What Operations Managers Seek in New Hires

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Q&A with Citigroup's Patrick Kirby: "We want managers who can be beacons of change, people who are not willing to accept the status quo. They are the types of professionals who will constantly look at technology and processes and seek out areas for improvement."

Patrick Kirby is the global head for securities processing at Citigroup Capital Markets. His responsibilities include processing trades of equities, fixed-income products and futures and encompass middle-office and support through settlements and some post-settlements.

What's a typical day like for a senior manager in your group?

Everyone owns day-to-day functions, but making sure that business (trades) gets processed accurately takes up a considerable part of the day because of the enormous trading volumes here. This involves clearing and settling trades and includes a number of processes and bookkeeping.

We spend a lot of time looking at our processes, seeing what we have and improving on them. Some are process-driven and others are technology-driven. We're constantly looking at making the process better for clients.

What type of professional do you look for?

We look for talented people to help our business grow. There's a fair amount of global interaction every day. We do problem solving and new product development - working with traders and sales desks to roll out new products, and always working with auditors, both internal and external, to make sure we are compliant. We invest heavily in finding new talent and do so by running programs focused on the entry-level and seasoning senior people. In addition, we have internal committees and firm-wide initiatives aimed toward women or diversity.

What type of professional is successful in operations or settlements?

We want managers who can be beacons of change, people who are not willing to accept the status quo. They are the types of professionals who will constantly look at technology and processes and seek out areas for improvement.

We look at three things: First, professionals need to be able to find processes and ways we can do things better. This will translate into better products for clients. Second, you really need to multitask to be successful here. You'll have lots of balls in air and none of them can hit the ground. You might be dealing with a technology roll out, or be involved in day-to-day agenda meetings. There may be an audit going on of a new product that is being rolled out, and you have to manage all of these tasks. Finally, it's not uncommon for us to seek out people with specific product expertise. It's preferable, but not necessarily essential, that candidates have experience in the financial industry.

What are some areas of career growth in operations at Citigroup?

The areas of growth are in prime brokerage, both in fixed-income and equities. We see clients that we prime broker for go into new products, such as foreign exchange, derivatives and futures.

Someone who works for us in prime brokerage needs to be proficient in a number of areas. First, there is position balancing. In settlements, our day starts early. At 7:30 a.m., one of first things to do is balance positions with the trading desks so that when markets open we are ready to start trading. Next, we confirm trades from the previous day, so that our counterparties know they are done. This takes us to the market open, when we are settling transactions all day long - dealing with external clients, our sales force, exchange banks, other prime brokers, custody banks, clearing banks. We are resolving problems until the market closes. Afterward, we reconcile activity, meaning we balance our books and records with our depository or bank. Once books and records are balanced, by 5 or 6 o'clock, we're preparing for the next day

Finally, how do the skills required in prime brokerage differ from those in settlements? And, what are the core skills that managers need to be successful in each role?

The skills required for prime brokerage are a bit different. There, we have a single point of contact. As a manager, you do work for a single client - you "own" prime brokerage.

All of the tasks we talked about - clearing, balancing - all of that happens with that client. You have to make sure that positions are balanced. It requires you to work with the financial desk and do "one-stop shopping" for the client. If a client makes a dividend query, you own that.

Managers in prime brokerage are responsible for getting answers back to the client. In settlements, however, managers focus on a particular function. So, they need to multitask, whether it's helping with an audit as a liaison between groups like settlement, accounting and finance. In prime brokerage you need to know settlements, taxes, and be able to navigate within the organization so that if your client wants to trade in China, you can facilitate it. It's a much broader scope of functions.

Overall, to work in operations you have to be efficient. It's also important to be the type of person who is constantly seeking improvement. We want to handle more and more trading volumes, and do so in a way that is perfect for the client. Conflict resolution is also important, so communication skills and client service and work with counterparties is critical.

In terms of conflict resolution, whether issues are on the Citigroup side or the bank side, you must be able to work through them so trades are fulfilled.

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