In theory, knowing how to code should help future-proof your job in pretty much any industry, including investment banking. But when it comes to financial IT, something is afoot that has the potential to undermine banks’ demand for developers in the very near future: low-code systems are taking off, big time.
Low-code or no-code systems (a.k.a. Rapid Application Development Platforms) are systems that allow non-coders to develop tools using graphical interfaces rather than coding languages. Onimously, ex-Github CEO Chris Wanstrath predicted that low-code environments would all but eliminate the need for developers back in 2017.
“We think the future of coding is no coding at all,” said Wanstrath, who added that, as coding is automated, humans will be liberated to focus on higher-level tasks such as strategy and design instead.
Fast-forward three years, and Google Cloud has just launched a new Business Application Platform, which includes an area for no-code application development. Goldman Sachs is looking for someone with “deep understanding” of low code in a large enterprise environment to work on PANORAMA, its new “self-service technology” product built around a “digital community” of 4,000 “self-service developers” (i.e., people who can use low code to develop their own products). And Citi has just made an undisclosed ‘strategic investment’ in Genesis, a low-code platform designed specifically for the financial markets.
For the moment, it’s Genesis that should probably raise the most prominent goosebumps for developers in the banking industry. Founded by Stephen Murphy, a former equities trading developer at Goldman Sachs, head of U.S. front office IT at Merrill Lynch and head of U.S. equities and structured products IT at HSBC, Genesis has financial markets coding in its DNA. Case studies of financial services users on the company’s website describe how they were able to launch new analytics solutions without a team of developers, or cut developers’ workload significantly.
“Before, the development team would spend 50% of every build working out how we’re going to interpret the data, how we’re going to normalise it, how to build it with the right permissions – all the stuff that isn’t actually about the functionality you want,” said Will Winzor-Saile, a partner at equities brokerage Redburn, of the transformation affected by working with Genesis instead of coding from scratch.
But Murphy disputes that Genesis will reduce banks’ need for developers: “Our view is that Low Code will not reduce demand for developers, what we see is that it is actually enabling more people to develop and the demand is increasing more than ever.”
Genesis isn’t the only finance-focused low code environment available. Appian is also focused across financial services, banking and capital markets, and boasts clients such as Credit Suisse, Barclays and Vontobel.
Some in the industry are skeptical that low code environments will be as revolutionary as might be supposed. “There is a long history of people in banking using Excel and VBA to automate basic stuff and low code just seems to be a better version of that,” said one senior technologist. However, he predicted that low code will become increasingly popular as banks seek to automate manual tasks and enable users to manipulate data (and indeed, this seems to be what Goldman is aiming at with PANORAMA).
As low code infiltrates the industry, Murphy predicts that, rather than reducing the need for developers, it will lead to demand for a different kind of skillset. In future, more developers will need to have functional problem-solving skills rather than highly technical skills, Murphy predicted. They will also need to know how to get the most out of low-code platforms.
When everyone’s a developer by virtue of access to low-code environments, developers may risk feeling commoditized. The future for coders could yet be rather different to the past.
A modified version of this article originally appeared in eFinancialCareers.