Exit Opps for Associates?

Hi guys, was wondering what the key differences in exit opps are between analysts and associates in IB. I know associates don't recruit on-cycle, but don't know much besides that. I am at a MM bank; I like my team a lot, but don't see myself being an MD. I also am in a coverage group, and would like to switch into a product group, namely LevFin. Point being is that I think I need to pull off a few lateral moves and transfers before I'm in a spot that really fits me, and I think it would be easiest to achieve that within a 3-5 year window and take my time learning and building a career before recruiting for the buy side. However, I am concerned that associates simply do not have the same optionality as analysts.

I also do not want to do the path of IB --> Buy Side --> MBA --> No spot at the same buy side firm guaranteed. I'd rather save the money and not go to business school, and find a firm where I can settle and build a career sooner rather than later. Credit has always interested me but so far the work I have done in coverage has made it clear I would be happy in MM/UMM PE as well -- though from my current MM platform, that would be a stretch.

TL;DR: Wondering what exit opps for associates look like and and if the immediate benefits of staying in banking longer (exploring career and verticals, making really good $$) aren't worth the limitations down the line.

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