Morgan Stanley looks to expand Montreal tech hub, targets 300 hires: new regional head

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“The pandemic has been a major accelerator of technology in the workplace. That’s why we’re growing here.”

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Morgan Stanley’s Montreal office is in full recruiting mode — again.

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The U.S. bank behemoth is looking to add at least 300 people this year to its 2,700-person Montreal information technology hub, senior executive Sophia Bennaceur said. Bennaceur, a native of Tunisia who has lived and worked here for 20 years, is being promoted to the position of regional head as of May 1, Morgan Stanley announced Wednesday.

Montreal is one of Morgan Stanley’s biggest technology hubs around the world. Created in 2008 with about 160 people, the office supports key functions of the New York-based bank such as finance and compliance, in addition to performing cybersecurity and Cloud engineering work. A team of Montreal employees is also in charge of developing the bank’s electronic trading platform, Bennaceur said.

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“Investment in tech is huge and is at the core of the bank’s strategy,” Bennaceur said Wednesday in a telephone interview. “The pandemic has been a major accelerator of technology in the workplace. That’s why we’re growing here.”

Under Bennaceur’s leadership, Morgan Stanley plans to keep expanding the Montreal hub and develop closer ties with the local academic community.

“We hire a lot in all the major universities in Montreal,” she said. “We are extremely present in the university space.”

Key positions that Morgan Stanley is currently looking to fill include software developers, systems engineers and artificial intelligence specialists.

Bennaceur is unfazed by Quebec’s labour shortage, pointing out that her employer was able to hire last year despite the increased competition for talent. Morgan Stanley offers competitive compensation and benefits, as well as an attractive culture that provides flexibility, she said. The firm’s Old Montreal offices, which were renovated just before the pandemic, offer plenty of space for collaborative work.

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“Flexibility was not necessarily in the DNA of the firm, but the pandemic really changed that perspective,” she said. “So we are offering flexibility for sure, and it’s going to be a mix of working from home and working from the office. After the past two years, we believe that it’s important to regroup, to collaborate in person, to meet other people and to be mentors. We really believe that a mix between work from home and work from the office is the right model.”

A relaxed dress code is also part of the package.

“We went to full jeans long before the pandemic, something like four years ago,” Bennaceur said. “It’s a tech centre and we need to address the needs of our employees. Personally, I’m very happy to be in jeans all day.”

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After this year, given the central role that technology plays in the bank’s strategy, “there is definitely further growth to expect” in staffing, Bennaceur added. “It’s just a bit difficult to say what the number will be.”

Bennaceur will replace Alan Vesprini, who is retiring after 12 years with the firm. A two-decade veteran of the investment banking industry, Bennaceur joined Morgan Stanley in 2016 as the chief operating officer in Montreal. At the time, the U.S. bank had about 900 employees here.

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