Is it possible to move from back to front office?

Discussion in 'Get The Job' started by AlexLielacher, Mar 29, 2016.

  1. AlexLielacher

    AlexLielacher Resident Professional

    In the 1980s and 90s many people have started their careers in banking in the back office and worked themselves up the ladder to eventually become high-profile traders or sales people. However, nowadays it has become increasingly difficult to move up the ranks within an investment bank. So, is it still possible to move from the back and middle office to the front office or not?

    There is no straightforward yes or no answer to this question in my opinion. My view on the topic is:

    Yes, if you are starting your career in the back/middle office at a small bank or a smaller branch or regional office of a large bank.

    No, if you are starting out in the back/middle office at a large investment bank in one of their major hubs.

    Let me elaborate.

    If you are starting out as a junior in a usual back office role such as settlements, corporate actions, client services or product control at a major European city of a large investment bank, it will be very difficult to move to the front office. The reason for that is that A, you are usually in a different building from the front office and have very little to no physical contact with the staff in the front office (building relationships is hard), and B, for regulatory reasons banks do not move their back office staff to the front as that caused operational risk issues in the past (for example as it happened with Nick Leeson).

    Also, if you are in one of the major hubs of a bank, where each back and middle office role is very specific, it will be hard to move as your manager will want you to stay and do the job you have been trained to do. And also, your transferable skills for another role will rather be limited.

    If you are working in back or middle office at a small bank or at a smaller branch/regional office of a large bank, then you do have a much better chance of moving from back to front office. If, for example, the trading floor (including back and middle office) is only comprised of 50 people, it is easy to build relationships with the managers of the front office desks and eventually highlight to them that you are keen to move into a front office role. If you are good and have a good reputation on the trading floor, they are definitely going to consider you when making the next junior hire. I have seen this happen when I worked in the London branch of an Australian bank, where the entire trading floor (incl. technology, back & middle office) was composed of around 70 people only.

    Whether you can move to front office or not is heavily dependent on your role. If, for example, you work as trade support/sales support in the middle office and have daily interactions with trading/sales or even better you sit with the sales/trading guys (as a trading/sales assistant), then making the jump to the front office role is much more likely. In fact, if you are a sales or trading assistant, it is pretty clear that you are there because you want to make that jump into front office.

    Overall I would say that, if you think that starting in back office in the London office of a major investment bank is going to mean that you will become a hot-shot trader in the near future, don't really have high hopes. On the other hand, if you are at a small shop and you build relationships with the key people, you can find yourself moving from the back to the front office. It won’t be easy, but it’s definitely doable; I seen it happen before.
  2. Daniel Plainview

    Daniel Plainview Revered Member Professional

    Definitely agree with this. The smaller the office, from front to back, the more chance you have of making an impression.

    In my experience, the non-front office roles that have the most potential are ones in risk management, and trade/sales support, as Alex mentioned. These are roles where contact with the front-office - and importantly, vital pre-trade contact - is done on a daily basis, so traders and salespeople can see your ability under pressure first hand. Some fairly complex knowledge of derivatives will help you shine in a risk management role. This knowledge is of course vital in a front office derivatives role, so a move from middle to front becomes easier if you can demonstrate your understanding of such subjects.

    If you're in confirmations, for example, then there is no skills overlap between you and the front-office, so from there it would be wise to get yourself into one of the aforementioned roles. Again as Alex says, this will take time, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. It's certainly not worth getting disheartened about.
    Canary Wharfian likes this.
  3. SmallCapPM

    SmallCapPM New Member Professional

    US college
    Yes, the key is definitely connecting with the right people. If you are aiming to make the move make sure you go along to social functions where you may be able to connect with front office people. There will always be demand for sharp, enthusiastic go-getters so make sure you come across in a positive light. I would also suggest getting involved in charity fund-raising events. You would be surprised how much an unusual sporting challenge can bring you into conversations with the right people.