by Brian DeChesare Comments (663)

Holla Back, Office: Should You Avoid the Back Office at All Costs?

Back Office vs Front Office

A decade ago, I wrote an article strongly advising you against working in “the back office” at a bank.

It became one of the most popular and controversial articles on this site.

In the comments, people on both sides of the debate weighed in:

Camp #1: I agree! The back office is terrible; I’ve been here for five years, and I need to get out right away.

Camp #2: This article is nonsense. The back office offers a fine career path that has some nice benefits, and the jobs are still decent.

So, who’s right?

And how have things changed in the ~10 years since the 2008 financial crisis?

Definitions: Front Office vs. Middle Office vs. Back Office

There are dozens of groups at large investment banks, but they’re often placed into three main categories: The “Front Office,” the “Middle Office,” and the “Back Office.”

Front Office roles generate revenue and often have significant client interaction; the classic examples are investment banking and sales & trading, but equity research also qualifies (sort of).

In these Front Office roles, you advise clients on deals or help them trade securities, and the clients pay fees to the bank.

It’s trickier to explain the difference between Middle and Back Office roles, but some people use the following definitions:

Middle Office roles support processes related to revenue generation; examples include risk management and treasury.

A bank doesn’t make money directly from risk management, but as a result of risk management, the traders can do their jobs more effectively.

Finally, Back Office roles relate to processes and systems that must exist regardless of revenue generated; examples include compliance, accounting, technology (IT), and HR.

These are the “classic” categories, but, as of 2017, they are somewhat outdated.

Many banks have stopped using these terms, and the line between Middle Office (MO) and Back Office (BO) has always been blurry to non-existent.

Also, a role like risk management could be Middle Office if you’re on the trading floor or Back Office if you’re at the corporate headquarters.

Many MO and BO roles have become project-based rather than process-based, as those functions have been outsourced.

People still search for these terms and use them in online discussions, but a more helpful distinction might be:

  • Revenue-Generating Roles: Investment banking, sales & trading, and equity research.
  • Support Roles: Operations, compliance, settlements, accounting/finance, IT, etc.

Even if you accept a job in a “revenue-generating role,” you as an individual will not be generating revenue for a long time.

At the Analyst or Associate level, you are a cost center until you start bringing in revenue (see: The Myth of the Front-Office Analyst).

Holla Back: How Has the Back Office Changed?

My original advice to avoid “support roles” still holds in most cases.

Non-revenue-generating and non-client-facing roles have many disadvantages, including:

  • Lower Pay – Junior-level base salaries are a bit lower than those in revenue-generating roles, but bonuses are significantly lower. An IB Analyst might receive a bonus equal to 70-100% of his/her base salary in a good year, but it’s more like 5-10% of base salary in these roles. The bonus percentage climbs significantly only at the mid-to-senior levels (VP/Director/MD).
  • Difficulty in Transitioning to Front-Office Roles Elsewhere – Yes, you can do it, but it is still an uphill battle. And the transition is difficult whether you’re at a large bank, a hedge fund, a private equity firm, or anything else.
  • Repetitive Work – Much of the process-related and day-to-day work can get repetitive, but this point may be a bit less true for certain roles now. Note that much of the IB Analyst/Associate workload also gets repetitive (e.g., writing pitch books or CIMs).
  • Lack of Respect – This one isn’t universally true, but many front-office employees show little respect for support staff – partially because they’re always being yelled at by their superiors. If an IT system breaks, they may take out some of their anger on you.

All that said, I’m less negative about the Back Office than I was at the time of the 2008-2009 financial crisis.

In certain cases, it can be helpful to accept a BO role… as long as you have a long-term plan.

Here are a few benefits of these roles:

  • More Free Time and a Better Life – You’ll have more free time at work, you’ll get more time to pursue hobbies/interests outside of work, and, most importantly, you will have more time to network, learn new skills, or even pursue another degree.
  • It’s Easier to Stand Out and Get Promoted – The competition in these roles will not be as motivated as your peers in front-office roles. You can stand out more easily by automating simple processes or making tweaks to improve profitability.
  • At the Top Levels, the Money is Still Good – If you make it to the Director or Managing Director level in a risk or support role at a large bank, you can still earn in the low hundreds of thousands USD per year. It takes much longer to reach that compensation level, but it is possible.
  • You Get a Solid Brand Name That Lets You Apply to Other Industries – Finally, if you accept a back-office role at a bulge-bracket bank, you’ll instantly get a well-known brand name on your resume/CV.

