The unexpectedly most rewarding jobs in banking

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Which banking job will deliver you the greatest levels of satisfaction? Is it M&A and corporate finance, with the notoriously long hours but the possible camaraderie of a late night pizza session? No. Is it sales and trading, with omnipresent threat of losing your job to an algorithm but the occasional pleasure of riding the market together? No. Nor is it compliance and risk. - The most rewarding jobs in banking are quant jobs and research jobs. This is where the happiness is.

This is the conclusion to our life satisfaction survey (still open here) completed by 4,000 finance professionals globally. We asked respondents how content they were at work. Their responses by sector are shown in the chart below. 

If being a quant or working in research are the most surprisingly contentment-inducing things you can do in banking, the least zen banking jobs seem to be located in operations. Here, average job satisfaction was just 43%. Notably, no one anywhere was exactly exhilarated at work - even in research and quant jobs satisfaction peaked at only 65% and 66%. 

Clearly there's a pattern in the chart above. - People in the front office are typically more chuffed than people in the middle office, who are in turn more chuffed than people in the back office. In this sense, contentment at work  simply reflects the location of your job in the banking status hierarchy. Technologists and operations professionals are still low status - even though banks like to insist that the former are special nowadays. 

The comments accompanying the survey illustrate the dynamic. Miserable operations professionals complained of, "long hours and poor management who treat you like slaves," "bullying, uninspiring work and colleagues," and being "just another cog" in a job that was increasingly being outsourced to "idiots in low cost locations." It didn't help that they were clearly being paid a lot less than colleagues in the front office. 

The same applied in technology, where complaints were often about high work load, poor management, process-driven work and low pay.

By comparison, the pleasures of being a quant or working in research might be presumed to come from the more academic nature of these jobs and the comparative intellectual autonomy this entails. - In both areas there was much talk of "interesting work," "mental stimulation," and "intellectual challenge." 

Neither research nor quant jobs are magic contentment machines though. Both had their detractors. Not all quant jobs are front office, and there were complaints too of "low prestige" and the pointlessness of addressing highly specific regulatory requirements.

Meanwhile, researchers were fearful of losing their jobs and at least one of them wondered whether banking had been the best choice of career anyway: "I've got too much to do, and it's depressing seeing others of average intellect doing extremely well in corporates," he observed. 

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