AMA: Asset Management BO to FO and everything in between

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Rank: Gorilla | 572

Mod Note (Andy) - as the year comes to an end we're reposting the top discussions from 2015. This was originally posted 11/17/2015.

I mentioned a while back my transition from various back office/support roles to the Asset Management side and that I wanted to share my story. I figured it would be easier, since I have gotten a few questions here and there, to just post an AMA instead. Then I can address questions more that are interesting to you then make you read long paragraphs to how I got to where I am.

Quick background though, graduated from non-target state school 4 years ago in the fall in accounting/finance, had an internship in bank/asset management compliance. Small company so no opportunity when I graduated to stay, so I worked at a major custody bank doing fund accounting for mutual funds and hedge funds for about 15 months, and came back to the company I interned at in the same department for about 2.5 years when an opportunity presented itself in the investment area, and just recently moved to this side as an investment associate helping portfolio managers maintain their desk, and assisting with due diligence and research on mutual funds we use and the fund managers. This is mainly on a client wealth management side, but we collaborate with our institutional asset managers given we manage our parent insurance companies portfolio in house too. Newly minted, CFA Charterholder!

Since I don't really have a traditional path, I figured anyway I could help I would offer up advice the best I can!

Check out these other relevant AMAs:
AMA: I'm an Equity Analyst/PM at an Asset Manager
AMA: Back Office to BB ER
I am in Ops. Ask me anything.

Mod Note (Andy) - as the year comes to an end we're reposting the top discussions from 2015. This was originally posted 11/17/2015.

Comments (36)

Nov 12, 2015

Did you ever have thoughts about entering equity research? I know we've talked before but thanks again for being so helpful!

Nov 12, 2015

What I like about my company is that we are small, that a lot of the PMs have equity analysis duties too, so they have their book of accounts, and some equity research duties related to a specific sector (why me coming in helps them with some of the pettier account activities simple trades and re-balances, etc.) while they can focus on the research side with freed up time. So personally I have not considered equity research too much, it is always something that if I get interested in down the line I can offer up assistance potentially to one of the analysts, but I participate in all the stock selection meetings so it is something I am exposed to through that. I think with my background I am more suited for portfolio management, and mutual fund selection anyways. I think that interests me more too than elusively equity research!

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Nov 12, 2015

Awesome man, thanks for doing this.

I started out in AM out of undergrad (state school) as an internal wholesaler, mostly with ETFs. What types of roles could you see this experience transitioning into? I have an interest in Product Management/Marketing.

Nov 12, 2015

We meet with people like you all the time since we have sales reps for all the fund/etf companies we use. I think that is an intriguing role that I haven't really thought about before. I might be thinking about this more from a Mutual Fund side, but you guys, if I am thinking about your job correctly, are the face of your firm so if you come into our office and give an update you're providing us color on the ETFs performance, general market expectations of the firm, so I think that creates a lot of knowledge base that could be used in any kind of role. I would think since you know the products so well since you are always talking about them, that experience can help take you into a product management role, and your sales experience into marketing. You use the materials the company produces all the time so you could move to the production marketing side of that with knowledge of both the products and how clients use the information you provide.

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Nov 12, 2015

What's your opinion on a FP&A role on the Asset Management side? This role is basically doing forecasting, budgeting and variance analysis on revenues and expenses in the asset management division. Do you think its possible to move to the portfolio management side if you network internally? Thanks!

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Best Response
Nov 12, 2015

I would say it depends on the company and how much exposure you get to the portfolio managers in your role. I was doing fund accounting for internal and external hedge funds/mutual funds and because of the size of the company, I did not feel like I had the ability to move as much as they said they encouraged it across the company. It is easy to get siloed in a particular role or area, which led me to come back to where I am now, since I knew the location would create less competition to get into this job, and the small size had me interacting with the investment team at least on a weekly basis. I just took the chance that our growth would be too slow to create a position in this area and that I would be stuck in the compliance role for longer than I would have hoped. Luckily it played out how I anticipated and I was able to develop other skills, learning our systems and finding ways to pull new data from our system that they found valuable. This while not being in my former role too long that I moved up too high that moving laterally was kind of out of the question. The great thing for me now is that I was able to make the move so I don't have to deal with that silo effect that I felt I faced in my first job. If I go somewhere else eventually, I have directly transferable skills.

