If you're a salesperson or trader who fears losing your job this summer, spare a thought for those worse off than yourself. Think for a moment about the desk assistants, who also face the loss of their jobs and aren't necessarily enjoying themselves a whole lot in the meantime.
"I work as a trading assistant," said one respondent to our 'life satisfaction survey' earlier this year. "I sit on the trading floor, and start work same time as other front office employees. But I and often finish after them. I put in same effort as anyone in the front office, yet I am paid a fraction of amount of what other FO employees are paid and I don't get any bonuses either. Additionally there is not much career progression.
"This all demotivates me and my other fellow colleagues who work in similar space," he concluded bleakly.
It it really that bad? There's some evidence to suggest it might be. After all, traders have longstanding reputations for bullying desk assistants, the archetypal example being that of Jonathan Mathew, a former assistant on the money markets desk at Barclays.
Mathew's sorry lot as a desk assistant was detailed during a 2016 Libor trial, which resulted in him being prohibited from working in finance and in his boss, Peter Johnson, being jailed for four years.
Mathew argued in court that he wasn't responsibile for manipulating Libor because he was simply doing what Johnson told him. More shockingly, he said Johnson routinely humiliated him and that on one occasion he was made to, "stand on my chair and do a "capital cities of the world" test," while Johnson whacked him with a "12-inch bat" on the head and knuckles for incorrect answers.
Mathew, who was aged 24 and living with his parents at the time of the Libor infractions, was deaf and dyslexic and had three A level qualifications at grades EED. He reportedly had to take the regulatory examinations that were then mandatory four times before he passed. The judge was told he only got a job at Barclays because his father worked there and that the most he gained from his part in influencing Libor was some sushi and a latte. Johnson, by comparison, was later fined £145k in compensation and costs.
Mathew's case may, however, be an outlier. He joined Barclays back in 2004, when all banks were far less civilized than they are now, and he worked on a money markets desk - an area with an historic reputation for poor behaviour. Some contemporary desk assistants say they like their jobs just fine. "I am happy, my role is interesting, I am valued, but yes it’s stressful," says a contemporary desk assistant at an international bank. The extent to which the role is rewarding (or not) depends upon the bank you work for, he adds: some have a culture of treating their desk assistants better than others.
What do desk assistants do? For anyone with a mind to go into a role, the tasks have typically included managing indications of interest (IOIs), booking, processing and monitoring trades, creating P&L sheets for traders and managers, helping compliance with investigations into suspicious trades and creating reports for clients, and sometimes executing small trades at the behest of a trader.
If there's a downside to this - other than the fact that assistants 'assist' and don't generate revenues themselves, it's that a lot of these tasks can be automated. Accordingly, today's desk assistants are more likely to troubleshoot issues logging into the bank's platforms, to analyze and fix problems placing trades and to be experts on the foibles of order management systems.
Nonetheless, some things don't change. Desk assistants are still paid a lot less than traders (in London desk assistant managers' salaries are around £75k according to recruitment firm Robert Walters, and bonus potential is limited). Unsurprisingly, then, most want to become traders themselves. "Ultimately I want to become a trader," says the desk assistant at an international bank, "And this role gives you good exposure."
Unfortunately, becoming a trader may not be as easy it used to be given the number of redundant traders floating around the market. On the other hand, there should be a need for people to help navigate problems with electronic trading systems - until this role is taken over by AI. Frustrated desk assistants could be around for a few years yet.
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