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People Anatomy

A spotter’s guide to the men and women of finance.

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Operations /ˌɒpəˈreɪʃənz/ (n.)

The dirty, undignified business of making real then keeping on the road all the fantastical confabulations that sales, trading and the legal eagles dream up between them to put the bank and its clients into.

It is astounding how little these manicured legal confections resemble the actual operational ebbs and flows in a bank’s systems — or, at any rate, it would be astounding to anyone having the systems access and competence to understand them both and compare them. Alas and alack: no single person in the organisation does: the impermeable division of responsibilities rendered by the service catalog and a mature practice of down-skilling will have seen to that.

It’s odd, really: we call this “specialisation”. Brain surgeons call it “lobotomy”.

Since legal eagles never see the operational machinery in action, what it does, or can do, is of no moment to them. They will spend weeks arguing amongst themselves to shut down the paranoid contingencies that populate their fevered imaginations — indemnities, cross default, NAV triggers — notwithstanding that none have ever manifested themselves in anyone’s actual experience, none are monitored, none can even be monitored, and none feature in any operational flows.

For their part, operations staff at the coalface are no more interested in what the legal contracts say. Honestly, what does it matter? They’ve got enough on their plate already, just trying to coax sensible outcomes from the jury-rigged cats cradle of systems from the 1980s that comprise the operations infrastructure. The story of the Citibank error on its Revlon loan — part modern morality tale, part psychological horror — tells you everything you need to know: that, in short, all operations personnel are, eventually, damned.

There is only one way out that doesn’t involve a toe-tag and a cardboard box, and that is up. Now to a certain level of seniority, operations folk see themselves as misshapen bell ringers of the financial services world,[1] doing the grubby but necessary work to ensure the congregation is on time, well dressed and properly presented for evensong.

Imperceptibly, as they grow, these Morlocks will discover a taste for the contorted figures of speech that ooze from their superiors in the middle management layer. They will learn to generate byzantine PowerPoints. They will segue from opco to steerco, armed with RAG indicators and KPIs.

Operations people soon intuit that to avoid being on the receiving end of steerco recommendations— viz., that their roles be outsourced, right-sized, or delegated to a fleet of chatbots — the best place to be in on the steercos making these recommendations, and overseeing their inevitable maintenance and remediation, rather than being systematically dismembered by them.

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  1. Curiously, this is how Sales see them too.