I would think forecasting and planning skills might be more beneficial and transferable to like an equity research area more than portfolio management. If you are willing to potentially move to a less senior role depending on how long you have been there, it is certainly not impossible, depending on the type of networking opportunities you have. I always think how you sell your skills is more important than individual specific skill sets. Your ability to learn is also key. If I am thinking of your role correctly, you might be at a disadvantage because you don't have the day to day involvement in the markets and discussions about them as much as someone in another type of role might have. Hopefully that helps!

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Nov 12, 2015

Thanks for doing this. How did you make the jump from BO to FO specifically during the interview stage? How would you say someone with your background could do something similar when gunning for a wholesaler position?

Nov 12, 2015

As I sort of hinted in other posts, I work at a small company, and we are a Bank only in the name, we only do investment management, no commercial banking activities. My boss knew my aspirations so was pretty supportive in me attending wealth management meetings as a "compliance resource". Which helped me learn our services, methodologies and the people in my new department. Also, my new and old boss's offices are next to each other, so obviously she put in a good word for me only because I did good work for her, so that is part of it. Having all that background knowledge allowed me to have a competitive advantaged versus anyone else either just graduating (my role could potentially have been taken by a recent grad, but pay would have been lower I would think) especially since they needed someone who could pick it up quickly and go, I have to learn the basic processes and trading systems and stuff like that, but other skills i picked up just being at the company let me come in immediately and benefit in some way. I think just the familiarity they had having me around the office is what helped me here, so as much exposure as you could get to the area you want to work the better.

So if someone had my background going into a wholsaler position, I would try and sell my fund structure knowledge, and more in depth knowledge of how the funds operate and trade, into describing the various strategies to my clients. I think having a high level market outlook whether it is your own or being able to articulate your firms outlook is key if you are trying to show proficiency there. That will be tough since a BO role usually doesn't have access to as much information as those in my type of role now. I learned that quickly. Where before I was struggling to form my own conclusions due to lack of information, now I am challenged due to the large amounts of information I now have at my finger tips through our news services, and investment research platforms.

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Nov 16, 2015

thanks for taking the time to answer questions! i'll add this onto the top of the frontpage a few times this week

WSO's COO (Chief Operating Orangutan) | My Linkedin

Nov 16, 2015

Awesome Thanks! I saw the new ask @DickFuld right after I posted this and knew it would be hard to compete :) That helps!

Nov 17, 2015

Am at a similar place right before your switch to FO, can I get some advice into the move? IE. where to find the opps, what skills to highlight during interviews?

Nov 17, 2015

So when I made the move out of Fund Accounting, I was going to a familiar role where I had an internship, so I knew the opportunities that MAY materialize going forward, also knew it would be okay for the time being, help me study for the CFA etc. So as far as where to go, I am not sure I can be as helpful there, since I moved in house as a lateral. To me it seemed like a better chance than being at the larger company, and not being around the Front office roles at all. I think I can give more guidance on the skills that you can highlight during interviews.

