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Citi operations head: We are the ninjas behind the scenes

Operations jobs in investment banks have a seemingly well-deserved reputation for being a bit dull. When Goldman Sachs managing director Rebecca Anderton-Davies worked in operations, she found it very boring. "I didn’t love the work, which mainly involved repetitive tasks such as checking the basic time/date/amount/account details against the equivalent entries from other banks," she wrote in her recent autobiography, observing that it was - however, better than her previous job of stacking supermarket shelves. 

Some people love operations, though. They include Matt Sugden-Jones, Citi's head of data and analytics for its operational excellence division, who has spent his entire career in the 'back office' of the US investment bank after joining as a middle office operations analyst in 2010. He is a big fan. We asked Sugden-Jones what makes his job more than merely tolerable. This is what he said...

What is your role and what does it involve?

At present, I am in charge of overseeing the Data & Analytics division within Citi’s Enterprise Operational Excellence group, located in London. Our primary responsibility is to develop and implement innovative new strategies and tools to assist enterprise-wide Operations groups to articulate their performance at delivering against Citi’s strategic objectives. To accomplish this objective, my team collaborates closely with Operational Leaders across Citi Shared Services, the Institutional Clients Group, Private Banking & Wealth Management.

I joined the Citi Graduate program in 2010 and have remained with the company since then, assuming various positions. Prior to my current role, I served as the lead of tech transformation for Markets Operations.

What does it mean to work in operations now? 

Operations professionals work closely with traders, salespeople, internal departments, as well as directly with our clients to ensure the efficient execution of transactions, playing a crucial role in the smooth functioning of the bank’s operations. Typically, post-execution functions would include processing and confirming trades, handling the transfer of assets, reconciling accounts, and managing operational risk, as well as working with clients to resolve any discrepancies. It’s a fast-paced environment and our employees require strong analytical and problem-solving skills, as well as great attention to detail. 

Are banks' operations jobs all about automation?

Overall, automation has been great for operations professionals as many (but not all!) of our mundane & repetitive tasks have been automated. There are still plenty of tasks where human judgement and professional decision-making remain critical to the success of our business.

Are there any manual processes in banks that will never be automated?

There will always be processes which require skilled professionals and manual decision-making in operations. These would include the launch of new products, complex trade scenarios, exception handling, ensuring regulatory compliance, risk management and providing a human touch to deliver best in class service to our clients.  

How have operations jobs changed?

 My top 3 changes for operations processes over the past decade have been:

  1. Greater Automation – leveraging technology to improve processes and enhance our customer experience (increased straight through processing [STP])
  2. Increased emphasis on risk management, operational resilience & regulatory compliance – in the wake of the global financial crisis and recent disruptions, such as the covid-19 pandemic
  3. Evolution of client expectations – demanding real-time information, transparency and streamlined processes from investment bank

How do you think it will evolve from here?

The future of operations will be driven by several factors, including enhancements in Technology (including artificial intelligence), data analytics, regulatory requirements, and evolving customer needs.

Embracing big data & analytics enables predictive modelling, real time monitoring to identifying patterns, detect abnormalities and identify opportunities to improve process health. My team are doing some exciting work in this space, including enabling enhanced data-led intelligent decision-making, as well as using predictive analytics to identify and stop operational incidents before they happen.

So you like working in operations then?

Operations people are the ninjas of the financial world, the secret sauce that keeps the financial world spinning! While front office are out there shaking hands, we’re quietly saving the day, making sure everything runs like a well-oiled machine (most of the time)!

At Citi our operations teams are entrusted with the task for moving between 3 and 5 trillion dollars globally every day, which is equivalent to Germany’s entire GDP per annum. We cannot afford to be complacent or bored performing such a critical role.

Over the years, I have witnessed our operations teams transform into a critical client interface, ensuring timely transaction processing, and acting as a trusted and indispensable partner for our clients. As trades and transactions continue to be executed seamlessly through automated front office systems, I would envisage operations professionals to increasingly be the first point of contact for our clients in the majority of instances. Operations at Citi is a very exciting place to be at the moment.

What kinds of people suit operations jobs?

I have found that operations has a wide range of challenges that require innovative problem-solving skills and Ops has been a great space for continuous leading and professional growth. There is a clear path for career development and by consistently delivery results and operating as a team player, you can unlock opportunities for progression. If you like to challenge the status quo, make your mark, and build a scalable organisation which delivers for clients and supports business growth – operations is a great place to be.

On a personal level, I am dyslexic, which has shaped the way I perceive and approach the world. It influences my cognitive thinking patterns and problem solving-solving abilities in distinctive ways.

Throughout my career to date, disability has allowed me to approach Operational challenges from alternative angles, think creatively, and connect seemingly unrelated dots to solve problems. This different cognitive approach has proved invaluable in my ability to resolve complex issues, as well as find fresh solutions to challenges the organization has been struggling with. My dyslexia has empowered me to drive innovative changes to our business model and transform the way we conduct our operations in a number of areas.

I am grateful to be part of a firm that values diverse talents, embraces, and empowers unique perspectives bought by individuals with different cognitive abilities. By embracing my dyslexia, Citi has not only enabled me to grow professionally, but to excel in my role and contribute meaningfully to the continued success of our organization.

Have a confidential story, tip, or comment you’d like to share? Contact: +44 7537 182250 (SMS, Whatsapp or voicemail). Telegram: @SarahButcher. Or, email editortips@efinancialcareers.com. Signal also available  

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AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor

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