Harrison Careers

The Journey from Middle Office to Front Office

You can blame globalisation and the outsourcing technology consultants like Accenture. During the years from 2005 through 2012 they dismantled much of the Operations and Support functions at London financial institutions. Yes, the jobs went overseas, often to India, but they also migrated within the UK to Bournemouth (JP Morgan), Birmingham (Deutsche bank) and Glasgow (Morgan Stanley). The Middle Office staff in London mostly did not move into Front Office jobs.

Anyone working in Middle Office knows the ugly truth – no company wants to make it easy for their Middle Office staff to trade up to Front Office. Why? I believe it has little to do with Middle Office staff not being good enough. Some are certainly “good enough” for Front Office. Rather the reason is the discontent that would be caused by allowing such advancement. My experience of several hundred Middle Office staff is that most of you would prefer to work in Front Office. Who wouldn’t want challenging work, prestige and the opportunity to make a few hundred thousand pounds annually?

The journey is long and arduous. Some recruiters will dismiss you as belonging to a lower caste than the Front Office folks. You aren’t a graduating university student, so you don’t fit into that category. You aren’t a new MBA from a top school who might be a candidate for an Associate position. You can’t give up your Middle Office job to do a short off-cycle internship in Front Office. You know the direction you want to take, but the trail just isn’t marked on the map. You do know that you can’t remain where you are with limited opportunity to make real money, and with the continued threat of outsourcing. You had the dream of say, Goldman Sachs Investment banking, and yet here you are commuting to Bournemouth. You are in your 20s so you figure it is still possible to make the step up to Front Office. You hear stories of ex-colleagues who have made it across the border to the other side, and you wonder how they did it.

One way is to trick the online application autobots into treating you as a penultimate year student finishing a Masters in the appropriate year. Your 2+ years of Middle Office work experience makes you look more impressive than those candidate with a few weeks of intern experience, and you might then get selected for interview for the bulge-bracket bank intern official programmes.

Another is the path of rejection, persistence and raw motivation where you decide your business area, list your target employers, and wage a campaign of cold emailing and cold calling. It works eventually if you call the right people in the right way. It is not a quick fix.

Some Middle Office candidate do move internally to Front Office. This requires sensitivity and great relationships with the Front Office group that sponsors your advancement. You get the Managing Director to clear the way for you by requesting that your Middle Office team releases you.

You might trade up to a business area that isn’t entirely Front Office, but is way above regular support positions. An example is Risk Management. All areas of risk are relatively hot now. Goldman Sachs recently announced that Risk Management is to become its own separate division. That tells you something about its importance. The Operations person who reinvents herself as a Regulatory Risk Management professional will most likely get hired quickly and see faster advancement.

Other options include applying for off-cycle internships and quitting your Middle Office job to gamble that you will receive a full-time offer afterwards. Then there is the MBA which should make the transition happen provided you attend a top business school.

It’s hard to see your career over a 30-year period. We tend to focus just a few years ahead. The truth is no job in London financial services is safe now. Brexit looms. We read about Goldman Sachs and Lloyds of London moving parts of their business to Europe. That won’t change the desires of Middle Office folks to trade up to what they believe they are capable of.