The tale of Bob and Jim

The contrasting stories of front-office traders and back-office workers a year into remote working and a reminder of the importance of investing in your post-trade tech stack.

Once upon a time there was a senior front-office worker called Jim. Now, Jim had a nice desk by the window on the third floor of his City office, with several large screens, including access to his very own Bloomberg terminal. His back-office colleague Bob, on the other hand, who had also been at the firm for a similar tenure, had a rather different day-to-day working experience. Cue 2020 and everything changed, or did it?

Jim’s firm spared no expense in allowing him to set up his very own ‘rona rig. He “pivoted”, as they say, rather elegantly from a desk in the City to a desk in his home office with multiple screens, displaying modern applications designed to be as user-friendly as possible. Latency of response matters in this environment, after all. Even the terminal access could be replicated at home, thus granting him a similar level of productivity and a sense of ease. Of course, Jim isn’t spared all the challenges of the WFH environment—the isolation, the endless Zoom calls etc etc—but he has as good as possible access to all the technology tools he needs.

Bob, unfortunately, had a bit of a chaotic start to his lockdown life. The rather ancient platforms he has to access on a daily basis to get his job done were not set up for remote access. It took a few weeks before everything could be properly achieved at home and he didn’t have the benefit of proximity to his colleagues to bodge together some of the usual fixes that they’ve frequently had to resort to when forced to get things over the line manually.

He didn’t have Bloomberg chat or Symphony or, for that matter, any other useful communication tools aside from his mobile phone to sort out this mess and communicate with his team and front office colleagues. There was a lot of shouting, stress and long nights, hunched over a single screen on his laptop, scrolling endlessly back and forth across the world’s worst user interface to cope with his key operational tasks at a time when volumes were, as the press have repeatedly said, “unprecedented”.

However, unlike Jim, things haven’t got markedly better for Bob a year later. The software he’s dealing with hasn’t been updated in over a decade and isn’t likely to be this year. The IT team have enough on their hands. He has got the benefit of a new home printer and scanner (just don’t tell his compliance team), and access to Microsoft Teams for his endless internal calls. But his comms tool isn’t integrated into the other systems he uses and all his other technology tools must be juggled alongside Excel to put together all the reports he needs.

He loves his job but the prospect of doing this for another few years isn’t appealing. In fact, he’s looking to see whether there are any jobs out there that can get him out of the operations area, but there’s a lot of competition as all the juniors on his team have been looking for months too.

And the moral of this story? Give Bob* (and his team) a break—invest in your post-trade technology stack. It’ll save you having to recruit more operations people every year.

*Any resemblance these two characters bear to people I may or may not have chatted to down the pub in the City is purely circumstantial.