27 year old working in institutional sales/research - Potential Exit Opps? Too late to pivot?

I currently work at a midsized "smart beta" ETF shop - $15-25 billion AUM - doing institutional sales and investment research. I was a college athlete at a state school and honestly put almost no thought into life after graduation until my senior year of college - no internships or any kind of meaningful work experience in college. Graduated with an economics degree and just above a 3.5 GPA, but I got really serious towards the end of school and all my 300+ level econ classes were all straight As.

I knew I wanted to work in AM as an analyst in some capacity but the lack of experience made it really difficult to land an interview. Took a job out of college at a big auto manufacturer working in a pretty high touch role at the intersection of finance, strategy, supply chain, and sales ops. I thought that job would ultimately allow me to pivot into some type of a role in finance or AM but I was clearly wrong. The job was really cool and I got hands on experience working with C level execs but made the decision to jump ship to an internal sales role at my current company.

I was quickly sent out in the field to be an external and after about two years I was brought back to our HQ to start our institutional sales channel and help with investment research. Honestly my current job is awesome, I get to wear a lot of hats that people at bigger firms wouldn't get to - I'm currently our only institutional salesperson, I get to educate a 100 person sales force on markets and products every week, I get to work on new product design, and I get a say in firm-wide sales strategy. When I say 'institutional' I mean I primarily sell our ETFs to firm model PMs (think ML, MS, UBS, etc), other asset managers, and pure institutions like pensions and so on.

I'm at a bit of a crossroads in my life where even though I like what I do currently, I don't want to get boxed into it. I've always dreamed of working at an actual buyside AM shop like a HF or a MF, where I can do more meaningful research and make actual investment decisions rather than selling packaged products (and doing research that supports the sale of packaged products). I'm 27 now (graduated 2017) and I fear the longer I wait, the less likely I'll be able to make the switch. I graduated college with no formal financial training so I decided to take the CFA - passed level 1 of the CFA in Feb this year and I'm sitting for level 2 in November.

I've never really been indoctrinated in the straight-line career path camp but I'm well aware that certain jobs early in your career (ie IB) give you a skillset (and network) that allows you to pivot into a number of different paths as you move forward. So I guess what I'm saying is that I believe the jump can be made but I'm aware time is of the essence and there are a limited number of ways to make it happen. Is my only option at this point to try for a top 15 MBA program as a means to learn more and pivot?

I have a pretty extensive understanding of public markets / factor driven investing and I've done macro research, but I've never built financial models or done any extensive single company analysis. Curious if anyone started out with a similar background or knows anybody that's successfully made the switch from more of a pure sales role to an analyst at a MF or HF.

Also worth noting this isn't a 'clout' thing for me - I don't care about name brands or anything like that, just genuinely love public markets and want to take a more active role in making real investment decisions. Would also be curious to hear from anyone who's made the pivot to multi-asset portfolio management (because that's where my expertise is more aligned), or people who have worked as analysts at Family Offices.

Comments (11)

2mo
lilcoop, what's your opinion? Comment below:

What type of asset management sales did you work in and how'd you make the pivot?

All in comp is super variable - I get paid a relatively laughable base salary and then commission (bps) on any business I bring in. All in comp could honestly come in anywhere between $150k - $700k over the next year depending on how our products hold up in this environment. Probably closer to $200k this year if I'm being realistic, but a few of the things I have in the pipeline could double that overnight if they hit. I also think smart beta ETF adoption has been slow on the institutional front but everything I've seen suggests more traditional institutional investors like pensions / insurance company general accounts are looking to increase their allocations to factor driven strategies in the future.

One of the scariest parts of making a switch is missed opportunity - I was lucky enough to get in on the ground floor of a fast growing firm in a fast growing segment of the market so the upside is huge. I try to think less about current foregone earnings and more about what I'm going to spend the rest of my life doing and if it's something I'm truly passionate about. They say wholesaling is the "best kept secret" in finance but it also comes with golden handcuffs - I have buddies who are on pace to make $600k+ this year at 27-30 years old. They'll probably make $500k-$1mill for the next 2-3 years at least here, but most of those guys never get out of wholesaling. I understand that might sound great to some, but I've talked to lifelong wholesalers who started back in the golden age of AM sales who went on long stretches making over a million a year and all of them suggested I get out of wholesaling. I've liked the pivot to institutional because the clients/prospects are a lot more sophisticated and the scheduling isn't as stressful, but still think I'm looked at as mostly a "sales guy" in the industry. Keep in mind I still do research and educate our salesforce, so it's not all "sales" but that's still the bulk of it.

I already work in somewhat of a client PM role for our biggest clients here so I've thought about doing that, but really would prefer to get experience as an analyst that actually participates in the investment decision making process. It's not that I don't think the client PM role would be attractive, I just don't want to look back in 20 years and think "what if?" if I never really tried to pursue what I want to do.

2mo
NahFAM69, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Maybe look into IR at a HF, Placement agent at a place like PJT, or wholesaling at a place like Apollo. 

Nah
  • Associate 1 in IB - Cov
2mo

I covered RIAs for a long-only fund manager. I went back and got an mba to pivot. I understand what you mean by not wanting to get pigeonholed, I think that's why I did it. I don't regret my mba at all but sometimes think about going back to the AM industry for the lifestyle, most likely something in institutional sales or key accounts. At 27 you have a few more years before you need to decide if you want to go the mba route. 

2mo
lilcoop, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Honestly just regret minimization. I like the job and the upside as far as pay is definitely attractive, but I know I'm only scratching the surface with the type of in-depth knowledge I could have if I moved into a more intellectually stimulating role / field.

