The Great Escape - 5 tips for leaving the Back Office

I like to compare my experience of the Back Office, with one of the final scenes in Lord of the Rings. Towards the end of the Return of the King, there is a moment where Frodo, the hairy footed rapscallion that he is, looks as though he is going to blow everything and keep the one ring for himself. The look on Sam's face at this moment is exactly how I felt every Monday morning at 9AM, trudging through Canary Wharf towards another day in IT. Fear, desperation and above all else, a feeling of helplessness. After a year's worth of applications, I've recently accepted a job in Equity Research and thought I'd give a few tips to anyone else hoping to make the jump.

1. Start applying

All the banks will feed you some bs about 'internal mobility' and how you can move from the Back Office to the Front Office. Speaking from experience, this is rare - it does happen, but it's by no means a certainty. Better to look for entry level jobs at other places, or even summer internships that can then be converted.

2. Know your stuff.

Any IT punter can make some bold claim that 'I want to be a trader' but wouldn't know the CAC from the DAX. If you are in the BO, chances are that you have a lot of time on your hands. Even if you work at 70% capacity and use the other 30% of your time to do research, then do it. You can learn a lot just from googling around online, reading your banks research notes and looking into qualifications that may help you achieve your ambitions. Indeed, it's definitely better to find an area you are interested in and applying in depth, rather than adopting the 'scatter gun' approach and shooting applications to anything remotely resembling the Front Office.

3. Don't give up.

It can be disheartening when you get the 8th final round interview rejection email and you may start thinking that you have been tarred with the BO brush, but you have to persevere. You have to want it enough to get back from work at 7pm and start doing numerical tests. It's not going to just arrive on a plate.

4. Be flexible on pay.

BO salaries are very generous, considering the hours worked. Being paid PS42000 straight out of University to essentially work 9-6, with an hour for lunch, can get very comfortable. I had a loose cut off at 30k, but would have taken less. In the long run, if you are genuinely interested in finance and are happy to work your way up, you'll catch-up salary wise and have a more interesting job thrown in for good measure.

5.Become a certified org stalker.

There may be opportunities to move within the BO, to areas where you stand a greater chance of eventually making Front Office. I know of people that moved from IT -> Finance -> Trade Management and are nicely placed to be brought onto an actual trading desk the next time headcount permits it. If you are sitting in BO IT, away from the area where you want to be, try and change that. Think about BO moves that may position you better in the long run.

Cheers monkeys.

Comments (24)

Aug 7, 2015

darude sandstorm

    • 1
Aug 7, 2015

Kudos! +1

Aug 7, 2015

I would add to this beef up your resume! CFA or any other certifications can be a huge help. I started out in BO and then did MSF, and am L3 candidate for next year and have worked on a bunch of projects outside of work, including writing for seeking alpha, working with an NFP to do their financial modeling, publishing research on SSRN - anything I can do to show both the willingness and ability to not only learn what's required, but apply it outside of work.

    • 2
Aug 7, 2015
  • Internal networking is an absolute must
Aug 7, 2015

awesome.. how did you go about getting that writing gig for seeking alpha? I am guessing it was not paid work (I could be wrong)

Aug 7, 2015

Super easy - you submit your articles to the editors (anyone can do it) and if they're approved they're posted on the site. You can submit free ones (no comp) or you can submit for pay. Typically 1 cent per page view, of if you cover small cap stocks you can get $150 per article if selected.

I can't write them now at work due to conflict of interest, but from 2013-14 I wrote 21 articles, and >15 were selected for the $150 pay day...just have to be well researched and have a clear thesis and strong valuation. Would highly recommend, I found my research abilities really growing as I challenged myself to do better work.

    • 2
Aug 7, 2015

Congrats, always a impressive move

Aug 10, 2015

Thanks for the insight mate. I laughed at 'getting tarred with the BO brush', that brush sounds stinky. So did you network or apply directly to jobs internally?

Aug 12, 2015

I ended up applying to quite literally hundreds of places and eventually persuading one to take me. A lot of 'sick days' and 'working from home' in the process though!

Aug 10, 2015

Also thinking of writing for SA, could you pm me too?

Aug 12, 2015

This whole article makes me think of a coworker who says to me every day "I'm gonna move to investment banking, make MILLIONS OF DOLLARS!" (literally, exactly that) I always laugh to my self because a.) I have a suspicion he doesn't know the first thing about how to get into IB and b.) he hasn't applied to a single job, despite having known for months that he's close to being let go.

Long story: you have to be willing to do the legwork.

    • 1
Aug 12, 2015

SB this one, all very good points.

Aug 14, 2015

Move out of BO as soon as possible, my personal belief is the longer you stay the harder it will be to transition to a FO position.

Aug 14, 2015

Agree with what the author says. Although there is a Visa factor especially in London if you have a non-European passport. Have been in BO for 3 years and despite making into a pseudo FO role, HR have blocked on grounds of Visa. At least am working towards my CFA..Will have something to make a case soon....

Aug 14, 2015

How do MBA Programs look at IT at a large BB (GS, Morgan Stanley, etc.)? I'm a senior Information Systems major with a pretty good offer to be an IT analyst at a BB. I don't want to switch into FO, but simply work a couple of years developing some tech skills on their dollar and then get an MBA and move into Prod. Mangement or Marketing at a tech company.

Best Response
Aug 14, 2015

Terrible OP, and I'll explain why.

Most people in any undesirable group think like this...that the best way to leave is to focus on leaving (constantly applying, constantly using your time to study other things, constantly trying to switch groups, etc).

And you know why that alone doesn't work? Because:
a) it shows that you'll always be the person looking for the next best thing, and
b) you haven't demonstrated adding any value to your current role, which is what you'll do in any role.

You are where you are, and there's no denying that. It's a part of your work history. The best way way to move to a more desirable group or role is to kick ass in your existing one. So add value. Groups that are 'back office', operations, IT, etc are rife with add efficiency. Learn some extra programming. Figure out exactly what the group does and where it fits within the broader business of the firm. Automate. Use creative problem solving to make processes smoother and people's lives easier.

And I guarantee when you do come across a more interesting role, people will be willing to hear your story, because you showed that even in a role that is obviously not that added value anyway.

    • 4
Aug 14, 2015

I can't give specifics, but I saw the value of this above. It doesn't necessary get you FO. But it gets you paid either way, so who cares.

Sep 4, 2015

I feel 'Terrible OP' is a tad over the top, when this list is merely a collection of opinions that have actually proved to be successful. You raise a good point however, that no-one wants to hear about some cretin in IT crying about how they're not a trader and you should do the job you've been hired to do. However, your idea of 'working hard' to earn FO is incredibly narrow minded, if I'm working in desktop support and manage to fix 25 printers in a day instead of my allocated 17, guess what? No-one gives a sh**. You're invisible.

And to further query your statement, being someone 'looking for the next best thing' is common in 99% of workers. I'm sure that everyone, subconsciously or consciously is always looking to see how they can better themselves. The concept that an employer might find this a negative trait, is flawed.

Sep 5, 2015
Blue Horseshoe Love:

I'm sure that everyone, subconsciously or consciously is always looking to see how they can better themselves. The concept that an employer might find this a negative trait, is flawed.

A grand total of zero employers want to hire or keep an employee who doesn't want to be there.

Aug 16, 2015
Aug 22, 2015