I recently moved to a large bank as a consultant and looking at the strategies, I understand the projects I'm working on are NOT mission critical and have less priority. but what I'm observing is millions of dollars are being spent and nothing is getting done. Everyone is skipping work and I have ridiculously little amount of work to do. I discussed this with my manager very indirectly but he says this is the "work culture" here. Aside from being worried about the bank's money, I'm worried that the projects might get cancelled. I have a key technical position here and I don't know how to deal with this situation. Any help is appreciated!
As a consultant at a large bank, I'm sorry to say that this is not uncommon at all and these projects can run for years and years. I don't know if I'd call it a culture but I'd definitely say that it's something that is observable in a number of large organisations, not just finance.
I'd add that the best thing I can suggest is that you observe, work out what the business need or want in the project you're leading and "be the change you want to see".
What you're experiencing is working for a business, really any business, who's core competency is not software/technology. I promise if you head over in to the wealth management division of your bank, work is getting done at a reasonable pace.
The fact of the matter is that when working for a business who's core competency is not yours, you're going to find varying degrees of this attitude. The work is simply not as important to the brass as the core of the business is, and frankly they rarely know enough about technology to even realize that those divisions are under performing. Sometimes you'll find a business who has a really competent CTO that pushes for proper practices, but rarely.
You can certainly "be the change you want to be" as Michael suggested, and that's a good policy in life in general...but don't get frustrated when nothing really changes. People, as a rule, will take as much rope as they are given. In a scenario where your core competency does not line up with the mission critical parts of the business, people are going to take a lot of rope.
Often the slackers at 'your level' are there because their managers are slackers at 'their level'. In short, they don't want people campaigning for resources that other departments need more, so things kind of muddle along slowly. What happens, of course, if some crisis erupts that needs action right away - this is the 'utility worker' model - most of the time the people on the power lines don't have much to do, but when everything ices up they're in over their heads. Best thing to do is drill into your systems and know them thoroughly. While these other people might be slow, they might eventually wake up to the fact that their pay and advancement is commensurate with their output.
Financial services is an area where testing and security are paramount - thus the best thing to do is try in every way you can to 'bust' the systems you're responsible for. Do the absolute best you can to harden them up, even if they aren't changing much.