The hot recruitment area providing an escape route for bored back office workers

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Back office professionals in investment banking are getting a raw deal. Aside from the monotony of a process-driven position, they’re also dealing with the ever present threat of offshoring or the prospect of their job being relocated to a provincial area of the UK or U.S. Not only is a gravitation across to the front office near impossible, you’ll also be forced to work in Chester or Delaware for half the pay you would have got in London or New York.

Now is the time to consider your career options and for many back and middle office professionals there’s a new escape route – change or project management. While banks are happy to shift relatively low-skilled jobs out to cheaper locations, they’re still struggling to hire individuals who can help them cope with the barrage of regulatory change and the need to improve processes and cut costs.

“A lot of operational and middle office staff have been involved with some change projects as part of their job and are looking to move into that area full-time. It’s a lot more interesting and often more lucrative,” says Victoria McLean, managing director of career consultants City CV. “We’re helping them highlight their project achievements to prospective employers.”

Project managers working on operations change projects can bring in £60-110k a year in a permanent position or £550-800 a day working on a contract basis, according to figures from Robert Walters and if you make it programme manager, this salary rises to £150k. In risk or compliance, meanwhile, project manager salaries range from £75-130k or £650-900 for a daily contract rate. Even heads of department in investment banking operations earn a maximum of £90k in London, and a lot of roles are more likely to be based in Glasgow, Birmingham, Chester or Dublin, paying much less.

“It’s difficult for someone who has been working in a purely functional operational job to make the switch across, even if they have some experience in project management and a qualification like Prince II,” says James Murray, head of projects and change recruitment at Robert Walters. “It’s a lot easier if you’ve been in a senior position and had experience managing people and processes. However, increasingly, banks are willing to take on operational professionals who have project experience on a permanent basis and train them up. Contractors are guns for hire, so there’s no motivation for banks to take on those without relevant experience.”

If you’re in risk or compliance and have experience of the “entire trade lifecycle” it’s much easier to make the switch, particularly as banks are struggling to get to grips with the demands of Dodd-Frank and Emir regulations, says Murray.

“We’re seeing a lot of roles around collateral management, central counterparty reporting requirements and client onboarding,” says Murray. “Then the regulatory projects are still very busy.”

Banks have been trying to convince contractors to join on a permanent basis in an attempt to cut costs and keep intellectual property in-house. “However, banks are still struggling to get permanent headcount sign off – even if a project is expected to last for four years, banks are still only signing off new permanent headcount each year, and so contractors are still being utilised.”

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