COMMENT: Should you bother taking an operations job in an investment bank?

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Operations job banking

You're a student who wants to work in an investment bank. You've applied for a front office job in sales and trading and you don't have an offer. What you do have though is an offer to work in operations - in trade booking, settlements or clearing. Do you accept? Well.

Before you accept any job in operations, you need to know that if banks could close down their operations departments, they would do so in a heartbeat.

For a bank, operations simply a cost. It's also a high cost due to their poor internal booking systems. When you work in operations you are acutely aware of this.

My own observations of operations careers in action reflect the dangers. When I started working on the trading floor I worked next to a team of seven operations women and men. They were working extremely hard, booking one trade after the other manually, day in day out.

If that sounds boring, it was. None of that team liked what they were doing. Some had to do it for an income, others were hoping to jump to the other side and work as a trader. They were all confused about how they'd progress in their jobs.

After around a year or so, people in the ops team started to look panicked. It turned out that management wanted to move their function out of London. They'd been told they could either move to another country, find alternative work internally, or accept redundancy. Five of them left. One moved into client onboarding. Only one managed to actually transition to becoming a trader (and he'd secretly been taking CFA exams on the sly).

The thing is that operations (ops) is a thankless job. All you do is book trades and with the cumbersome process at some banks, the chances of errors are high - no matter how good you are. It's almost certain, therefore, that you are going to get an email with a Managing Director CCed saying that a focus/priority account has complained about how bad you are. Unless operations is what you want to do and are aware of the stresses involved including late nights of trying to re-book trades (sometimes it’s because of a system breaking down or a human error), it's probably best avoided.

And if you’re joining operations just to hope to get into sales trading and trading, then good luck to you. Salespeople and traders are themselves under pressure. - Trading is more algorithmic and sales is becoming increasingly low touch.  Unless you have excellent coding or trading skills, a move is now very unlikely to happen. If you work in ops and someone promises to help you move internally, don't get too excited. Within a year or two, that person is highly likely to have disappeared themselves.

A job in operations is a double edged sword. If you’re good at ops, the firm is more likely not want move you because they need you. And if you're not good at it, you won't last. Either way, you're in danger of feeling unfulfilled and underpaid.

Gauthier Bourque is a pseudonym

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