Investment banker (operations)
The operations division of an investment bank is often described as the 'engine room' of a banking or investment banking
Operations (previously known as 'back office') provide support to the trading front office and ensure that business
activities are carried out in an efficient, controlled, risk-free and timely manner.
Operations includes areas such as human resources and public relations, but, in terms of its core business, the role of
operations is to make sure that the relevant administration is carried out once a trade has been completed and to ensure
that the money has been received. Operations professionals manage day-to-day processes and develop new systems in
order to maximise efficiency and profitability for the bank. They deal with all incoming queries from clients, resolve
incorrect payments and ensure that client details are correct for the payment of funds.
Typical Work Activities
Operations covers a wide range of activities. Following the buying and selling of financial products by the bank’s traders,
operations staff make sure that each transaction is:
• cleared (funds and financial products moving between buyer and seller);
• settled (confirmation of ownership) smoothly and accurately.
The structure of departments varies from bank to bank, but tasks typically involve:
• managing the processes to clear and settle transactions;
• reconciling systems by checking that the data flows from the revenue-generating front office to the operations
systems (operations control);
• monitoring the activity and reports of daily transactions;
• troubleshooting systems problems;
• managing projects: analysing a system, identifying and specifying developments and improvements and
coordinating the testing and implementation of new systems;
• acting as an interface with other divisions of the bank, e.g. liaising with traders, ensuring all issues are resolved in
an extremely timely and efficient manner;
• investigating breaks in the cash account within an investment bank;
• organising team meetings, managing team members, responsibility for individual and team appraisals;
• being involved in recruiting and training new team members;
• dealing with all client queries received by the bank;
• having sole responsibility for handling specific clients;
• liaising with clients regarding transaction settlements, as and when required;
• ensuring that client protection rules are adhered to.
• Range of typical starting salaries: £25,000 - £40,000 plus benefits (salary data collected May 2008).
• Salary progression varies according to the role with the best-paid operations staff earning £60,000 to £90,000, plus
a 40% to 80% bonus (salary data collected May 2008).
• Remuneration packages in investment banks are very attractive and include benefits such as health insurance, life
assurance and subsidised gym membership, plus discretionary annual bonuses (based on individual and company
performance). Salary and bonus levels are affected by economic conditions. Salaries in operations do not reach
the levels of the revenue-generating front office roles, such as trading, but still remain attractive.
• Investment banks have a reputation for long working hours. While this is true for divisions such as corporate
finance, working hours in operations tend to be more regular, typically 8.30am to between 5.00 and 6.30pm,
Monday to Friday. However, when working on projects or towards the end of the month, longer hours and some
weekend work may be necessary to meet deadlines.
• The job is mostly office based.
• Flexible or part-time working is not the norm, but is possible in some areas of operations. There are no
opportunities for self-employment. Career breaks are possible but you have to agree this with your line manager.
• Investment banking has traditionally been male dominated, but there tends to be a higher proportion of women in
operations than in other areas.
• Most of the jobs are available in financial centres, such as London. Job availability may fluctuate, depending on
• The pinstriped image is less common these days with many banks having a 'business casual' dress code.The
working environment may be demanding and stressful, with tight deadlines, but the role offers variety and
challenge. It is sometimes necessary to adjust home and social life to meet the priorities of the job. The culture is
often described as 'work hard, play hard' and socialising with colleagues is common.
• There may be some travel involved, to the client's premises or to some of the bank's other sites overseas. Travel
opportunities vary depending on the department or product.
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Investment banker (operations)
Although entry is open to graduates of any discipline, the following subjects are particularly relevant:
While many graduates entering this area have degrees in these subjects, those from other disciplines will not be at a
disadvantage, as full training on the financial markets is given. Recruiters welcome a variety of degree backgrounds and
recruits include science, modern languages and engineering graduates. Graduate schemes typically require a minimum
of three grade Bs at A-level (or equivalent) plus at least a 2:1 honours degree. There is no non-degree entry to the
It is possible to develop a career in operations without a degree. There are entry points at more junior levels for those
with A-levels or equivalent and some banks have opportunities for internal promotion to the graduate programme.
Applications from people with postgraduate degrees are welcomed. Those with MBAs and certain other postgraduate
degrees, and two to five years' relevant work experience, will usually enter a higher level training programme as
Candidates will need to show evidence of the following:
• attention to detail;
• the ability to work well in a team;
• good communication skills;
• the ability to work with a diverse range of people;
• strong numeracy and analytical skills;
• IT skills;
• a creative and innovative approach to problem-solving;
• excellent organisational and time management skills;
• the ability to persuade and influence others.
In addition to a 2:1 degree, being involved in societies, working while you study as well as doing a summer internship in
investment banking would be a significant advantage to intending applicants. Attending careers events and doing
background research will give you an insight to the employer and the sector. It is also important to keep up to date with
business and economic issues by reading the financial press and researching financial websites regularly.
