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Bank of America fights war for tech talent by retraining own employees

Bank of America Corp

Bank of America fights war for tech talent by retraining own employees

Internal staff account for more than 80% of new hires at technology and operations unit

Bank of America set up a training arm in 2018 to teach its staff skills such as coding and data analytics © Chris Keane/Bloomberg

Like many financial groups, Bank of America has been facing a shortage of technology workers for its digital operations. Its response has been to turn inward, retraining its own workers at an internal online “university”.

Cathy Bessant, BofA’s chief operations and technology officer, told the Financial Times the bank set up the training arm in 2018 to teach staff — from tellers to traders — skills such as coding and data analytics.

As the faster pace of digitisation has made competition for workers with tech skills more intense, BofA has been leaning more heavily on its own workers to fill the void and thereby hold down hiring costs.

More than 80 per cent of the hires at Bessant’s division in the past 12 months came from within the company, up from 39 per cent before the pandemic, BofA said. Although the US bank does not reveal specific hiring numbers, it said it had hired “thousands” of people to work in operations and technology.

“There’s no question that it takes longer to fill openings and that’s why the internal hiring goal actually helps us relieve pressure,” Bessant said. “Now, we have to make sure that the mechanisms that we put together to train and retrain at scale to meet that need are institutionalised.”

Overall, BofA cut 2,500 jobs in the second quarter of this year, after pandemic lockdowns accelerated the adoption of online banking. Analysts have predicted automation will erase up to 200,000 jobs from the US banking industry over the next decade.

However, Bessant’s team held steady at about 95,000 — accounting for slightly under half of all bank employees — as BofA pivoted during the pandemic to keep up with the demand for digital services. Digital channels accounted for 44 per cent of all account openings and loan originations in the three months to the end of June, up from 39 per cent in the same period in 2019.

Hiring internally allowed the bank to be less reliant on the cyclicality of the labour market, Bessant said.

“That’s a way to grow responsibly,” she said. “I am more confident than ever that our needs in the future can be met by our employees of today.”

Formal employee training programmes are rare in the US, but they are growing in number. Only 1.7 per cent of employers were willing to provide job training to workers in June, but that was up 49 per cent from the same period in 2019, according to the labour analytics software company Burning Glass.

Other Wall Street groups have launched initiatives to reskill workers as technologies such as artificial intelligence, automated trading and digital underwriting reshape the business of banking.

JPMorgan Chase has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in training programmes in recent years and requires incoming asset management and investment banking analysts to take coding classes.

The tech worker programme at BofA echoes its strategies in other parts of its business. In 2017 BofA’s wealth management division said it would shift its focus from the expensive practice of poaching veteran brokers from competitors to training recruits with less experience.

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