Banking tech can offer opportunities for innovation that match those found at big tech companies and startups, while delivering the sort of variety, mobility, autonomy and resources other companies don’t.
If you’re a technologist, whether just out of school or well established in your career, you may assume you will always work at a big tech firm, a startup, your own entrepreneurial venture—or some combination of the three. The notion of working in financial technology at a bank like Morgan Stanley may not be one you’ve considered, but it should be. We know what you may be thinking: A bank? What kind of energy, innovation and job satisfaction could a bank provide a coder, machine-learning engineer or data scientist? Turns out, quite a bit.
We asked Sigal Zarmi, Chief Information Officer and Head of Transformation at Morgan Stanley, to share her thoughts on the benefits of working in financial technology at Morgan Stanley. Zarmi joined Morgan Stanley in 2018 and is responsible for driving the firm’s innovation and transformation agenda. Here are her top takeaways.
“A lot of people think that because banking is such an established industry it’s not tech-friendly,” says Zarmi. ”What they don’t realize is just how much technology is being leveraged by banks. Technology is really the production line of financial services, and Morgan Stanley is at the forefront of that,” Zarmi adds. “We were the first bank to seriously invest in electronic trading—and we’ve reaped the benefits by becoming the leader in that space. Today we are leveraging big data, AI and machine learning to better serve our clients and to make our business more efficient. Additionally, we are partnering with other organizations to explore the potential of emerging technologies, such as blockchain, quantum computing and augmented/virtual reality.
“What impressed me the most when I came to Morgan Stanley was the technical depth and proficiency I found,” says Zarmi. “And we reward that proficiency. Among our talented group of technologists are 20 Distinguished Engineers who have been recognized inside and outside the firm as not only as influencers with superior technical expertise, but as mentors to the next generation.”
“Whether it’s finding solutions to improve low-latency trading, leveraging AI to inform investment decisions, or applying natural language processing to help assess the quality of a loan, the problems we tackle are really complex and challenging,” says Zarmi.
“And they often require teams across functions and expertise areas to partner and collaborate to find solutions. Which means the work is always interesting and varied and there’s always talent from across the firm working together towards a common goal.”
The possibilities within tech are varied as well. Says Zarmi, “There is real opportunity to apply high-level technical and engineering skills in all disciplines of application development and cybersecurity, as well as infrastructure tooling, servers and storage, communications and connectivity, and multiple new technologies.”
“Technology is changing at breath-taking speed, and there’s not a single aspect of our business that we don’t consider ripe for disruption.” says Zarmi. “Here at Morgan Stanley, we take a three-pronged approach to innovation: We have Centers of Excellence to drive adoption of advanced technologies and methodologies, such as AI/ML, cloud, data analytics and Agile/DevOps. We have an innovation group that provides tools and resources to our employees to experiment and deliver projects that help solve real business challenges. And we work with vendors—both mature and emerging—who complement and expand our innovation capabilities. Experimentation and innovation are woven into the very fabric of our organization, so it’s not surprising that we were recently honored for our entrepreneurial culture by being named the only financial services firm on Fast Company’s recent list of 50 Best Workplaces for Innovators."
“This might surprise you given how large and complex banks are. But you can really take charge of your projects—and your future—here,” says Zarmi. “At big technology companies, you’re often a cog in a wheel. Our focus is on giving people meaningful work and allowing them to be part of smaller, self-directed and self-sufficient teams, where they are empowered to drive decision-making and where they can immediately see the impact they are making.”
When hiring, Zarmi says, “I look beyond the technical skills for a sense of passion. I want to see a candidate’s curiosity for constant learning and development and their willingness to adapt. In turn, we make sure to support our technologists in their ambitions, wherever they lead them. Not just through traditional mentorship but through grassroots innovation programs, hackathons, open source projects and broader engagement with the tech community through industry events."
“You’re not pigeon-holed here at Morgan Stanley,” says Zarmi. “If you are technically competent and have the right leadership skills, opportunities across functions and in offices all over the world will open up to you, from Mumbai and Bengaluru to London and Budapest to New York and Montreal. And our senior leadership is truly committed to helping technologists leverage those opportunities."
“This firm is much more than a bank with an impressive technology shop,” says Zarmi. “It’s an organization that has strong values around community, diversity and giving back, including our initiatives to foster STEM education from K through college. And once you are here, we make sure you know you belong through the efforts of our affinity groups such as Women in Tech, the Pride & Ally Network and the Black Employee Network. It’s a culture that truly celebrates diversity, achievement and innovation.”