As technology transforms finance, Julius Baer is making it a driver of growth. To do so, the Bank aims to attract the brightest software engineers – while in fierce competition with tech giants. Read how Filipe, who leads the software engineering team, is forging a cultural change, empowered to make an impact.
When Filipe first joined Julius Baer, his friends teased him. Why was he joining a ‘conservative’ bank when he could be working for a cool tech startup?
Yet just over six months into the job that he started in May 2021, Filipe, a 37-year-old Brazilian, is passionate about his task of transforming Julius Baer into a company where software engineering is a core skill, with a dynamism more typical of a tech business. Succeeding will make Julius Baer the first wealth management company to harness tech to sharpen its client offering.
“We’re going to close the gap between what we are today and a tech company, although we need to be pragmatic about what’s possible in a bank,” Filipe enthuses. “We’re going to develop software very much like a tech company, with very modern processes and ways of working.
“If you look at Tesla, it’s a software company that happens to build cars,” he adds. “You have many examples of this in different industries. Software is differentiating companies. A car is a car: four wheels and a steering wheel. But why do you buy a Tesla? Because of the software behind it.”
Founded in 1890, Julius Baer has always prided itself on the entrepreneurial instincts of its 6,600 people worldwide. In 1980, it was the first Swiss private bank to go public. For the past 20 years, it grew by acquisition. In the past few years, though, the focus has switched to growing organically – accelerating the investments in human advice and technology to drive sustainable profit growth.
“If we’re able to really have a well-oiled machine in terms of building software, we’ll be able to release updates often, run experiments,” notes Filipe. “We can ask: are we adding the value? If it’s a yes, let’s go down this road. If it’s no, let’s not go down this road. The end result is: we’ll be able to create more value for our clients quicker. That’s really the bottom line.”
From a young age, Filipe discovered his love of using technology to make a practical difference. In his late teens, he was awarded an internship at the Brazilian Space Agency, near home in the state of São Paulo. He went on to study at the Federal University of Itajubá, later moving to London and spearheading software development at a series of small, fast-growing companies. His next stop was Zurich, where he first joined Doodle, a scheduling company, and eventually Julius Baer.
At Julius Baer, he has a software team of about 100 people. In this role, he prioritises the agile DevOps methodology, which turbocharges the software development cycle. Even before Filipe joined, the Bank had built a software development platform in the cloud, called DevCloud, which meant that it could commission independent software developers without any of the security constraints associated with other banks.
“We can have a really fast-paced environment there, which is amazing,” explains Filipe. “It’s a brilliant platform. Now we need to take it to the next level. How can we actually make the most of it? How can we really leverage this whole new system to make Julius Baer as dynamic as a tech company?
“If you can put things in production faster, it’s going to be a game-changer. I think there are many people in the market who will look at us and say, ‘This is amazing. I don’t know how these guys pulled this off.’"
Software engineers to lead the transition
As part of the drive to transform Julius Baer into a tech disruptor in a bank’s ‘clothing’, Filipe needs more people like him: software engineers who want to make a meaningful difference, to be part of creating a software development team that will act as an engine for growth. So, what is he looking for in new employees?
“I want people who are proactive problem solvers, who are team players, happy to have straightforward conversations in a transparent environment, as well as to challenge the status quo. Now, if the person knows Java or Python, to be honest, is secondary because we can very easily train people to do that; but the right behaviour is so hard to find.”
In return, tech recruits will find themselves in a friendly, supportive environment, where they can be empowered. What’s more, the work goes beyond standard programming, offering an opportunity to make a difference. “It’s exciting because there are major problems doing technically complex things that you don’t see everywhere. There are a lot of different programmes at Julius Baer.”
Still relatively new to his own job, Filipe brings with him a fresh perspective. He believes that the DevCloud platform is ahead of competition – and even ahead of some tech companies. To build on this, he says: “the question we must keep asking ourselves is: how can we build on top of that to put the client centre stage, to really drive value for the client?”