People in other industries don’t necessarily understand this back-office vs. front-office distinction, so they might look at your resume and say, “Wow, Operations at Goldman Sachs! What a great company.”

The Bottom Line

If your long-term goal is to work in a revenue-generating role in investment banking, private equity, hedge funds, real estate, or anything else, you should move into a revenue-generating role as soon as possible.


IB Interview Guide

Land investment banking offers with 578+ pages of detailed tutorials, templates and sample answers, quizzes, and 17 Excel-based case studies.

learn more

The longer you stay in a back-office role, the harder it is to make this transition – especially if you’re in a full-time role rather than an internship.

If you can choose between front-office work at a boutique bank or back-office work at a large bank, take the boutique offer if you want to stay in the finance industry for the long term.

There are also a few cases where a back-office role can be helpful for moving into a front-office role:

Exception #1: Internships

It’s not the end of the world if you accept a back-office internship, especially if it’s your first or second year in university and you have time for more internships.

If you’ve attended a non-target school, it can be very helpful to get the brand name of a large bank on your resume.

Many of the readers in our “breaking in” stories completed back or middle-office internships at large banks and then leveraged the experience to win front-office internships.

In interviews, you can say that you wanted to learn how a large bank worked and gain exposure to all areas, but you quickly realized you wanted to do client-facing work.

Finally, sometimes you can move from a back or middle-office rotation to a front-office one in an extended internship (e.g., one that lasts for 6-12 months); there’s a “compliance to equity research” example here.

Exception #2: Sales & Trading

In support roles, you tend to interact with traders far more than bankers, which makes it more plausible to move from BO/MO roles into front-office S&T roles.

Candidates occasionally move from trade support roles into “real” trading, especially if they work on extended projects with traders.

The downside is that sales & trading itself has a negative outlook, and banks have greatly reduced their S&T teams as a result of new regulations.

Exception #3: Corporate Finance

Corporate finance roles – FP&A, Controllership, Treasury, etc. – at large companies are also considered Back or Middle Office since they do not generate revenue directly.

However, the pay ceiling in these roles is higher than it is in BO/MO roles at large banks, and the work can be more interesting.

They also offer opportunities to move into other groups, departments, and regions.

Sometimes it is possible to move from BO/MO roles at a bank into these roles, especially if you’ve done accounting or treasury work at a bank.

Exception #4: Smaller Markets

In some markets, true front-office work may be scarce.

A prime example is India, where most large banks offer back-office and KPO roles to undergraduates and reserve the few front-office roles for IIM graduates.

It’s still not ideal to accept a back-office role, but it is possible to move from a BO job at a large bank into a front-office role at a boutique bank.

An upcoming M&I interview will feature a reader who made a move exactly like this one.

Exception #5: Quant/Programming Roles

Finally, if you’re mathematically inclined or you’re a skilled programmer, you may be able to leverage these skills to move from BO/MO work into a revenue-generating role.

Quant hedge funds illustrate how you might make this move, but you can do it even in less quantitative areas.

As one example, a reader recently moved from a support position in public finance to a front-office role there because of his modeling and programming abilities.

VBA and DBC are common in public finance, and his skills in those areas, plus a dedicated networking effort, led to interviews and an eventual offer.

Is the Back Office the End of the World?


That is, if you have a long-term plan in mind.

Especially if you accept a support role in an early internship or a role that has significant overlap with trading, you can get out.

And if you want to stay in the Back or Middle Office for the long term, more power to you.

You’ll still be better off than 95% of the population; it’s just that your compensation and exit opportunities won’t match those of front-office roles.

But outside of angry comments online, maybe that doesn’t matter so much.

