanley appealing for “out of the box thinkers” and applied. The rest is history....

What advice would you offer people with aspirations to emulate your success?

Try and align your passions with your job and steer your career in that direction. Be honest about what you don’t know and diligent about filling gaps. Learning is a career-long process and I see far too many people who become afraid to admit they don’t know something.

Has your career been conventional or capricious?

Probably more conventional than capricious, certainly of late. I crammed a lot of experience into my twenties, writing software in weird and wonderful places, which has stood me in good stead for working things out from first principles and overcoming obstacles.

What are the main skills or characteristics needed to succeed in financial technology?

An interest in and an ability to understand the markets and products is pretty important. A desire to deliver and a willingness to sometimes do what needs to be done to get software out the door which helps your clients.

What would you always advise people to do before they step into an interview with you?

Strip their CV down to the stuff that they really know – I hate long lists of technologies on CVs. Be ready with some questions about the role and the firm. Have a view on what you are bringing to the role and substantiate that with your experience.

You’re only allowed to hire one person over the next six months. Can you describe their ideal profile?

Joel Spolsky coined a great phrase which distils the ideal profile down to something very simple – “Smart and gets things done”. That applies to all jobs and all levels of seniority. To me, this is usually more important than having a skillset that fits some current requirement exactly; after all, every time I hire I’m hoping to invest in someone for many years and they will need to evolve over their career at Morgan Stanley.

What are the three main challenges or opportunities facing banks’ IT departments currently?

The industry has undergone and continues to undergo profound changes since 2008. Markets are changing rapidly in response to new regulation and different market conditions and business models are being completely overhauled. The winners will be those that manage that transformation the best. If I were to pick three:

-Responding to regulatory challenges in a timely and cost-effective fashion.

-Delivering the transformations required.

-Continuing to innovate to provide competitive advantage whilst at the same time being cost-effective.

How do you feel they will change by 2015?

I think that the technology platforms of the banks that succeed will be much more integrated than they were historically, with a greater degree of commonality across asset classes and better front to back integration.

Which one area of financial technology do you believe will offer the most job opportunities over the next 12 months?

There’s no doubt that, as the industry implements new regulations such as Dodd-Frank, regulatory reporting will be a big opportunity. However, as I said earlier, most banks are underway with significant transformational efforts and suitably experienced staff who are able to work across asset classes will certainly find opportunities.

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