Big data, technology changing the nature of investment HR

With a rise in big data and artificial intelligence, institutional investors are starting to look for staff with different skills.

Much of the success in the investment management industry depends on managers’ abilities to analyze information in a systematic way and generate actionable insights, says Jason Stefanelli, director and head of Canada at William Blair Investment Management.

“And with that as a backdrop, leading organizations really need to keep abreast of technological advances to ensure they continually deliver value creation and maintain a competitive edge,” he adds.

As his firm makes strategic investments in technology, it’s looking for new skills when approaching the hiring process, he says. “There’s much more of an emphasis on data and technology skills when we recruit, with data and advanced analytics being used now more and more on a daily basis to inform those decisions.”

Stefanelli expects the trend of attracting tech-savvy talent only growing over time in the investment management industry. “Adding more of what I call science to the art of investing by hiring tech-skilled investment staff, I think, is going to allow a manager to leverage the tech side and evolve the investment process itself.”

For existing staff with more traditional backgrounds, programs are in place for upskilling on the tech side. William Blair offers several training programs for employees and has recently added programs focused on data and technology.  “For example, last year we introduced . . . a training program that provides support for learning R language through classes, online course work and other materials and resources,” says Stefanelli. “Students in the program can learn about data access, data observation, data transformation, data analytics, data visualization and really how to create reports using R.”

On a more personal note, Stefanelli’s firm encouraged him to enroll in an AI program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology because of his interest in AI.

“Strategically investing in tech can bolster decision-making, improve insight, drive operational efficiency and accuracy,” he says. “And so the good news there is that many trends, including reduced costs due to digitalization, for example, are really making things like big data more accessible. And acquiring those capabilities, skills and talents will take time and be a more iterative process.”

Patrick Johnson, a senior search consultant at The Mason Group, is also seeing a greater emphasis on data backgrounds in the recruitment process.

While pension funds are still looking for people with finance or accounting backgrounds, they’re now also asking candidates questions about their proficiency with data sets and manipulating large pieces of data, whereas in the past that wouldn’t have necessarily been the focus, he says.

In addition, a lot of business school are adapting to the changing realities and instilling this in their business and finance programs, he adds.

The Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University is one example of how a business school is adapting. Graham Sogawa, executive director of its Business Career Hub, is charged with ensuring the students and alumni are ready to launch successful careers.

“And that involves really focusing on how we prepare them for co-op or summer internships, how we prepare them to graduate [and] help them to discover the industries that are interesting to them or roles that are aligned with their skills. And we do a lot of programming to ensure that what they’re learning here at the Ted Rogers school reflects what the market needs are out in the Toronto [marketplace] and globally really.”

To hit the mark, the school spends a lot of time talking to the industry through advisory councils and using real-time feedback from students’ experiences in co-op programs.

One trend in the marketplace is companies expanding the number of programs they’re targeting when looking for new talent, says Sogawa. “Certainly, those companies share roles and post roles looking for commerce students. But I think, as the quantitative needs of these companies go up, there’s a real focus on sharing their postings with students in engineering programs [and] math programs.”

To ensure traditional finance students stay competitive, the school offers boot-camp programming where students can beef up their technology and quantitative skills. For example, the boot camps cover topics like Excel, Power BI, Python, R and Bloomberg.

“So that’s where we’ve really focused on — how do we take some of those skills that may not exist in curriculum work in this school, but may exist in other pockets?”

However, Sogawa notes the increased search for talent across programs creates challenges for universities because they need to ensure they aren’t operating in silos. “We’re actually now sitting down — whether it’s with our colleagues in the engineering program or it’s with our colleagues in the sciences programs — to figure out how we collectively approach employers and work together and collaborate.”

While universities may be looking at different types of talent, they’re still largely approaching recruitment in traditional ways, he notes. “And I think it’s because they’ve got a very strong formula where they’re able to attract talent and asses their skillsets. I would actually say that it’s something that we’re trying to encourage our employer partners to do differently.”

The traditional method involves employers coming to campus, hosting information sessions and networking events and then then sending out invitations for interviews.

Instead, Graham says the school is trying to encourage employers to come to campus with a challenge. “Whether it’s creating a financial model [or] solving a business problem, let us demonstrate to you what our students have accomplished through their boot camps, through their curriculum, by running through a real challenge, a real simulation . . . like a hackathon.”

The model speaks to student, he says, because they often need experience to get a job, but require a job to gain experience, so this allows them to demonstrate the skill sets they’ve developed through extracurricular activities.

“We’re actually working with one company right now who is going to pose a challenge to our students. And our students, who have completed different courses and different boot camps such as Excel and Python and R, will get a chance to showcase what they can do, to showcase that they’ve got the skills necessary to work in that industry.”

That said, Sogawa says traditional skills, such as working with teams, will still be important in this new age of technology, Sogawa says.

Today, there’s very little technology can’t do, so it’s important to have people who are creative and can work with teams to champion ideas, he adds. “I think, at times, finance students really focus on can I do a [discounted cash flow]? Can I do a valuation? Can I understand financial statements? And what we’re trying to also encourage them to look at is how do you build up your skills and abilities to work in teams and be creative?”

Written by Yaelle Gang and originally published on Canadian Investment Review.


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