For Further Reading

M&I - Brian

About the Author

Brian DeChesare is the Founder of Mergers & Inquisitions and Breaking Into Wall Street. In his spare time, he enjoys memorizing obscure Excel functions, editing resumes, obsessing over TV shows, traveling like a drug dealer, and defeating Sauron.

Break Into Investment Banking

Free Exclusive Report: 57-page guide with the action plan you need to break into investment banking - how to tell your story, network, craft a winning resume, and dominate your interviews

We respect your privacy. Please refer to our full privacy policy.


Read below or Add a comment

  1. Avatar
    Himanshu Agarwal

    I am an Indian Chartered Accountant and have also passed all the levels of the CFA program. I have dedicated my 4 years concentrating on clearing in these exams. I still haven’t decided which profile I want to get into as I believe in trying first and then making opinions. Having said that I am offered a position as a trade accounting and operational analyst position in a Fintech company catering to various big hedge funds. I just want to be sure that I must be able to realize my full potential. As you are suggesting people to move out from India to bigger markets like US and UK for better opportunities. Do you know any path to move to these bigger markets?

    1. The usual path is to complete a Master’s or MBA program in one of those countries. Or, start working at a multinational company in India and then ask for a transfer.

  2. Avatar
    Sarah Choudry

    Hi Brian,

    Thank you for the insight. I am a recent graduate who completed a Tech summer internship at a bulge bracket bank, and have received a full time offer on the graduate program for tech. However, my interest lies in Private Banking. My two strategies at the moment are:
    1. Network within the bank, during my graduate program, and transition onto the PB graduate program or a entry role in PB
    2. Apply for the next round of PB graduate programs at other banks in September for 2021 start, while I am working in the tech role. However, I am concerned with the issues that may arise with leaving one bank for another mid-program, and the negative impact it may have on my career.
    Can you please advise me on what the best route for transitioning into PB from Tech would be?

    Thank you!

    1. I would just do #1 and network internally. It can be difficult to make the back/mid-office to front-office move, but it’s probably more feasible for transitions into PB because there’s less competition for those roles to begin with. I don’t think it’s a great idea to apply to other banks until you’ve exhausted all the possibilities at your current firm first.

  3. Hey Brian,

    I am a junior at a non-target with a 3.8 GPA. I got a summer offer at a BB S&T for the summer and I recently wanted to transition into a IB role. I was wondering how I could make that transition. All the connections I currently have are in S&T. If it helps I am interning in the fixed income and currencies over the summer.

  4. Hi Brian, very interesting piece, thanks! I’ve been working as a transaction lawyer for a boutique European investment bank for about a year and a half now. Before that I worked as a banking and finance attorney for about two years in a reputable law firm. I mainly work on capital markets transactions (DCM-ECM), and work closely with the respective front office teams of the bank in a “semi-client-facing” role. I like the work and would want stay in finance for the longer term, but am considering moving (back) to a revenue-generating (front office) role in the future. I like my current work but feel that I could have a lot to offer in a more client-facing role (knowledge of transaction structures and the proces (at least from a legal perspective), solid communication skills, great attention to detail, service-minded)
    I’m a lawyer with two graduate degrees but have no formal education in finance as of yet. I’m hoping to use the favorable hours I currently have to study up on finance, network in and outside the bank, etc. in order to gear my profile towards such a transition.
    Any pointers or tips you might have for someone with my profile and ambition would be much appreciated!

    1. We covered law to IB here:

      But that assumes you are working at a law firm. If you’re already at a bank, I don’t think it should be that difficult. Reach out to some of the people you’ve worked with in ECM/DCM and ask directly about the possibility of transitioning over, mention that you’ve learned finance independently, etc. If there’s nothing at your current firm, start networking with others via LinkedIn/email.

      1. Thanks, I’ve read the article in your response (also helpful). I should’ve clarified: I started out as an attorney at a law firm, and then transferred to the bank I’m currently at, working as an in-house lawyer. I guess I’m just concerned that my current role as in-house lawyer is “too” back office (no offense to BO employees; I’ve truly come to appreciate BO colleagues who are good at what they do) to be able to transition to a front office role.

        1. I don’t know, law experience is usually not perceived as “back office.” The objections usually tend to be around do you know finance, can you do the math, etc. So I would worry less about the back office perception and more about those other points.

