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GUEST COMMENT: What I hate about working in the middle office

I am working in the middle office and I do not like it here. This is why I want to get out.

1) It’s boring

On the whole the middle office is a mind numbing and even belittling place to be.

Every day is almost identical; the only difference is which system screws up.

2) The traders can be a nightmare

The worst desks to be on are at either end of the spectrum: those supporting the most simple, or the most complex products. Desks working with the most simple products are usually full of cowboys – the kinds of traders who couldn’t read a quadratic equation, let alone solve one, and is probably proud of it too. Conversely, desks working with the most complex products are usually full of traders who know the price of everything – the risks, the pay-off curve – but the value of nothing.

On top of this, there’s the occasional super-trader-wannable. This is usually a pedantic small fish who wants to be a shark.

3) Middle office colleagues are not motivated

What holds true for traders at either end of the spectrum often holds true for the middle office staff supporting them. The people supporting the simple desks usually have weak academics; people supporting complex product desks often come from good universities and have decent degrees.

The people working in the middle office are all nice enough. But the idea of becoming one of them scares me. I don’t understand why anyone would want to be here unless they have some ambition to move into the front office. When I first started, I honestly couldn’t figure it out. There are many who obviously wouldn’t be capable of anything outside the middle office. However, there are also many from top tier universities, with good A levels, who seem happy enough to waste their lives away, scrolling.

Curiously, however, middle office MDs often tend to be more arrogant and self-important than front office MDs. Although they’re paid less, they often enjoy similar non-monetary perks to MDs in the front office. This can clearly lead to delusions of grandeur.

4) Job satisfaction is limited

Related to point 1, there’s little in the way of either recognition or job satisfaction to be had from a middle office role. The only time anyone will usually comment is if something, usually related to a data feed, has taken longer than expected to deliver.

5) The hours are equivalent to, or longer than, the front office

Traders on UK trading desks are usually out by 5pm. The same can’t said for the middle office staff who back them up. They usually work from 8am to 6pm or 7pm. Given the lower earnings and general lack of job security, this is a questionable exercise.

6) There’s no career path

A middle office career offers little in the way of incentives for progression. Given that it’s really an admin job where certain basic rules must be remembered, it’s questionable whether it can even be called a career. What can a middle office MD with ten years’ experience expect to earn? Xk. And if he steps up from that in 5 years time? Maybe Xk +20? Hardly anything to shout about.

Comments (17)

  1. My dear chap you sound suicidal and delusional. I think you would make a perfect addition to our happy band in the small provincial town that I live in. Charlie would give you a few pointers on how to get into the front office.

  2. Sad, but true.

  3. I was once in the middle-office trap for over 18 months but CFA, alot of self learning and an extremely aggressive job search helped me find a job in Fixed Income Origination for Emerging & Frontier Markets. Hang in there, your time will come soon enough.

  4. Yeh, you ‘want’ to get out – but will you? Thats the thing about middle and back office – easy to get in, hard to get out…

  5. What on earth is this tripe? Wrong wrong wrong. I’ve worked in middle my entire career, I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked across 3 continents, managed teams and groups of upto 50 people and I earn more than most traders. What this article shows me is that the author is clearly a plodder – a guy who does the bare minimum, gets into work and gets out and guess what you will get no where because your attitude is awful. Guys that work for me in middle office are expected to be risk managers; looking round corners; what can go wrong in this process? What is the potential cost? How do I mitagate risk in this process? How can the work be boring when you are expected to work in this manner? Find holes, problems and take up projects to propose changes.

    I’ve seen alot of guys come to and want to get into front office – some have and some haven’t – Ive always helped them anyway I can – but if you genuinely want to be in front be exceptional in your current role – stop plodding and become a pro-active risk manager. The rewards will come in middle office, back office and front office if you have this attitude!

    Sarah – stop publishing this garbage form no nothing kids!

  6. I wish to discuss a front office job with you, pls let me have your number.

  7. I hold a master’s in financial markets from a very good uni after spending 25k. Has been desperately trying to get into middle office/back office for the past one year. Not able to land in a job due to lack of experience. It would be very helpful, If anyone could help me or advise me

  8. Seen it all, tell me have you ever tricked people who want to do FO in your back office? Luring them by telling them lies about old colleagues who moved just to get quality people and / or take applications from the Fixed INcome Trading application pool and / or the IBD M&A Application Pool and ruined their career?

