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GUEST COMMENT: The most obnoxious front office bankers originate in the middle and back office

It takes a lot to try my patience. One has to be a slow burner to survive in the junior echelons of a bank. I have a number of remedies for work-related frustration which have prevented me from “going postal” so far. Being able to bottle it up until the mid-week 5-a-side football session or Saturday morning gym session works a treat. Getting trollied never fails either.

However one thing makes me see red quicker than a junior obstetrics doctor pulling on rubber gloves. It’s working with the uppity ex-back office banker.

Banks like to talk about front office bankers as “profit centres” whilst labelling the rest “cost centres”. I’ve always found that a bit unfair. The I.T. guys have saved my life more than once the day before an important business meeting.

This dichotomy between banking “lowlifes” vs. “superstars” has stuck. This website seems to be full of “cost centres” desperately trying to break into the front office. Most of them won’t make it. They didn’t go to the right university (or didn’t go at all), don’t “talk proper,” or aren’t smart enough.

With the exception of the last reason, these factors have little to do with potential to shoot the lights out, but that’s big banks for you. It’s not a coincidence that I don’t work for them any longer.

However, during my time in banking I did see some people break free from the middle and back office. They contributed significantly to my urge to get out.

As a previous contributor has noted, most middle and back office colleagues are not motivated. The ones who’ve made it tend to be the super-keen guys who love mornings (especially after an all-nighter), wear red ties and suck up incessantly to seniors. Their corporate façade is second only to MBA graduates. This makes them unbearable to work with.

When you believe you’re the reincarnation Alexander the Great, a huge amount of selective memory is required. The ex-back office guys tend to have forgotten their own humble beginnings entirely. As a result they treat anyone in the “cost centres” with the lack of respect they feel these lowly minions deserve. I’ve seen it happen several times and it’s not pleasant to watch. Here’s a P.S.A. Put simply, these guys are not paid enough to take your crap.

If you’re recognising yourself in this article, console yourself with one thing. There’s a breed of lowlife slightly beneath you in the pay grades of hell. It’s the guy who used to be a corporate banker and transitioned into corporate finance. Believe me, it does not get worse than that.

Comments (15)

  1. Having completed my sales and trading internship last year and joining the grad programme at a BB this year; I can safely say that the employees I loathed most were beyond a doubt the “upgraded back/middle office monkeys”.
    Not only were these cretins significantly intellectually inferior, but had a disproportionately inflated ego and air of arrogance in comparison to the ivy league “rain-makers” of the firm that entered directly into the front office.
    My guess was that they were aware of this disparity deep down, and decided to “air their frustration” by pushing/stressing us interns/grads as far as they could. This was the only way they could make themselves feel somewhat “superior” and “important”. It was quite evident that even the least able interns had greater potential and possessed a much more diverse skill set than most of these “del-boy chancers”.
    Wander past any securities lending/cash equity sales desk on the trading floor, and you might find yourself asking “What’s that smell?”, the answer is: “slightly evolved back/middle-office monkeys and the faeces they pass off as output”.

  2. mmm…

  3. Trading Grad, in light of your comment I reckon the original poster is wrong and the most obnoxious people seem to have inflated opinions of themselves on the grad trainee schemes…

  4. @Trading Grad:
    A lot to learn for you still. You know what people like even less than the people you are talking about? I can certainly tell you: Pretentious, cocky interns with more pomade in their hair than brain mass underneath it who think they are so shit hot.
    They get on everybodies nerves and wanna make the rest of the staff poke their eyes out. Believe me, I work in derivative sales and this is the truth.
    As an intern just be obedient, dilligent, be polite and do your work and then maybe you will get a nice offer.

    Derivative Sales Reply
  5. Trading Grad – get back in your box. You are an intern – you are yet to earn the right to have an opinion on these issues.