  5. Hi,

    I have an interview for a Portfolio Analyst role for a well-known bank. The role is operations based, with reconciliations, cash settlements etc.
    Isn’t a portfolio analyst meant to do financial modelling on companies and valuations?
    From the employees’ profiles on LinkedIn I can see that who progresses to Portfolio Manager or VP has responsibilities of portfolio allocation and investment performance for clients.
    Do you think it is a front office or back office role?
    I would be more interested in front office of course, but I don’t know if this one is a good opportunity or not.

    Thank you!

    1. That sounds more like a middle/back office role. “Analyst” could mean a huge variety of different things depending on the context, and there are many “Analysts” in the middle and back office as well.

      It is possible that people gain investing responsibilities as they advance (more common in public markets roles than with deals).

      1. Thank you Brian,

        I am aware of the flexibility about the various “Analyst” roles, but what about the “Portfolio” roles? I have some doubts because this bank has Operations Analyst roles and Portfolio Analyst ones, but the latters look very operations focused as well.

        1. It’s hard to say because those are not exactly standard titles, so they work differently at different firms. But from your description, it seems like more of a middle/back-office role.

  6. Brian I heard this comment from MDs that an Investment Banking Analyst role is back office work, this cannot be correct right?

    1. It is true from a certain point of view:

      But it’s not exactly true because unlike most “real” back-office roles, IB Analysts have the chance to advance up the ladder into client-facing roles at the senior levels.

  7. Hi Brian,
    I’m a junior at a non-target in the greater NYC area, and I just accepted a junior year internship at a bulge bracket as an internal audit summer analyst. I don’t have FO dreams, but I am interested in pursuing a FT role in risk, or something non-audit related. Do I stand a chance? I have a 3.8 GPA and have prior internship experience and participate in a couple of clubs. I’ll be recruiting for FT positions, but should I also be recruiting for SA internships as well? Delaying my graduation would be well worth it for me not to end up in audit. Will banks see me applying fo both and ding me? what do you think?

    1. I don’t think you need to delay your graduation just to switch roles within the middle or back office – you should be able to network your way into something else without that and without going for internships once again. Doing that might also create confusion because banks might wonder what you’re doing. I would just accept the internal audit offer, do the internship, and network once you’re on the job.

  8. Hi Brian,

    Interesting article! I am an Engineering student in India and looking to break into a front office IBD. Most of the BB Investment Banks in my campus recruit for internships and jobs for the Back office roles(IT mainly). My question is this: would a back-office internship combined with the writing the CFA Level I help me get a front office role later on? If not, is it possible to move from a back office role to a front office one within the organization, again, with the CFA?

    Thanks in advance.

    1. It is possible but extremely difficult to do so, especially in India because the market is so small there ( Your best bet is to move into a role like Big 4 Transaction Services or Valuation and use that to get into banking, or, better yet, go overseas into a market like the U.S. or U.K. that’s much bigger and has more opportunities.

  9. Avatar
    She D' Towin

    Hi Brian

    I am a 28 year old chartered accountant in India working at Offshore IB division of a big 4 accounting for last two years( my entire experience has been assisting onshore analyst or associate in building a financial model, IM, teaser, pitch book and preparing company profile ). I always wanted to get into front end IB role but haven’t had any luck. Now I have a offer from a big five accounting firm in Oman in the transaction advisory team where majority of the work will be of valuations due diligence feasibility study and some M&A activity. I am pursuing CFA and will finish that in 2020 and at that time I plan to do a one year MBA from a European University (SDA Boccioni etc.) then join and investment bank as an associate. My query is:

    1. is this Oman role a good opportunity to get me into a front end IB?
    2. Does my CFA and MBA plan make sense or should I plan an alternative?

    1. 1) Yes, but it will still be tough if you stay in a smaller market like India because there aren’t many jobs there relative to the population size, and most are taken by IIM graduates. You might have a better shot in bigger markets such as the UK.

      2) I don’t think you really need a CFA if you’re already a chartered accountant and you’re going to get TAS experience. Maybe just finish Level 1 and stop there.

