Big banks are exactly that – BIG, so it’s easy to get lost in all the jargon. But fear not. CheekyLittleCareers.com is here to help demystify the sometimes daunting world of high finance. Have a quick read if you’re a trainee or junior lawyer about to start a secondment or in-house legal job with a bank.
Let’s start with the basics – the key differences between front, middle and back office roles.
Front office jobs in banking have traditionally been the easiest to define. In essence, they are client facing roles whose aim is to generate revenue for a bank. They are the first point of contact for clients, supporting and/or managing the relationship between the bank and its clients. So, if you’re good with people, are a brilliant communicator and don’t mind the pressure of deadlines this is likely to be the best place for you.
Which jobs do you find in the front office? Well, mergers and acquisitions and capital markets (helping clients to raise money) roles are usually considered to be in the front office. Other front office jobs cover sales, trading and research.
Typically, you’ll start as an analyst or associate, supporting either a vice president (VP) or director who works under a senior banker (Managing Director or MD) covering a portfolio of clients typically aligned to a specific sector such as technology, media & telecoms (TMT) or natural resources.
Your days will be spent working with your VP or director, pitching your bank’s products and services to existing and prospective clients under the guidance of the senior banker.
Middle office is a little harder to define because it really depends on the set-up of the bank. The middle office is usually comprised of all the people in the business divisions that directly support their colleagues in the front office who are interfacing with clients.
Individuals working in the middle office may have some direct contact with clients in a problem-solving or risk-management capacity, whilst in some banks the middle office may also include credit or even compliance – like I said it really does depend on the bank. These roles are best suited to individuals who like solving complex problems, have an analytical mindset and are comfortable dealing with a broad mix of people.
As is the case with the front office, graduates typically come in as an analyst and then work their way up to director level. The more senior titles such as MD are often reserved for those in managerial positions.
Depending on which team you join, you’ll probably start off by supporting senior team members and, as you progress, you’ll be given your own targets or work streams that you’ll need to get on with autonomously.
Back office gets a little easier again. This is the name given to all the support functions that enable a bank to operate seamlessly. Because it captures such a broad basket of services this is perhaps the one area where roles are most varied and there really is something for everyone depending on your own interests. The back office in most cases covers IT, human resources, legal, finance, audit, marketing etc. as well as payment settlements i.e., payments reach the beneficiary or trade settlements – the list goes on.
Like the middle office, as a graduate and depending on the function, you’re likely come in as an analyst and work your way up to director level. Again, the more senior titles such as MD are reserved for those in managerial positions.
Look big banks aren’t always the easiest to navigate or get your head around. Whilst they share many similarities their set-ups can differ. I’ve outlined some of the basics in this post to help you get started but it really is worthwhile spending the time to properly research the banks you’re interested in joining. Particularly because the landscape within the banking sector is continuously evolving, mainly as result of rapid technological advance, with some front office roles being automated.
However, the good news is that being big does mean that banks can offer a diverse range of career options. No matter which route you choose, you can build a great future if you’re willing to put the work in.
Next, time I’ll look into what working in a front office role is really like.
Sanu Miah is a director at a top investment bank in the City