It's All Back to Front; Just the Job: The Office: Jacky Hyams Discovers That a Traditional Barrier in Banking Is Being Broken Down through Career Development

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Byline: JACKY HYAMS

MANY traditions in the financial world were overturned or discarded after the mid-Eighties, but in banking the distinction between employees in the front office and back office remained quite rigid. Front-office staff, the traders or salespeople who win business, were more valued, with a definite career path. But in the back office, the work was seen as a relatively low-key, steady job; the clerical support staff who undertake all the administrative tasks relating to settling the trades.

"It was very much a 'them and us' situation," explains Michele Bloomfield, associate director at Joslin Rowe recruitment specialists. "The back-office staff support the traders and sales people in all the different products traded in the market place, such as derivatives, treasury and fixed income," she explains.

"If you were in the front office, you were seen as a revenue generator. But increasingly, in the past five or so years, some big investment banks have wanted to dispel the idea that you can't have a career in investment banking if you're in the back office.

They have been very keen to take on high-calibre graduatetype individuals for backoffice operations roles, and to upgrade the calibre of staff by offering career development opportunities. People in the front office generate the money, but people in backoffice operations will save money. So the image has changed."

For those with good experience in a back-office clerical role, such as reconciliation, settlement or trade support, payment, confirmation or reference data roles, growing numbers of investment banks, investment management houses or stockbroking firms are prepared to promote back-office clerical staff to managerial roles. This, says Bloomfield, is gradually helping break down barriers.

"People with good operations experience are finding they are very desirable because they have specific product knowledge, and a lot of the work involves talking to clients about trading problems, so language and good communication skills within a customer-service environment can be very useful."

This is an area where experienced temps can be sought after. "Provided they have relevant experience, there is plenty of work for temporary and contract staff," says Nadine Brown, associate director of Joslin Rowe Temps in the City. As she points out, back-office work provides a bigger employment-pool.

"A smaller percentage-of people carry out the front-office roles."

David Gabriel, 21, is a trade settlements clerk, Asia Pacific Region at Northern Trust, a global custodian in Bishopsgate. It is his second backoffice role after more than two years at Raymond James and Associates, a US stockbroking firm in the City. …