Guest Comment: your best bets in the back office

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Anton Murray looks at where the best back and middle-office opportunities will be this year. Watch out for his follow-up article next week, which examines the other (bad) side of the coin - the support functions most likely to take a hit in 2009.

The operations and middle-office sectors of banking and funds management were badly affected by the broader slowdown within financial markets last year, but in early 2009 they are becoming a comparatively safe environment to work in.

Traditionally investment banks and fund managers have always sought to run their operations and middle-office businesses as efficiently as possible. This leanness creates security during the current market turbulence, and also some opportunities for those seeking positions.

Perhaps unlike in the front office, throughout 2009 many firms are likely to continue replacement hiring. Any over-capacity within operations or the middle office would have already been dealt with in 2008 via redundancies and restructuring. Given this, most unexpected departures throughout the year will likely need to be replaced.

Areas of growth and opportunity for employment during 2008 are likely to be varied and include the following:

· The upcoming carbon emissions trading scheme will create opportunities as banks look to establish energy trading, pricing and operations teams. So if you have a background in commodities, this is the area to target.

· Ideally if you can secure a job with any of the Big Four retail banks - which all have sizeable institutional sales and trading operations - this is a good place to hide out while the market is turbulent. Sure, the bonuses typically won't be as generous as working for a global IB, but it's obviously preferable to be working in a business that's actually turning a profit.

· There are likely to be opportunities in corporate treasury. Preferably a corporate treasury operations role with a large listed household name like BHP, Woolworths etc.

· Working for a cashed-up big fund manager, or superannuation fund is also a good place to be right now. And there will be opportunities with these types of businesses throughout 2009. Given Australia's compulsory superannuation contribution regime, the money will continue to flow into super funds, regardless of the performance of the market, and this money needs to be managed and supported by operations staff.

· Insurance, retail or superannuation operations work isn't nearly as dynamic as IB, wealth management, or funds management, but opportunities should remain constantly available over the next 12 months.

· Any semi-government businesses is a good bet. Exchanges or regulators are great stable environments to be in right now, if you can get in. Unfortunately they usually run quite small operations teams, with stable staff and low public-service turnover.

· Opportunities will exist for operations roles within debt collection, accounts receivable or credit control. Any jobs focused on getting money from retail or corporate clients that are defaulting on loans will be in demand.

· Given the first-home-buyer incentives, any operations roles supporting retail mortgages should remain available through 2009, although avoid non-bank lenders that will be finding it very difficult to gain access to funding.

· Openings will continue to be available in proprietary trading businesses or desks, where profit is made intra-day, irrespective of broadly downward trending markets.

· Compliance, risk and legal roles within financial services seem to be quite resilient at the moment, although clients appear to be hiring candidates with a strong background in these areas, rather than junior hires.

Anton Murray is the director of Anton Murray Consulting, a specialist financial markets recruiting business based in Sydney with a focus on funds management, investment banking, and wealth management.

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