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What you can do in technology at a bank

Placement student Adam Kempner gives Lucy Mair an introduction to Bank of America Merrill Lynch's technology division
Technology at a bank

Adam Kempner is a computer science student at Loughborough University. Three months ago he began a 12-month industrial placement in technology infrastructure at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Here, he tells us about the division and what he's been up to so far.

Why are you interested in technology within banking?

When I was a little kid everyone wanted to be a footballer, but I always had an interest in finance. I decided to study computer science at university because every business uses technology, so there are lots of career opportunities in this area. I chose to go into a technology role at a bank because the work here is very mathematical, always interesting and challenging, and because of my interest in finance, economics and current affairs.

Why did you apply to Bank of America Merrill Lynch?

I spoke to people at the bank to get a sense of the culture before I applied, and liked what I heard. At Bank of America Merrill Lynch there's very little hierarchy and even the most junior people have exposure to senior management. For example, I can call anyone within the business and they'll pick up the phone and spend time speaking to me. The bank also offers lots of training and support to interns and placement students to help them get onto the graduate scheme and ultimately become permanent employees.

What does the technology division do?

There are two sides to technology: development, which focuses on designing programmes and applications for the business; and infrastructure, which provides services that are the foundation of the business, such as information systems and communications hardware. Within these two areas there are lots of smaller, specialised teams.

You should never underestimate the importance of technology to a bank's business. All transactions are carried out on computers and automated through the bank's network. So without technology there's no business, and no revenue. Technology has changed the way banking works and with constant innovation it will continue to do so.

What's your role, and what does it involve?

I work in technology infrastructure and my team is responsible for closing a data centre, which is where the bank's computer systems and components are stored. We're currently working on an initiative to make the systems operate more efficiently. In practice, this means carrying out data analysis, investigating who uses the infrastructure and how frequently, considering what changes can be made and then implementing those changes.

Since I started my placement I've also created a more efficient spreadsheet system to be used in meetings, and I've project managed the move of a piece of infrastructure, which involved contacting all of the users, planning how it could be migrated, and then carrying out the move.

What's a typical day like for you?

There's little routine to what I'm doing, and that's one of the things I enjoy most about the job. I get work from my manager, but I also support other members of the team so new projects are constantly coming up. My hours are fairly regular though. I usually work from 9am to 6pm during the week and the occasional weekend.

What did you expect working at an investment bank to be like?

Before I started the placement I was apprehensive because I hadn't been told exactly what I would be doing and I didn't really know what to expect. I thought each project would take several weeks to complete, but that's not the case - it's very fast-paced and intense. I had prepared myself for a steep learning curve, but it has been even steeper than I imagined. It's challenging, but that's exactly what I wanted: I've learned so much already and every day I pick up something new.

I didn't expect all the opportunities and support I've received from people across the bank, so that's been a pleasant surprise!

What training have you received?

My first two weeks were dedicated to training. Bank of America Merrill Lynch wants everyone to understand how the bank works, so I received training in the basics of finance and investment banking as well as technical training specific to my role.

But training doesn't stop there. My manager often sits me down to explain new things as they arise and there are lots of professional training days at the bank that anyone can sign up to and attend.

How helpful is your university course to your day-to-day tasks?

None of the modules from my course is directly relevant to my work at the bank. But what I have found useful from my time at university is the experience of doing group projects. There's a strong emphasis on teamwork at the bank, so it's very important to work well with others.

For some roles you need technical expertise, but generally speaking it doesn't matter what you've studied. Enthusiasm and willingness to learn are more important than what you know.

What has been the biggest challenge you've faced?

Learning a lot in a very short space of time. It's an unwritten rule that if you're told something once, you're expected to remember it. You have to pick things up quickly and make sure you don't make the same mistake twice!

What's the most important thing you've learnt?

On my first day my manager advised me to never turn down an opportunity. Since then, I've joined the technology infrastructure graduate group, which comes together to develop ideas on how our infrastructure could be improved and, if the ideas are feasible, to liaise with senior management and implement them.

Through the connections I've made in this group, I've been invited to participate in the bank's Green IT initiative. I recently delivered a presentation about how the bank is innovating with eco-friendly technology and now I've been put in charge of a Green IT project. So I'm glad I took his advice - I've learnt here that every opportunity can lead to something else.