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Meet the woman automating the risk and finance functions in banking

If you’re a risk manager or an accountant in an investment bank then Julie Shapiro might look like your nemesis. An electrical engineering major with a decade and a half’s “fingers to keyboard” coding experience, Shapiro has worked in banking technology since 1993. She was head of risk technology at JPMorgan for six years and since July 2017 she’s been head of risk and finance technology at UBS. As banks everywhere seek to automate their back and middle offices to save costs, Shapiro’s skills are distinctly of the moment.

Take model testing and validation. Ever since Basel IV required that banks recalibrate the models that value their risk-weighted assets to meet regulatory standards, organisations have been compelled to hire small armies of model validation professionals, many of them frustrated quants who have been known to complain bitterly about the repetitive nature of their roles. They may soon be relieved: Shapiro’s team are busy creating the kind of environment that will ultimately allow artificial intelligence to take over elements of the validation process. “We need data to allow us to back test, train and calibrate models,” says Shapiro.  “We’re creating a data eco-system to support that kind of activity.”

Based in New York, Shapiro manages a team of people who run risk and accounting technology across UBS. Both are the sorts of functions which – in the words of ex-Deutsche Bank CEO John Cryan, employ a lot of staff who spend their time "basically being an abacus" – and both are being upturned by innovation. Shapiro’s remit isn’t restricted to model validation – she’s also looking at the use of analytics and data for stress testing and scenario analyses, and at introducing AI into spotting financial crime and money laundering attempts. "Machine learning won’t replace humans, but enables humans to focus on more value added activities. One example would be the reduction of false positives in the AML space, says Shapiro: “You’re going to see a lot more of it in the next few years”

As a mother who’s worked in banking technology all her adult life, Shapiro is the antithesis of male technologist stereotype. She challenges the validity of it in any case: “There is a terrific pipeline of young women coming into the industry.” Like Goldman’s Joanna Hannaford, she says banking jobs are not synonymous with overwhelming workloads: “I have always found it manageable and flexible.”

Shapiro hasn’t always worked to automate the risk and finance functions. When she began her career at JPMorgan in 1993, she was supporting the trading floor, a role that has a reputation for being particularly demanding in banking in technology but which Shapiro says wasn’t so different (teams in all areas are “engaged and energized”). She was also actively coding herself, whereas now she simply manages coders. “Earlier I my career I thought maybe I wanted to stay technical because I enjoyed solving those technical problems,” says Shapiro. “But what I’ve found is that running a large team involves a different set of challenges and problems to solve, which I love as much as coding – if not more.”

Shapiro says banks should do a better job of publicizing the positives of their technology roles. End users are close by and able to give immediate feedback and banks are hugely diverse organizations within organizations. It’s this diversity that has kept her in banking technology throughout her career, says Shapiro.

If you want to work for her, you’ll need to be attuned to your own faultlines. “I like to ask people what kinds of things come up when they get feedback from their manager,” says Shapiro. “I’m looking for self-awareness and an appreciation of what takes you out of your comfort zone.”

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AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor

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