  6. I knew this indian fellow, who made it from back-office, into a $20mm a year (yes – it does exist) IB group at buldge bracket firm. A senior banker joked about someone telling him that he was a banker now. The chap promptly brought a briefcase to work and spoke in a deep pitched voice. He also didn’t hesitate filing false claims with HR, alongside other indians, against people in this group and believe me could not add or subtract (unlike other Indians) as he was educated in a mid-level school in the US. Moral of the story is that morons come in all shapes and sizes, but when you see an underperforming person or group, do not hesitate to break the network of collusion which costs everyone money.

  7. Having graduated from the backm office myself nearly 30 years ago, I’m inclined to refute the charges in the article. In my experience, any FO staff with back office origins, while not humble, certainly have respect for the support staff, knowing what the job is all about.
    It’s supercilious idiots like “trading grad” who have spent their entire education being told how they will be masters of the universe that need,and will, be taken down a peg or two.
    Just hope you’re not identified, Trading Grad, or you’re in trouble.
    You will find denigrating colleagues in print will end your career.
    Learn some humility.

  8. @Jack….Before making an ethnic comment look where you are headed and what are your own capabilities. In next five years, we all shall come to know as to how and why things went awry…!!

  9. Trading Grad… you have convinced me – a back office/middle office person cannot run a trading business!

    I happen to work for someone who moved to a senior role from a support function. He has never been a trader or investment banker. Most of his career was in finance, strategy or administration. I am sure, Trading Grad, if you had been in my place, you would have resigned immediately. I must admit, however, I am not yet ready for such a drastic step. Luckily, I do not report to this guy directly so I can spare myself from his “intellectual inferiority”.

    Surprisingly, most of financial world seems to think quite highly of my boss. Trading Grad – you might have even heard of him as well. The guy’s name is Jamie Dimon.

  10. @ Trading Grad – if there is any decency in you then hopefully you are now regretting your comments – if not, then you haven’t got a hope and if you display the same arrogance in person as you do in writing then I suggest you change careers as you have no hope of achieving anything in this industry of any significance. My advise to you in your first year of the Grad Programme is to follow the advise given to you. Keep your opinions to yourself and show respect for your colleagues in the BO who in turn will go out on a limb for you when required. This may then ensure that you keep hold of your job when the next round of redundancies occur.

  11. As a large generalisation, you get two types.
    Type 1 – the guy who feels insecure because he doesn’t quite feel part of the desk since he came from the BO/MO, and tries to make up for it by being a quasi-alpha male – arrogant, pushy, inconsiderate, always looks pissed off.
    Type 2 – the secure type, he’s made it, and he’s happy, now he just wants to perform and because of his previous jobs in MO/BO he’s far understanding of the issues they go through, and uses that experience to his advantage and their advantage.

    Being a grad in the MO of the tier 1 bank, I a number of both types on the desks I work for.

  12. @macro: I absolutely agree. Most people I have come across who are really successful are the ones which do not need to show this alpha behaviour. They are simply dedicated to performing and getting the company and team ahead and they laugh about alpha cocky behaviour.

    Derivative Sales Reply
  13. Trading Grad…

    Any grad with a lack of humility is the worst type (ie You).
    You’re the type that decided aged 15 (tragically young to decide to be a banker) that they wanted to work for a US BB in the front office and instead of spending their time outside having fun like other teens were either working to get those 10 A* or playing warcraft…

    All work and no play makes Johnny a dull boy- well over 50% of the current grads are like this. Like you trading grad.

  14. The answer is, it depends, the BO chaps are usually nice people. The issue is, they have learned to go by the book. That will never change.

    Usually they are a bit older, usually they are not Ivy, usually they have different priorities, and as they have not gone through “the school” they apply templates and stick to manageable situations. All things equal I am afraid intelectually they are not up to parmand i have been around.

    However, the big leaps, the creative stuff, the late idea to solve something will not come from them. it actually often comes from the highly junior geeks kind of types..

    yes, some make it very senior as they usually are politically smart and put their ego behind (most Ivy guys simply won’t) and it all does not matter anymore, but they ended up inthe MO for the wrong reasons in the first place.

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