Competition for positions on graduate schemes is intense, particularly in periods of economic slowdown. The recruitment
process is thorough and demanding, including interviews and assessment centres. There are also diversity schemes
aimed at increasing the number of applications from under-represented groups, such as women, ethnic minorities and
It is illegal for employers to discriminate against candidates on the grounds of age, gender, race, disability, sexual
orientation or religious faith. For more information on equality and diversity in the job market see Handling Discrimination
Training in operations typically takes the form of a one- to two-year structured programme, referred to as the analyst
training programme. This starts with a classroom-based induction or orientation course, which is often run on a global
basis, bringing graduates from various international offices of the bank together.
This training may include:
• an overview of the business;
• an introduction to capital markets and financial products;
• personal skills training, such as team building and project management.
Additional training modules are available during the programme, depending on the business area and individual
Most learning is done on the job and, while trainees are expected to take early responsibility, many will be assigned a
mentor or buddy to provide support through the programme. Trainees will also usually start working towards a
professional qualification relevant to their area. The Securities and Investment Institute (SII) (www.sii.org.uk) provides a
wide range of qualifications for the financial services industry. For operations, relevant qualifications include the SII's:
• Certificates and Diploma;
• Investment Administration Qualification (IAQ).
There are various professional bodies that offer training and support, such as the British Bankers Association (BBA)
(www.bba.org.uk) , the London Investment Banking Association (LIBA) (www.liba.org.uk) and the Chartered Institute of
Bankers (CIB) (www.ifslearning.ac.uk).
Page 2 of 4 See also AGCAS Sector Briefings for an overview of job sectors - www.prospects.ac.uk/links/sectorbs
Investment banker (operations)
Operations divisions are organised differently in each investment bank, but training programmes typically involve a
number of rotations through different areas allowing trainees to gain a broad range of experience. This will usually
involve working in three different areas of operations for nine months at a time.
On completion of the one to two-year analyst training programme, the next step is usually to associate level, after which
promotion would be to vice president, then managing director, and finally board member, which is the highest level.
There are two main routes for career development:
• project work;
• line management.
Project roles involve developing new systems for the bank's functions. Increased responsibility leads to heading projects,
managing a team of staff and being involved at the strategic level of project management.
Line management involves running a team of staff in a product area, such as equity settlements. This includes process
management, staff development, client contact and change management.
As operations forms a large part of an investment bank, there are good opportunities for progression to senior
management. There may also be opportunities to move to other parts of the bank, although operations is not a route to
front office roles such as trading. In the UK, most opportunities are in London, but overseas secondments or transfers
are also possible.
Operations professionals are recruited by investment banks. Investment banks are large global organisations and the
main players are based either in the US, such as Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch, or Europe, for example UBS, RBS
and Credit Suisse. They work primarily for corporate or government clients providing a range of financial services, such
as raising finance, investing funds and advising on mergers and acquisitions.
Although the majority of investment banks in the UK are based in London, one of the major international financial
centres, it is predominantly their front and middle offices that are located there. Since the processing involved in
operations does not need to take place near the traders, the operations departments of many of these banks are located
outside the capital. This could be anywhere, Bournemouth to Mumbai. Some banks have moved their operations
department to India because costs there are lower.
The banking sector is a volatile one and investment banks are affected by economic cycles, which have a knock-on
effect on graduate recruitment. The economic downturn (2007-2008) which occurred from sub-prime lending to
borrowers with poor credit history and weak documentation of income had a significant effect on investment banks which
reported huge losses in 2007 and the first quarter of 2008. These losses had an impact on employment opportunities,
with a number of banks reporting redundancies in 2007 and 2008. This crisis has also resulted in the increase of
opportunities in emerging markets, such as Russia as well as Singapore and Hong Kong. However, markets will recover
eventually as they did after the attacks of 11 September 2001.
Sources of Vacancies
• Prospects Directory;
• Prospects Graduate (www.prospects.ac.uk/links/graduate);
• Prospects Finalist (www.prospects.ac.uk/links/finalist);
• TARGETjobs City and Finance;
• Hobsons GET Finance Guide;
• Inside Careers: Banking, Securities and Investments;
• Careers in Financial Markets (www.efinancialcareers.co.uk/pdf/CIFM-UK-0708.pdf);
• The Guardian (www.guardian.co.uk);
• Financial Times (news.ft.com);
• The Times (www.timesonline.co.uk);
• The Daily Telegraph (www.jobs.telegraph.co.uk);
• careers service vacancy lists.
Most graduate schemes are advertised in the sources listed above. Vacancies in operations are also available through
specialist financial/banking recruitment agencies in London, although many of these will require relevant experience.
• Chartered accountant
• Investment analyst
• Investment fund manager
• IT consultant
• Management consultant
• Solicitor, commercial
• Trader (equities, FX, futures, bonds)
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