A two-tier structure is emerging in the once unsung world of the back office, with some top operations people achieving pay packages of 250,000 - 500,000 (€395,000 - €790,000).
The arrival of new exchanges and settlement systems and the pursuit of straight through processing have created demand for operations executives with real project management skills and a sound understanding of the effects of globalisation.
Dev Majithia, head of the operations business at the headhunter TMP Worldwide, says such individuals are now commanding base salaries of 100,000 - 140,000 with bonus potentials of 100% or more, in some of the largest banks.
The biggest bonuses are usually related to implementing specific projects, such as consolidating settlement operations across several countries or establishing straight through processing. "A lot of people say they have straight through processing, when they don't really," says Majithia.
Maurice Evlyn Bufton, director of the operations practice at the recruitment firm Alexander Mann, also emphasises the importance of business input, versus the more traditional processing function of the back office executive: "The operations professional is recognised as taking on greater commercial and strategic importance within the business," Bufton says.
There has been a marked shift towards performance-related pay in operations, especially for with senior staff, he adds.
The key differentiator between the best paid and the rest, say headhunters, is the ability to take a proactive role, coupled with good project management skills.
In small and medium-sized institutions, meanwhile, back office pay has moved up slightly over the past year in most positions, according to a survey by Monks Partnership, the remuneration consultancy.
Median pay for a director of operations in this segment is now 95,000 this year with a bonus of 26%, compared to 93,000 and a 17% bonus twelve months ago.
A rung lower down, heads of operations have fared rather better as far as salaries are concerned, earning 65,000 compared with 60,000 last year. But their bonuses were hardly changed, at 13% of salary compared to from 11% last year.
The median salary of heads of capital markets settlements declined slightly, from 67,000 in August last year to 65,000 this year. Their bonuses were also down, from 25% last year to 20% this year.
Senior managers in derivatives settlements are now earning 49,000, up from 47,000 last year. But their bonuses fell from 15% last year to 13% this year.
Jim Maddison of Banking Additions, the recruitment firm, said that in the current hiring downturn, banks were recruiting operations staff only when they really needed them. "But when they do want someone they are hiring the best, and that is why pay levels are holding up well," he said.