Operations: Graduate Area of Work
The operations department, also informally known as the “back office”, supplies support to a firm’s revenue-generating departments by ensuring that business activities are performed successfully and efficiently. It oversees the entire life-cycle of a transaction, from from the initial preparations such as booking trades for traders, to post-trade processes in settlements.
Operations does not actively generate revenue. However, it plays a key role in business profitability by managing risk and minimising losses. This involves looking at the practices of the company itself, as well as more broadly at the market.
Most operations roles are either focused on specialised products (e.g. securities, futures, or derivatives), or in specialised functions such as settlements, client services, and risk management. In securities operations, for example, you may be responsible for ensuring that desks in linked markets have sufficient capability to communicate with each other.
Within the risk function you could be responsible for ensuring that the company’s internal processes comply with regulatory guidelines.
Most graduates who enter this field will start in a training programme, where they will be cycled through different business functions. This introductory training is a dual-purpose practice as it allows you to gain experience and an overall look at the company’s business, while at the same time assessing your compatibility for a given role.
After the training, most companies will opt to slot the new trainee under the guidance of an experienced analyst, where a period of mentoring will take place.
This period of mentorship promises more on-the-job training, and you will also begin to assume more responsibilities. As a recent graduate, your work could include introducing a new product or improving a control as a member of a team.
Advancements in technology now enable many companies to trade across multiple product areas and regions. And while the volume of transactions has increased, technology has compensated by speeding up processes as well.
For instance, transactions that used to take up to several days or weeks can now be completed within a few hours. Given the sheer volume and extreme time sensitivity of these transactions, working in operations can get very high-pressured – it’s essential to stay on the ball.
You need to possess excellent numeracy and analytical skills, as you will spend a lot of your time assessing and analysing transaction cycles and generating contingency plans. You will also need to have a good eye for detail and keen foresight in order to catch potential problems before they happen.
Good communication and listening skills are crucial, as you will be interacting with numerous internal and external parties in the course of your work. Equally important is the ability to pick things up quickly and to be flexible in terms of your decisions and scheduling, particularly since this a fast-paced line of work with heavy reliance on emerging technologies.
As such, it is also your duty to keep up with the latest developments in the financial services industry, such as regulatory changes and technological innovations.
Ups and downs
One of the main attractions for those who want to work in operations is the fast-paced, constantly-changing work life. You will always have to be on your toes to troubleshoot problems even before they happen, according to the requirements of the front office.
Many firms also encourage self-improvement among operations staff, so you will get plenty of opportunities to forward your own ideas for the enhancement of certain controls of the company and your department.
In spite of that, remember that you may not always get the chance to see your plans being actively implemented by the front office, which can be somewhat demotivating. As with many other job roles within the finance industry, the fast-paced, high-pressured nature of this line of work may not be suitable for everyone either.