Banks Limber Up For The Executive Skills Race

by Mark Oppenheimer

The pace of modernisation has never been greater in the banking sector. Retail banks are gearing up to compete with challenger banks unburdened by physical branch networks.  The entire financial services sector is shifting focus from product to customer. Every competitor is busy assessing innovative solutions - from contactless transactions to mobile apps - to enhance the customer experience and reinforce brand loyalty. Equally important are the disruptive technologies that accelerate understanding of customer behaviour through data acquisition and analysis.  

Technology now pumps through the heart of every function in every bank.  The race for supremacy - and sometimes survival - is as much about talent as technology. The key skills in demand for 2016 fall into seven categories of technological athleticism:

 Big data


  • The rise of the Chief Data and Chief Analytics Officer continues across the Financial Services sector.

  • Every segment has shown a spike in demand for strong leadership across Data Science, Big Data Technology & Data Architecture.

  • This has caused a huge drag of West Coast & non-Financial Services leadership into the Banking & Insurance sector.


  • More banking organizations are looking to enhance, and potentially separate, the digital portion of their banking technology and business lines into a ‘Digital Bank’, giving rise to a new breed of Chief Digital Officer with ownership of technology, product, marketing and revenue generation.

  • General Managers with a technology backbone are in high demand in many of the global banks.


  • There has been a substantial spike in demand for strong Infrastructure leadership with experience in Cloud Computing.

  • This has caused an influx of West Coast & high-tech technology leaders into the banking sector, especially in Architecture and Infrastructure Engineering.


  • Architectural leaders are in very high demand, especially with experience across Data, Infrastructure, DevOps and Application Architecture.

  • Moreover, those with delivery and execution experience come with a significant premium, given the dearth of talent in this space across Financial Services.

 Emerging payments & digital FS

  • Every banking group has either re-organized payments, or run an executive search for a new business leader for the function.

  • Executives that can bridge the gap between old and new (cards & digital payments) are seeing a 20-30 % premium over last year.

  • Digital lending will also have a distinct effect on the market in 2016.

 Customer experience

  • Banks are unanimously looking for leaders to own and transform the customer journey across the bank by using digital transformation.

  • As a result, executives with the blend of customer journey mapping, rapid digital servicing, and digital technology experience are in high demand.

The rise of the hedge fund CIO /COO

  • In the past 12 months there has been an institutionalization of the middle and back office within the alternatives space, particularly within hedge funds and trading shops (Mercuria).

  • Among larger funds the focus was initially on technology (with the creation of the CIO position at AQR, Och-Ziff, Angelo Gordon, Davidson Kempner). However, this is now incorporating operations as well (with COO appointments at Bridgewater, Millenium & Och-Ziff).

As banks jostle to stay on track, experienced executives with the skillsets to master and implement emergent technologies can take their pick as demand outsrips supply. But not every IT and Ops exec will benefit from this surge in demand. With technology moving so fast, there will be losers as well as winners, primarily those left behind in traditional roles. For talented executives who can help banks overcome technology hurdles and edge ahead of the pack, compensation records are set to be broken in 2016.