  10. Avatar
    Sophia Zeng

    Hi Brian, I am a computer science student in a target school. I recently got an internship offer as a technology analyst in a BB. I have not assigned a group yet. I struggled a lot about how to decide. Most of my friends want to do a job in big tech companies and advise me not to do technology in investment banking. I do not want to restrict myself to be in tech/IB, but I definitely want to do a job that can teach me something new instead of just doing maintaining.

    I would like to ask you do you think the technology division in the top three BB (morgan stanley, goldman) are essentially different from other BB? What kind of groups do you recommend if I want to do something in future that closely connects with front office (especially trading) if I am inclined to math in CS?

    1. If you want to work in technology, I would strongly recommend joining one of the big tech companies initially to get the brand-name benefit and better experience for your resume. Tech at the large banks is improving, but it’s still not “front office” and is worse than front-office roles there. If you want to do tech combined with finance, better options would be fin-tech startups or quant funds or funds that use quantitative strategies. If you want to do trading eventually, a tech role could work, but the other options I just mentioned are still better.

  11. Avatar
    Dhruv Gupta

    Hi Brain,

    Thanks for being awesome ! My query: I am working in Offshore Valuations team of KPMG. This is a backend/KPO role and I do Valuations support for UK practice and I do not get to work on end to end assignments. I have always wanted to join mid market front-end IB (KPMG, Deloitte Duff & Phelps etc) . I am getting offers from Boutique IB (Indian). Could you please suggest me:

    Does staying in KPO/offshore units help me in my goal?
    Is it better to join Boutique firm than staying at backend?
    What would you have done?

  12. I’m an M&A Analyst at an EB, but actually think that you’re a bit too pessimistic on the BO, at least in IT.

    My dad immigrated to the US in the ‘80s and had worked in technology at various BBs since, and he’s been an MD in technology since 2000. He makes around 500k-800k (bonus fluctuates depending on bank performance) a year working 45-55 hours a week. In his earlier years, however, he was putting in 50-65 hours a week to ride up.

    By any standard, that is good comp, even in the ny/nj/ct metro. And while my MDs (M&A MDs) make much more than that, they travel all the time and respond to tons of emails and calls on weekends, and have way less time off.

    The short of it is, imo, if you work hard in technology at a bank, you can make bank.

    1. Yes, you can earn a lot at the top levels. But there’s no guarantee you’ll make it, even in an IT role, and front-office roles give you more options if you drop out in the early-to-mid stages and want to do something else. Also, if you worked in technology at an actual tech company, you could earn a lot more at the top levels. So, point taken, but I would still say IT at a bank is not the best place to do technology work, though it has some advantages over other roles at a bank.

  13. Morgan Stanley has a structured Treasury Dept internship program. Do you know anything about this program and ability to leverage into IB full time offer?

    1. No, sorry. Readers might be able to advise you on this one.

  14. Hi, Im just about to start a Corporate Actions Analyst at a swiss bank (this is my first job out of undergrad college) , and I was wondering if you could share a few thoughts on these issues
    1. A career path in Corporate Actions (yay or nay?)

    2. further education and if it would help my prospects into getting into a FO role

    Thanks so much!

    1. Sorry, don’t know anything about this industry. I’ll see if we can cover it in a future article or interview.

  15. Hi Brian, this summer I am working in the private sector in DC doing policy analysis for asset managers and investors. I have done a lot of work with federal regulatory policy. I noticed some positions open for next year at many large banks for regulatory compliance analysts requiring little to no experience in finance and only a bachelors degree. Would I have a shot at these programs? And if so, what should I do to prepare?

    1. Yes, potentially. We don’t cover compliance roles on this site, but you could still get questions on accounting, valuation, etc. as well as the regulatory frameworks for banks, such as Basel III, Dodd-Frank, CRD IV in Europe, and so on. So learning about all of those would be a good first step (and to understand them, you need to know something about accounting and the financial statements for banks).

