Financial Technology

How Discover’s skills lab shapes its newest recruits | PaymentsSource

There are a lot of people looking for work in financial technology, but it’s not always easy to match them to the right job for their skills. Discover is trying to address this through a new training program. 

“Everyone’s dream is to get people with ten years of data management experience, but that supply isn’t out there,” said Simon Kho, director of emerging talent programs at Discover.  “So let’s not wait for three years, let’s get the best and brightest now and invest in that talent.”

Discover recently opened its Advanced Analytics Resource Center in Chicago. The center, called AARC@606, is focused on analytics and data science, among other areas of financial technology related to payment cards. The program is designed to match people with technology experience or skills to specific initiatives at Discover, including projects that have not yet started.

“People have usually thought of staffing models to fill existing needs, but what we’re trying to do is plan and anticipate what those future needs are,” Kho said. 

The center in Chicago is based on technology development practices in Discover’s Asian markets, Kho said. Kho did not give a specific example of a project underway or completed through the program, saying the Chicago center is still in its early stages.

While many fintechs are cutting staff as their valuations and stock prices decline, established traditional payment companies are hiring technology workers, often in large numbers. Mastercard, Visa, American Express and Discover all posted strong earnings in the most recent quarter, with executives saying their technology strategies are long-term and not necessarily bound by short-term market swings. 

American Express plans to hire more than 1,000 technology workers, while Visa has more than 3,800 current openings. Mastercard has more than 1,300 openings. While the job postings aren’t broken down, a large portion of the positions are for people who are skilled in data science or related fields. 

“A lot of the hiring is in [Science, Technology, Engineering and Math] talent, even though we’re known for credit card expertise,” Kho said. 

Matching these openings to new workers coming from fintechs or from universities is not easy, and demand among the card companies and other firms looking for data specialists is creating competition. 

U.S. universities graduate more than 300,000 students in STEM programs yearly, or about 18% of all graduates, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. But despite that, there is still a potential data science gap, with the National Center for Labor Statistics projecting a 26% growth in overall jobs requiring data science skills by 2026.  

“Training and exposure to multiple areas inside the company are a great way for Discover to attract fintech talent and to ensure that they can successfully transition from a startup environment into a more established financial services firm,” said Anne Sample, CEO and owner of Navigate Forward, an executive transition service. 

Data-science skills can be applied to a variety of tasks within financial services and payments, including security and credit risk, marketing, and spotting new use cases for emerging cloud and blockchain technology. Payment innovations such as checkout-free retail, for example, can use real-time video of people shopping to measure how long patrons spend looking at items on shelves, or how shoppers respond to marketing offers, to inform future sales. And fraud prevention strategies use behavior analysis to spot signs of illegal activity. 

“Even as there are questions about the strength of the economy, you’ll see an upward move in data scientist roles that are in demand,” Kho said. “The job listings are increasing in almost every industry that’s out there.” 

The Chicago center initially plans to hire about 150 people, and it plans to expand based on the success of the initial class. It will provide each employee with exposure to different parts of Discover’s business. Over time, the new staff members will specialize in a chosen area and eventually transfer to a permanent role in that department. The staff are required to live in the Chicago area (Discover is headquartered in suburban Chicago), though they will work on a hybrid in office/at home schedule. 

Discover is recruiting through a wide net, including professional organizations, universities and general channels, betting there are people who have worked at fintechs or who are training for a career in fintech that may be amenable to joining an established financial institution if there is an opportunity to diversify their skills. 

Discover also recently opened a customer care center in Chatham, Illinois, where the company plans to employ more than 1,000 people by 2024. That center also includes a technology hub that trains workers in business technology. 

“It’s good timing, with the tech layoffs and slowdowns,” said Steve Murphy, director of Mercator Advisory Group’s Commercial and Enterprise Payments Advisory Service. “Traditional financial companies have a tough time drawing talent, so using a special scheme to get some in-house tech expertise is a logical approach.”

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