Computerlink: Wanted: best of both worlds: The hunt is on for financial whizzes who are also experts in information technology. The word is they make companies winners. Lynne Curry reports

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The Independent Online
Once, the combination of a bowler hat and the right connections was enough to get by in the City, then accountants took over. The new breed required by financial institutions, however, is a stranger animal altogether. It would be unfair to label it a mongrel, though it is an unnatural mix. Part is information technologist, part City backroom functionary, and the whole is supremely competent.

Step forward those who have spent dark hours and brainpower on electronic acrobatics. Your day has come - but only if this wizardry is matched by a sophisticated understanding of the business to which it will be applied.

Traditionally, IT experts and financial sages have come from different directions, different disciplines and frequently have very different dispositions. Yet versatile boffins with business nous - authorities on financial futures and options who can techno-wrap Sybase and Oracle round their little fingers - do exist.

What happened to those traditional gents who insisted on HB pencils and declined any acquaintance with computer technology? They are not heading the companies which appear in business columns posting remarkable profits, says John Miskelly.

A hybrid himself, he is managing director of J M Management Services, one of the first IT recruitment companies set up in the City more than a decade ago. He perceives a rising wave of demand for these multi-talented people from the square mile on his Clerkenwell doorstep.

'There are just so many sophisticated things we can do that we couldn't possibly have done before. If somebody says to me that they'll do without IT, I say that it cannot be done without a substantial increase in manpower and cost base.'

IT has really come into its own in the prickly business of risk management. Chris Krabbe, who was drafted into Alderwick Peachell and Partners to manage the IT element of the business, says this as a problem that has bedevilled the City for years. 'Real-time, global risk management systems are what it's all about. Whoever gets to grips with that will find the holy grail.'

Mr Miskelly describes risk management as the flavour on everyone's lips. 'We are moving much more into the integrated front and back office of the future.' For this to be efficient, he says, organisations will need people who bring 'real business nous to the equation, as much as technical skills and programming. I was one of the first to say it is imperative for computer departments to have people who can cross disciplines easily and almost transparently.'

He says these people 'can be speaking to a business head about a problem, translate it into IT-speak and deliver as an IT solution. They're hard to find but they do exist.' Management consultancies are one source, says Mr Miskelly. Potential can also be found at the top of IT departments or in recent graduates.

'The more enlightened organisations have seen for some time that if they don't get on to this they'll be second or third division players,' says Mr Miskelly. 'The people who have used IT to advantage are those who you see in the financial pages every day posting remarkable profits.'

But how do these superprogrammers acquire dual expertise unless they are allowed to be beginners in one field or the other? Some recruiters find it irritating that the institutions making these demands are not usually prepared to offer much training.

'They might reject this, but they should be a little more specific in their requirements in terms of asking for both relational database expertise and investment management expertise,' said one. 'Or if they can't, they should be more inclined to provide training for these sorts of people.'

Once found, the versatile are rewarded handsomely. Mr Krabbe has placed information technologists in dealing rooms where they sit alongside traders and earn bonuses based on the trader's profitability. 'It's not unheard of for good programmers to be getting bonuses of 100 per cent of their salary, which will be a basic pounds 30,000 or pounds 40,000, so they could be 27 or 28 and on pounds 80,000 a year.'

Is this the rebirth of the turbo-powered yuppie? It is unlikely, says Mr Krabbe, as information technologists are still inclined to declare that wearing a suit makes no difference at all to their programming skills. These skills, however, have to be combined with a sophisticated understanding of the traded instrument, whether it is financial futures, options or any other derivative.

'The requirement is for people who can not only write very good programmes but can also understand the maths that have gone into the calculations of the derivative product that's being traded,' says Mr Krabbe.

Demand comes from brokerages, investment banks and some exchanges. 'Anywhere where money is changing hands you need to be able to compute that information in real time,' says Mr Krabbe.

Paul Bradley, director of a City consultancy, says the buzzword is 'productivity' and institutions expect to see this from those who know their way round a relational database as well as a financial bearpit. If there is an emphasis, it is on technical skill. 'These people exist, but not in the numbers that are required.'

The new breed are recognisable by their shiny, off-the-shelf titles, such as 'managing director of information technology'. Mr Miskelly says they are expected to turn in tangible results. 'My ethos is that if I were a shareholder I would want to see the value that each person brings to the bottom line. Gone are the days of having massive armies of information technologists on a hidden site away from the main business centre.

'An analyst-programmer we supplied in 1985 is now the head of an IT/derivatives area. The client told me the reason they promoted this guy is because he brought real value to the business.'

(Photograph omitted)

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