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From traders to techies: who’s who in an investment bank
From compliance officers to research analysts, investment banks rely on a huge team of staff members with a range of specialisations. Broadly speaking, these workers fit within two categories: front and back office. There are many roles which move between the two categories, and they shouldn’t be taken as indicating that the skills required for one are not equally important for the other. Nevertheless, the division will give you a clear sense of whether or not a specific role deals primarily with internal policies and processes or client-facing responsibilities.
Front office roles
Salespeople offer prospective clients advice on trades and transmit sales to the trading desk. These clients might include individuals, hedge funds, companies and investment funds. Collectively, they’re referred to as the ‘buy side’ because they’re the ones who purchase securities and other financial products. Investment banks, by contrast, are on the ‘sell side’.
The most successful salespeople are those who can establish strong relationships with clients and offer sound advice on trades. They’re efficient multi-taskers and skilled at juggling multiple complex conversations simultaneously. Importantly, they’re committed to protecting their clients’ best interests, which often means developing a strong grasp of any social, economic and political issues that might affect sensitive investments. Finally, salespeople are responsible for keeping their clients informed and finish most days by writing market reports or calling stakeholders.
As their name suggests, traders are responsible for buying and selling financial products in accordance with bank objectives and instructions from salespeople.
Generally, a trader has two main goals. First, they try to maintain a positive ‘bid-ask spread’ by purchasing and then selling profitable commodities and products. Second, they aim to maximise liquidity, ensuring that the bank’s assets can always be sold at short notice when necessary.
Given the enormous range of financial products and commodities - from gold and iron ore to penny stocks and futures - it’s no surprise that traders often develop a very niche specialty. However, what they tend to have in common is highly developed numeracy skills, the ability to think quickly and a talent for recognising patterns in large amounts of data. Furthermore, the best traders tend to have a temperament well-suited to the fast-paced and often stressful environments in which they work.
Researcher or analyst
Researchers help guide their colleagues by analysing data before advising traders and salespeople on what’s happening in local and international markets. Typically, researchers will consume huge amounts of data, from financial forecasts to analyses of regional political and economic phenomena. They’ll then use their insights to generate predictive models and lists of investment recommendations.
Researchers need to be patient and logical thinkers who are adept at making new connections between disparate pieces of data. It’s also important that they possess excellent communication skills, because they’re frequently responsible for advising the managing director, helping colleagues prepare for client meetings and contributing to IPOs.
Managing directors lead investment banks, almost always after years spent in other positions developing the necessary skills, experience and credibility. They take responsibility for the overall performance of their organisations and network to build and maintain vital business relationships.
Corporate financiers help companies with various financial situations in a non-sales capacity. For example, they might help broker different deals, raise capital, or assist with mergers or acquisitions.
To succeed, corporate financiers require an extensive knowledge of stocks, financial products and company valuation procedures. They also need to be good listeners who can advise clients on how to respond to a variety of complex challenges. Often, corporate financiers take into account a client's goals before suggesting creative and novel ways of achieving them. The rewards include some of the highest salaries in the banking sector, while the downside is a lifestyle often defined by late nights, relentless hard work and high expectations.
Investor relations (funds)
Investor relations professionals are really a type of PR specialist. They’re responsible for ensuring that investors and shareholders know what’s happening at the bank, and strive to represent the bank’s activities in the best possible light. Their work involves sharing good news and managing unexpected crises. For this reason, it’s essential that they’re skilled communicators who can answer difficult questions when necessary and protect their employer’s reputation.
Risk management team
Employees working in the risk management team make sure everything runs smoothly and that risk is well managed so no disasters occur. Risk management experts ensure that traders make prudent decisions and must be confident expressing concern in a constructive way whenever necessary.
The compliance team has one critical, and often surprisingly complex, responsibility: they use their legal and business acumen to ensure their employers avoid unlawful activities and abide by the rules and regulations of various markets.
Back office roles
Operations staff are to traders what proofreaders are to journalists - they double-check every transaction to ensure that traders avoid mistakes and operate within company guidelines. For example, if a trader intends to buy a specific currency but directs their system to sell it instead, the operations team can intervene before the order is processed. A competent operations team is vital for the smooth execution of bank activities, and often works with other financial institutions to reconcile trades and open balances.
To excel in an operations role, you need to be adept at using various IT systems and possess the ability to master new software quickly. Because you’ll be checking data, you also need a keen eye for detail and the ability to rectify mistakes fast. Finally, you’ll require highly developed communication skills and a talent for building strong professional partnerships, so that team members can trust you when you flag errors or offer advice.
IT workers in investment banks are responsible for far more than simply fixing desktop computers or optimising software. They need to be skilled enough to manage complex computer networks, communications systems and trading platforms, ensuring minimal downtime and maximum performance.
In some investment banks, IT workers might be asked to create bespoke software that can assist traders and help with content management. They’re also responsible for data security, ensuring that critical information is protected from cybercriminals.
To succeed, IT workers must be familiar with all the latest technologies, and capable of designing and implementing improved trading and content management systems. With many traders and other banking employees frequently on the move, IT workers also need to be able to support a highly mobile workforce with a plethora of devices.
The variety of investment bank roles
As you’ve seen, investment banks aren’t simply full of traders – they include a huge range of staff members who lend their skills to a variety of essential roles. So if you’re interested in working at an investment bank, think carefully about the different career paths available and choose the one which would best suit your skills and interests.