I think there's a big difference between pursuing AM for money / as an intellectual pursuit. I might just have some imposter syndrome or be at the trough of the Dunning-Kruger curve right now, but it seems like there's just so much more to learn and I've pretty much maxed out how much I'm going to learn / be pushed intellectually at my current firm. I had a boss who came from a HF and was always blown away by how much he knew about so many different topics from macro down to company fundamentals.

I'm not generally a "grass is always greener" guy - but I just think I'd get more meaning out of a career that's more aligned with my interests. No denying high level sales roles at top AM shops are lucrative and offer some of the best work-life balance in the industry - that's the dilemma.

2mo
LehmanRskMgmt, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Let me preface my opinion by saying this - I spent a considerable amount of time in my undergrad years (now early-20s yet still early in my career) doing public market research and participating in various clubs/competitions sponsored by my "non-target school" or whatever the incels of WSO would label me as. I ignored a metric ton of advice this site purports. (I.e not transferring schools, not getting a 3.8+ GPA, not obsessing over school and placing it over research & clubs, along with post-grad education decisions that certainly deviate from the mean consensus of how to break in on this site), yet I ended up in a solid research seat at an active AM similar to yours in AUM. If you really want to do something with your life you can make it happen and please don't take opinions as prescriptions; including mine. 

That being said, congratulations bro. Sounds like you're making a killing, likely working great hours, and seem to have a pretty sick gig. A close buddy & colleague does internal/external wholesaling at my shop and he's one of the coolest guys on my floor. Very bright too - has shown aptitude talking to our PMs all the time, synthesizing research reports, sitting in on research meetings, etc. He knows the firms portfolio positions and thesis behind ideas better than half the floor. My advice would be to not get bogged down and label yourself as a salesman. You're a member of the sales force, yes, but you are a product specialist. You're selling smart beta strategies to investors, not knocking on doors selling cheaply made knives from Cutco. If I was you, I would position my self to be the best damn individual investor I could be with my personal accounts, ignore the "noise" purported by the an insecure niche part of this industry putting you in a "salesman" box, dog many of them on comp especially on a lifestyle adjusted basis, and avoid likely taking a pay cut (net-net) by lateraling to a research role. If I was in your shoes I would walk with confidence knowing that your job is already sweet - before going down the rabbit hole that getting a solid HF research seat would no doubt turn into. Personally I would take trading your account seriously (if you don't like this you won't be successful in an AM seat anyways) and have that passion/knowledge bleed into your day job. If in an arbitrary amount years you've stacked up cash and proven to yourself your own investing skill set, you could buy out a small RIA with discretionary trading authorization; best of both worlds given your background. Just an idea.

2mo
BillyRay05, what's your opinion? Comment below:

The best career advice I've received is to give a cold, honest view of how the world sees you and your skills/experience. In your case:

  • You are a former athlete who has been in sales for ~5 years.  And unless you played golf/polo/etc., people are going to see you as a guy who probably is extremely hardworking, but more personable than cerebral.  And in AM, intelligence is paramount, while hardworking is more of a 'nice to have'.

CFA? Maybe, but unlikely.  If you could transfer at your current shop then maybe.  But assuming that your shop only does ETF's, most external firms aren't going to hire a late-20's analyst for an entry level role, just bc they received their CFA.  

MBA? Clearly your best best.  This would allow you to 'reinvent' yourself toward a more analytical seat.  You probably may not be able to snag a role at Fidelity or any top fund, but tier-2/3's should all be in play.  Even some low level HF's could be in play.

Just one thing to note- most entry level MBA's at AM/HF are not making that much more than what you are making now, while working probably a lot more hours.  So I would just do your homework and make sure that AM/HF is something that you truly want to do. 

"Sounds to me like you guys a couple of bookies."

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2mo
LehmanRskMgmt, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Generally some bad logic bro. As "cerebral" as you makes AM sound, surely you realize the asset manager interviewing a candidate has enough wit to realize there isn't a correlation between what sport somebody played in college ~5 yrs ago and where they fit on some sort of intelligence/hard working spectrum that you insinuate exists, as if they are mutually exclusive. Also why can't you be personable and smart? When you see someone with good people skills do you assume they are not smart? I assume the opposite. And if you think it's easier to get into a "tier 2/3" AM firm versus a "small HF," I'd recommend doing some homework…the quality of these opportunities are agnostic to weather it's a HF or not, and if anything the LO is typically the subjective "better" opportunity. You must be a college kid larping as a FO finance employee. Or maybe you're a banker. Throw some MS my way idgaf this logic reeks

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2mo
BillyRay05, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Lol.

I had to look up wth 'larping' meant, so I assume that I am much older than you.

Now, on to your point:

Sure there is no direct correlation to sports and intelligence.  In fact, one of the strongest analyst in my past shops (HY) played TE @ William and Mary.  But PM's and hiring managers are typically dorks.   When they see a CV from a kid who played lax,etc. who spent the last 5 years as a salesman, they are labeling him as a 'Bro'.  And there are not a ton of buyside shops looking for bro's.  Sellside? Absolutely. Buyside, not so much.  So denying that people are sometimes bias is doing this kid a disservice. 

And the personable vs smart comment actually makes me believe that you yourself are larping (see what I did there) as a AM professional.  I have been in the room when deciding on new hires, and I cannot tell you how many times I've heard the phrase, "seems too much like a sales guy", "gives me banker vibe as opposed to analyst vibe".   Point being, there is a VERY fine line in AM between being personable and being smarmy- especially considering that you aren't there to sell or pitch to clients.

"Sounds to me like you guys a couple of bookies."

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2mo
LehmanRskMgmt, what's your opinion? Comment below:

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