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Four middle office jobs which may allow you to become a trader

If you want to go into trading, but you didn’t manage to get a position as a trader straight out of university, you may be feeling a little thwarted.

Most banks hire fewer MBAs into sales and trading positions than into M&A or capital markets, so it can be difficult to ride the top business school route into trading. Fortunately, there are other less expensive paths to the trading desk. They are listed below, in order of appropriateness.

1) Desk assistant

Moving into trading is all about getting visibility with the people who are traders
already. The best method of achieving this is to be their desk assistant.

Desk assistants are junior people who, among other things, fetch coffee book trades, run risk analyses, take rudimentary client orders, and help resolve failed trades. Desk assistants are most likely to become traders in a future incarnation.

“Anything that’s slightly customer facing is going to give you an advantage,” says Grant Ashton, former head of European credit trading at Barclays Capital. “Desk assistants also understand the transactional element of a trade.

According to a senior commodities trader at one European bank, desk assistants also have the advantage of proliferating as banks tighten controls. “Historically, we didn’t have trading assistants, but they’re becoming increasingly prevalent,” he says.

2) IT – desk support

You won’t become a trader if you’re working on IT systems for the HR department, but you may be able to move into trading if you’re working as IT desktop support on a trading floor.

“I have seen a gazillion people go into trading from IT roles,” says Ashton. “Traders are very dependent on their desk support people, particularly those who support new electronic trading systems and multilateral trading facilities (MTFs).”

You’re most likely to move into trading from IT (as from any other job here) if you demonstrate your enthusiasm by taking the Certificate in Securities and Financial Derivatives exam run by the Chartered Institute of Securities and Investment.

3) Risk – market risk, specifically

“Market risk isn’t really seen as a middle office function any more,” says David Butter of risk recruitment firm GRS. “Market risk professionals are now largely involved in making trading decisions, which means it’s a natural succession for them to start managing their own money.”

Some banks are more partial to market risk professionals becoming traders than others, says Butter. However, he declined to mention which ones.

4) Product control

You may possibly be able to move into trading from product control, but as we noted previously, it’s kind of unlikely.

This is because product controllers are often perceived to be a) geeky accountants, b) lacking in flair, c) annoying. “In the main, traders hate their product controllers,” says Ashton. “You are rowing with them all the time and they’re always telling you your stuff is mismarked.”

As a result, he says product controllers are most likely to move into sales.

Comments (23)

  1. If only Jérôme Kerviel hadn’t f***ed it up!!

  2. Is desk assistant same as trade support???

  3. @Donkey – yes

    Sarah, Editor, eFinancialCareers Reply
  4. Who cares about people with spikey hair and pointy shoes. Go back to selling fruit and veg!!!

  5. Hi. I thought desk assistants do different jobs to trade support. And that they sit on the desk, have access to the trading floor, while trade support sits in another room, or even floor?

  6. @Xanthus – as far as I’m aware they’re pretty much the same thing, although – yes – some banks have separate trade support functions to help with more complex trades. If there’s a choice between desk assistant or trade support, desk assistant will probably give you more exposure.

    Sarah, Editor, eFinancialCareers Reply
  7. I thought to be a desk assistant – you had to be a good looking female? this is a genuine questions

    tradingfloornewbie Reply
  8. @tradingfloornewbie
    1.) Generally, that is true and
    2.) it certainly helps

    Mohammed Al-Dossary Reply
  9. And what about to Derivatives Credt Risk analyst?

  10. Desk assistant = FO (no doubt the best way to become a trader)
    Product control = MO
    Trade support = BO

  11. 2) It desktop support to trader? Heh, I really don’t think so Sarah. The specific position doesn’t even give you exposure to the business part of the job. It’s like implying that actual skills have very little to do with the hiring process in FO. If not in positions where money’s at stake, where?

    I am not a trader but I (believe I) know that being one requires a (more or less) specific set of skills/ qualities. Having access to the desk won’t get you a trader’s job. MO or TA to FO also REALLY hard to pull of. And if you manage to do that, you’ve probably earned it. Arguably risk management is more relevant.

  12. So whats the diff between desk ass and trade support (in terms of what they do?)

  13. @rupertpp
    Desk assistant = MO but based on trading floor……..depends what kind of desk assistant as well, some people call trader assistant a desk assistant however, some people call PA’s a desk assistant……clearly trader assistant can do it
    Trade Support = MO…………..definitely!!! You can move from trade support to FO but it will be down to how proactive you are
    oh and BO = setttlements, clearing etc etc

    Desk assistant (trader assistant) is not the same as trade support, desk assistant works closely with traders minute by minute, trade support is there for reconciliations, reports, trade booking etc etc but still work fairly closely with traders….. desk assistant is there to do the initial risk etc etc

    In general :
    let’s be clear, I know a few product controllers that have moved to trading but it depends how likeable…..and smart you are!!! In general you can move from MO to FO if you know what you are doing and go about things the right way, i.e approach low level people (VPs) first before moving up the food chain!! Is easier to do it to sales than trading too!!

  14. What are the chances of moving into a front office role with an ACA (Chartered accountant) qualification from a Big 4 Firm in London?

  15. Which kind of trader the article talking about ?

    Prop trader?

    or Trader who deals on behalf of clients?

  16. I think also as the author has alluded to, you need to be at the right bank. Some banks have a culture of only recruiting from outside for trader roles, and even desk assistant roles. This makes it next to impossible to move if you are within the 4 walls, although there is a slim chance if you have lovely legs and know how to walk in heels. ;o)

    In terms of product control, if you happen to be working a PC role which strangely seems like the glue between systems and finance, you are in the wrong ballpark, perhaps not even the right planet. Yes, you are called a product controller, but let’s be honest, a reconciliation, BS substantiation expert has no chance of moving to FO.

    Get out now. Go for a half way house that gives you investor, customer experience, then come back to the FO idea, thats if you still want it.

  17. @Yiannis
    I think when Sarah says IT desktop support she may be referring to someone working in trading technologgy eg.people who develop and support the systems that do all the work ;)
    I know of at least 10 traders in the bank I work for who have a technology background

  18. i did the move at the old JP 14yrs ago from an accounting role to derivative sales. I would say that moving to trading would be practically impossible (perhaps some of the more exotic stuff from a risk managment position). Be prepared to have a brutal experience with no respect from your new peers in front office (who think you’re second tier by definition) and those you left behind who will seeth with resentment. Toughens you up nicely for a world in FO! Be realistic, expect to be te junior and go for easier FO positions (DCM, Sales, Junior banking).

  19. i say, follow your dreams!! I know for a fact that you can move from a product control role to trading as someone I know has done it at Nomura in the last 2 yrs. Don’t listen to half the advice on here, if you get on well with the traders, never mess up in a big way, can anticipate their requests by understanding what they are doing and are there at the right time (i.e. when they are looking for people) then there is a chance that they will take you on. FACT! talkng of facts, the fact is most people do not have the balls to really push things to see whether they can get in and if you don’t ask, you will not get anything!

    dreams are made of these Reply
  20. As an ex product controller who is now a trader I can definitely say it is possible. However I often question the move…I work twice as hard, have twice the stress and half the job security…and I only earn the same amount of money (AND had to take a huge cut to start with…as contracting product controllers get paid surprisingly well). Im hoping it will pay off in the end…but making the move is certainly not a passport to easy riches (and yes I work for a large bank!).

  21. Does Investor Relations count as middle office?

  22. Having been the female trading assistant for two investment banks. I am from a BO/MO background. I have tried and failed to make the jump. I have decided to take a step back and work towards a different role in investment banking on the management side. I also disagree with a few of the comments. I believe trading assistants WILL soon be obselete with technology. JP, Citi traders book their own trades, Desk/ Trading assistants are only used for exotic/ structured products. Also CG I believe a good trading assistant is paid as much as someone in mid level product control incl bonus. I would also resonate with you that one would question such a move if you are not entirely happy with being on the desk. You have to weigh up your sanity. Eitherway on the support side If you can get a role as a TA or DA its better than being in MO, more excitement and perks. However much more stress and also as I have said may be laden with dissapointment if you have your hopes set too high.

  23. I’ve been exploring this option since last 5 years at two big banks (since I realised how difficult it was when i joined as a grad in IT). I write pricing tools for exotics. Its a desk based position and i sit next to traders (so i get maximum visibility). I spoke with many traders in both banks and they ALL advised against doing MSc Finance and all of them indicated that moving from IT to FO is almost impossible. Unfortunately, after my second year the credit crunch happened and hiring was frozen across FO. To be honest, I have seen only 1 person move from pricing support to trading 5 years ago when there wasnt as clear a boundary between FO and FO IT. I’ve seen other people waste years in FO support teams (even passing up on team lead positions) in the hope to move to trading. Don’t waste your life, look for alternatives which can pay as well. I’m very passionate about it but I’ve become more realistic and am looking for desk strat positions in hedge funds.

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