Joy Macknight

Attracting tech talent is a challenge for many banks, pushing many to come up with inventive ways to engage the next generation of programmers and developers.

Incumbent banks are being squeezed when it comes to tech talent, caught between the “great resignation” – where staff quit in hopes of getting something more meaningful out of work – and the playful work environment of the big tech firms (not to mention the big pay cheques). In addition, their legacy technology stacks act as a real deterrent for the millennial generation, who want to work with cutting-edge tech.

This is forcing banks to think more creatively about how they source the next generation of programmers and developers. No longer is doing the “milk rounds”, or touring the colleges and universities, enough to recruit the best talent. And, as the lockdowns under the Covid-19 pandemic proved, locality is not the constraint it once was.

HSBC, for one, is taking a different approach to sourcing tech talent on a global scale. The bank has teamed up with work experience platform Paragon One to curate a remote externship for college students across the world. The students – “aspiring founders, hackers and product managers” – will work with HSBC to develop a product plan with mock-ups of a banking solution based on Web3, or decentralised, technology.

Three things make it an interesting programme: it is fully remote, students from any part of the world can apply and it has a real-world application. The externship lasts eight weeks and requires just 10 hours per week. The participants also receive a $500 educational stipend, as well as class credits.

According to Paragon One: “The externs are showcasing their strategic problem-solving, product management and critical thinking skills by ideating and developing a fintech product. The mission is for externs to reimagine what customers will want next and how they can improve the way a bank operates.”

Externs will receive training, work on real problems and network with financial specialists; top students will be selected to present their projects and findings to company leads and other senior leadership.

For HSBC, this is an opportunity to tap the minds of the younger generation, test and develop new ideas and ways of working.

It is the last point – ways of working – that could prove very interesting. Instead of a competition among the students, the bank could turn this into a “great experiment” of remote collaboration and use the best young tech talent from around the world to explore how the future of work will be defined.

Today, there is a big push to get everyone back into the workplace, but these ultimatums are coming from the top echelons of the bank, most of whom spent their whole careers in the office. While they may need physical interaction, there is a new generation coming through that possibly see no need for in-person collaboration, whether for productivity or culture reasons. This is something that incumbent banks will need to address if they truly want to attract top tech talent from around the globe.

Such an experiment would perhaps take longer than an eight-week externship programme, but it would certainly generate some interesting results.

Joy Macknight is editor of The Banker. Follow her on Twitter @joymacknight

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