  9. Similar situation with a lot of Masters graduates even with top financial degrees at present. If you have tried going through agencies they will want at least 1 yr plus of work experience. Your best bet is applying to Grad schemes for the 2011 programs. In addition, show employers that you have been pro-active by studying professional exams (CIMA- accounting and general FS roles, IMC- asset management roles or CFA level 1 at least- for most roles). When you attend interviews ensure that you are prepared, why you want to work for the company and the particular role in question and ask plenty of questions. I know many Masters graduates struggling at the moment, in 2007 these grads would have been snapped up very quickly. Good luck

  10. it is a little bit crab text above! the place in front is rare and not easy to get in ! Middles job is not bad job at all! You have to blame yourself mate, do the top business school if you dont want to work in middle or back office ! and dont come in this website and tell your story !

  11. so true

  12. Unethical – Absolutely not, I wouldn’t take anyone that told me in an interview they want to be a trader because I don’t hire traders, i want good committed guys who are as passinate as me about this work. I’m honest with my guys 100% because if I start loosing their trust and respect then it’s all over for me.

  13. Agree – I have been working in both FO and MO and can tell the difference.

    MO is just an administrative function. Better paid than in other industries, but still an administrative function and a cost center.

    It is sad to see young, smart, motivated people having to take those kind of jobs, because they could be doing so much more interesting things rather than just producing numbers for the weekly, monthly, quarterly report.

    And I think that HR are constantly lying to MO staffs who want to move into FO as ‘internal mobility’ is only relevant within division, not accross.

    Best way to make the switch is to stay extremely motivated, raise employability through education, connect with people and beeing very very lucky.

  14. BBB – Have you actually seen HR lying to staff about this? I’d be very surprised. From my experience I’ve seen guys say “I want to move into the front office” – great – go for it – it is possible but lets be clear you will have to prove to the business heads that you are capable and have the necessary skillset they need in a trading role. This usually means doing an MBA, specialist masters to give themselves the best chance – even then no gurantees. Then a few months later I’ll ask them – “what are you doing about improving your chances” – 9 times out of 10 the response is “nothing”. They do nothing. They expect to be just handed a role because they said they wanted to move. I hear it all the time – “HR said this and that” blar blar – people just kid themselves that it’s HR who misled them – the truth is they couldn’t be bothered putting the effort in and re-educating themselves. You don’t get handed your dream job on a plate guys!

  15. @ See it All – your comments are spot on!

    The author of this article clearly has a bit of a superiority complex and suffers from delusional behaviour. The industry has changed and only those with top academics can walk into the front office straight from university and the days when you could move between MO and FO are over for a good few years. I would guess that the contempt that you show for your job and that of your colleagues is obvious and this will limit your prospects progression in the MO and prevent any move to a FO position. I would advise you to lose your attitude and walk before you can run. If you don’t then you could find yourself referring to this website for the purpose of finding another job when the next round of redundancies begin in the new year, Then you will be grateful of a position in the MO!

  16. Seriously,

    I think i’s time people stop whining and get over their jobs and do their jobs with all their abilities before looking for opportunities in FO. I work in FO and I usually see people like the writer of this article who are eager to get in to FO but are either;
    1. They don’t really have a clue of what the action is actually like.
    accounting (or any other mid office work) is actually different from the from “making or managing money”. You need to not only have skills like maths, good people skills 9for sales) etc but you need to be on top of actual market activity. For example, what the fed did last night, what is happening to Greece debt, CDS spreads on BRIC debt etc etc. It is more like a passion for the markets.

    MO/BO can be pretty static

    2. They are not good at what they currently do and think moving to FO will solve their problems.

    If you are in MO with the character as the writer has then you probably going to do the same whinging when you join the FO

  17. Agree that attidude, passion and zest to succeed is key regardless of BO/MO/FO.

    However, be aware both HR and MO people often lie. I know people at 4 banks at least being lured in a BO/MO role. Hiring managers pretend themselves to be part of FO and sending their grads to global IBD / FICC training programmes. Once you are stuck its difficult to get out.

    At JPM Credit Risk they pretend to be part of IBD and mislead people in the role as well as at GS Credit.

    At MS they said exotics accounting controlling will enable you to move to FO. At Barcap they said trade support will make you a trader.

    It is a fundamental problem. If only if HR and Hiring managers would stop misleading people and ruining people’s career ………

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