  16. Avatar
    Shivanshu Chauhan

    Hi Bran,
    I am an Engineering graduate and I have got Full time offer (after 2 months internship) from Morgan Stanley, Back office (Technology and Data division). I am highly interested in Front Office Investment, Banking.
    Can I get into Investment Banking by networking in the firm and learning Finance by my own? OR Do I need to get MBA for entering in Investment Banking?
    Will CFA help me in getting into IB?

    Thanks in Advance

    1. It will be quite difficult to move from a FT role in the back office to a FT role in the front office. You might be able to do it if you move to a smaller firm. The CFA or learning finance might help a bit, but I’ve seen very few cases of someone directly moving from the back office into front-office IB. It is somewhat easier on the sales & trading side.

      1. Avatar
        Shivanshu Chauhan

        Thanks for the reply.

        Suppose I do a lot of networking and get the required skill-set, will it be possible??

        Can you suggest me topics and concepts I need to focus on, to get the skill set?

        1. Avatar
          Shivanshu Chauhan

          Can I get internship in Front Office Investment Banking division (if not FT role) ?

        2. Accounting, financial modeling, valuation, etc., see the rest of the site. You will most likely need another degree to do it. Anything’s possible, but your chances aren’t great if you stay in the back office too long.

  17. Hi Brian,
    Throughout my network effort, as an international student from China, I joined one of the biggest (most prestigious) PE firms on the street in its internal audit function as an intern. Internship is 5 month of length that could be extended to fulfill my one year OPT period. Having prepared anything for front roles, but still I didn’t break into it. Finally I was brought to this back office role at huge PE firm, I would like to hear more of advice from you as to how I could transfer to a front role within a year. The team I was in really helped me a lot, how can I try to get into a front role without showing my team I am a person who doesn’t have too much loyalty or appreciation. Thanks!

    1. You might find this account helpful:

      You’ll probably have to move to a smaller firm or go into a front-office role in something other than PE… or consider an MSF degree to make the switch.

  18. Hi Brian,
    I ran into your article while preparing for an epic battle with my boss on setting clear boundaries for my department which seems to be a convenient mix of Front and Back office tasks (convenient for him, obviously). We have been given the ambiguous name of “Commercial Office”, but with a Back office job description.
    My office is responsible for the “sales operations” in our company so we input orders into the ERP system and take care of shipping and invoicing. Since a recent change of ownership and a consequent increase of workload for everyone, our direct interaction with clients increases everyday, The Front Office (Sales dpt. in our case) brings the sale home and abbandons us completely to manage any contact with the customer. We get the the responsibilties from both worlds and the perks from none, since we get neither the credit for the revenue nor have enough time to dedicate to the “repetitve” but necessary tasks that make up the daily business of a Back Office… Wish me luck!

  19. Hi Brian,

    What are some ways one can go from back office to front office in a full-time role? I’m hopefully going to do a Masters in Management, but most of the placements at this school are in back-office roles.

    1. It is very difficult, but the best options are to aim for boutique firms, go back for a Master’s degree and use that to get in, or aim for front-office roles in an area like sales & trading where it’s easier to move over.

  20. Hey Brian, thanks for the article, I’d also appreciate some advice.

    I’m an undergraduate at a target school going into my junior-year summer and am facing two options: (1) Back-office at a bulge bracket (i.e. Controllers), or (2) Part-time equity research role at a large bank. My goal is to ultimately get into IB/PE, so would you recommend me towards either option? Option 2 comes with lower pay which is somewhat of an issue but not a deal-breaker, and the bank from Option 1 has better name-recognition. Thanks for your help!

    1. Option #2 is probably better because at least ER is considered “front office” and closer to IB/PE. You could get the brand name of a large firm in other ways as well (summer programs, bank-sponsored competitions, etc.).

  21. Hi Brian, would appreciate if you could give me some advice. I am currently working at an outsourcing company whose client is a large private bank. I do settlements on a day to day basis and it’s really monotonous. However, I agree that it has work life balance and there is definitely room to progress and grow. My target is to land a role in research (preferably commodities) at a bank. I’m on a 6 month contract which is ending in May, should I leave or continue to stay for another 6 months?

    1. It’s almost always better to look for another job when you already have one job, so I would recommend staying, especially if you have a decent amount of free time during/after work.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *