by Cristina Lago

Emirates NBD CIO speaks out on how to attract and retain tech talent

Sep 29, 2019
Financial Services IndustryIT LeadershipIT Skills

Miguel Rio Tinto, Group Chief Information Officer at Emirates NBD bank, discusses with CIO Middle East why tech professionals are opting for Silicon Valley instead of Wall Street

miguel rio tino nbd
Credit: NBD

One of the biggest challenges that face today’s CIOs is finding and retaining the right talent for the long term.

Fifty-five percent of organisations worldwide acknowledge that the digital talent gap is widening, and it is most pronounced in the banking sector, according to a study by Capgemini.

Miguel Rio Tinto, Group Chief Information Officer at Emirates NBD bank, offers in this interview with CIO Middle East insights into the causes of this skills gap and what his organisation is doing to bridge it. This is an edited version of the Q&A.

While digital skills are of critical importance to any bank today, evidence indicates a huge talent gap for such skillsets within the banking sector, especially as young data gurus increasingly opt for Silicon Valley over Wall Street. Why do you think that’s happening?

In emerging areas like data and security, talented tech professionals who may previously have been lured by major Wall Street players are now unsurprisingly being courted by tech companies like Amazon and Google, and smaller niche tech players like Rackspace.

The value proposition these tech companies offer is clear: an emerging data scientist or engineer gets the opportunity to work for a premium brand and receive excellent competition.

The main difference with banks is that they cannot always offer the same access to market-leading technology, combined with agile delivery, huge learning and development, and the opportunity to work in an innovative, flexible organisational culture where hierarchies and bureaucracies are discouraged. The onus is on financial institutions to rethink their total employee value proposition to provide comparable benefits for tech professionals.   

Which tech skills are most in demand and missing, particularly in the Middle East’s banking sector? 

Harvey Nash / KPMG CIO Survey shows that technology leaders are struggling to find the right talent with skills shortages at their highest level since 2008. The three scarcest skills are big data/analytics (44 percent), cybersecurity (39 percent) and artificial intelligence (39 percent).

Here in the Middle East, the war for tech talent is most certainly being waged, especially in financial services where we see many of the traditional banks now increasing their digital investment in the face of rapidly rising non-traditional fintech competition and with several major industry mergers/acquisitions underway.

In acknowledging the need to build a strong regional pipeline of development talent, the UAE government introduced its One Million Arab Coders initiative, and we are a global partner for this.

What is Emirates NBD doing to face this skills shortage?

When Emirates NBD carved out its transformation strategy in 2017, our objectives included, firstly, to significantly uplift our end-to-end capabilities across IT infrastructure, architecture, operations and governance, while launching new data and agile capabilities. To achieve this goal we embarked on over 50 ambitious strategic projects to be delivered over four years.

Secondly, we knew we needed to enable higher in-house engineering expertise to reduce our reliance on external vendors given this also increases the cost of IT and time-to-market.  

Together, these two objectives meant hiring in volumes, especially when it came to engineers – mainly software, computer and network engineers – as well as in terms of our testing community. It is in these areas where we see the most significant skill shortages, especially because of the quantities we are looking to hire in.

As a result, looking abroad to recruit in key tech markets like Turkey, India and Jordan was critical for us. From a skill perspective, it’s also critical that the people we hire aren’t just ‘techies’ in the old traditional sense of the word and profession.  

The old days of IT staff sitting in an organisational basement churning out code are long gone. Today, they need to understand the organisational strategy, engage with business stakeholders to solve their problems with solutions crossing multiple technology domains, while speaking business language. They need to do all of this while excelling in a rapidly changing environment with evolving business demand and a relentless pace of new technology.

Technical competency is critical, but it is not everything. A much broader skillset is required, and in hiring for our transformation, we have ensured our local and international recruitment process rigorously evaluates these broad competencies. It’s also something we’ve built into our training plans. We give our tech staff the opportunity to progress upwards along two paths; the first being the traditional path of taking on more managerial responsibility and the second being focused on development niche technical experts. Both are critical for success and for retaining diverse talent for the long-term.

Which incentives are Emirates NBD offering the tech community to work in the organisation?

In addition to what you can consider the traditional people-acquisition levers, what we are also emphasising at Emirates NBD is the opportunity at hand.

Our transformation is no small feat. We’re giving talented tech people the opportunity to work on one of the world’s largest transformation projects; one that is backed with an AED 1 billion [USD 272 million] budget and full strategic support from the bank’s Board and Leadership Team.  

On a practical basis, this means enabling our technology team not only to get their hands dirty with the latest technologies like blockchain, robotics process automation (RPA) and open source but also by building it from the ground up.

What is Emirates NBD doing to stay ahead of the game?

Over the last 18 months, we’ve built our own private cloud in-house, dedicated developer portal and 300+ APIs to drive our open banking agenda.

We’re now running our own Enterprise Data Platform leveraging the best Hadoop and Hana foundational technologies, and of course, we partner with the best technology providers too.

We’re mid-way through the world’s most complex, global Finacle [from Infosys]  upgrade and consolidation, and completed the world’s largest Calypso upgrade to enhance our treasury capabilities in late 2018.

We’re the first bank in the region to launch agile at scale and in 2020, will set our sights on rolling out agile beyond IT to other areas of the bank too.  

These projects also increasingly have a more global reach, thanks to the bank’s continued internationalisation efforts across targeted markets like Saudi Arabia, India and now Turkey with the acquisition of Deniz Bank.

It’s safe to say there’s a lot going on and it demonstrates that one of our key levers in terms of talent acquisition and retention is the fact that we truly have an exciting opportunity for tech practitioners; one with significant breadth and depth in terms of the type and ambition of projects they work on.

We’re working on better branding ourselves as a tech employer of choice, underpinned by these opportunities too. 

We also believe in starting early and finding the best talent before our competitors, so we collaborate with leading UAE universities to help shape their IT curriculum. It helps focus their teaching on the latest innovation, and we can get access to the next generation of future talent, especially when it comes to Emiratis.

What advice would you give to fellow CIOs from your and other industries to nurture and retain talent within their teams?

There is no silver bullet answer when it comes to nurturing and retaining talent. Even more specifically, it can never come down to who offers the biggest paycheque as this of course, becomes both risky and expensive from an organisational perspective and never succeeds in driving long-term talent retention.

The answer rests in having a holistic value proposition: one that combines competitive pay and benefits, alongside life-long learning opportunities. This means exciting projects and access to the best technology, but it also means coaching and soft-skill development from a training perspective.

The best tech practitioners also want to genuinely shape and impact an organisation’s strategic agenda through the technology solutions they provide. They want to work in partnership with business leadership teams – not simply operate as order takers – and work in an organisational culture that inspires innovation. Driving an agile organisational culture and structure is a key enabler of this.

Getting these foundational factors right will help put CIOs in the front seat to attract and retain talent for both the short and long-term.