Since I worked at the company, I already knew the structure of our services, client targets, and generally as a whole their investment approach. This all was helpful in the interview and put me ahead of anyone else they may have had applying. I was also helped by the location not being your typical financial hub so I am sure the amount of applicants was lower (I figured any advantage I could have is helpful). So knowledge of the company, services, and investment process was an advantage for me, having passed the CFA exams (or waiting for level III results at the time) showed proficiency in general portfolio management issues while learning from the PMs as I started. Then just knowing simple scenarios, tax implications of holding specific investments in various structured accounts were useful in case they come up in the interviews. I think my knowledge of the systems we use, and strong proficiency in Excel were also selling points for me. I think smaller shops appreciate these skills more since, a lot of the larger places have the types of applicant pool where they make this a stone cold requirement and not just a preferred skill. Knowledge of fund structure given my experience seeing them operate in Fund Accounting I think was helpful since I saw it was an area they did not have as much help at, that I kind of offered an interest and skillset from that approach so it led to the extra consideration. I think examples of ways you created efficiencies using these tools will be most helpful. I am sure everywhere has inefficient processes, so having had experience in learning processes and improving them just brings another advantage.

I just tried to outline some of the skills that I thought helped me make the transition if you have follow up questions on a specific item I mentioned please ask me to elaborate since obviously not everything will apply to you!

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Nov 17, 2015

Thanks for doing that cubs!

I'm currently in pretty much the same role as you were (FA). Are you based in North America or somewhere else (I'm in Europe)? Have been trying for a couple of years to move to a FO role but to no avail. Decided to give up for 6 months because this was wearing on me badly, had put everything else on pause for quite a while. I recently decided to start again because I just do not like what I'm doing, haven't had any change of heart :). How did you manage to convince people to hire you for a FO role? From my understanding, jobs in custodial banks etc just put a negative sticky mark on you in other peoples' perceptions. Would other alternatives, such as consulting in order to end up in equity research (my #1 choice) help? I think odds with my current profile are bad and taking a different/indirect route to end up in ER could put me in a better position.

Colourful TV, colourless Life.

Nov 17, 2015

I will outline a couple experiences I had in my first role trying to make the move internally at that big bank which had an Asset Management function to it, maybe they will be similar to you or maybe they are different.. I am based in North America! It can definitely be frustrating, at my first job in FA I had explored outside opportunities. There was a similar role to the one I have now open, and I had even met the actual team being hired for's manager once the year before, he was an Alumni from my school. I reached out to him, but he was totally swamped, and I just felt like the HR process kind of trumped anything he had control over in the whole process so kind of was stopped before I even was able to be considered which dumbfounded me. I also talked to HR about another role, which even she thought I had the right background to be considered for and got me a meeting with that hiring manager. I thought it was going well, but basically at the end of it he said I had probably been doing all the right things to get into Asset Management/Wealth Management, but I can cross your name off this resume and it will look a lot like other people in your building. Kind of the shot in the stomach, and showed it was probably time for me to leave (I happened to be interviewing for my compliance job at that time too!) This is what sold me to leave. Knowing ti was hard to get into Wealth Management from my FA job. I took the chance moving to a smaller company to possibly lateral over in an unknown timeline, glad it worked out! I was able to convince them by outlining the skills I gained hopefully tailored towards their area. (See my response to @keithape above).

So I got to where I was trying to by taking a different approach and making the move, I tend to agree if what you are doing now is not working, just have a well planned timeline for how you see things playing out and be ready to reevaluate if it is not working. Basically if I did not get this job after they opened it, I would have had to rethink everything and start from square one, luckily it worked out!

I don't think jobs in FA or at a Custodial bank put as much of a sticky mark on you as we think it does when we are in the job trying to move out, but I guess because there are so many different opportunities and jobs there, they kind of lump them together and overlook them as real possibilities.

As far as opportunities, I think anything that gets you close to learning how the type of FO job you want works. Then you're having conversations with people already in that role. Maybe you're doing that more of this in FA than I was, but if you're talking to fund managers regularly, ideally in person try and get a grasp without being pushy and wasting their time of all it is they do. If there was a consulting role supporting the equity research side that could certainly be helpful, I am not as keen on that route but if you had a specific example I could give you my two cents on it!

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Nov 17, 2015

Thanks for your detailed response. :)

The location I'm in is not a typical finance hub, in the sense that, only jobs existing here are Fund Admin, Audit, Fiduciary etc. I call it Backofficeland! PMs/investment teams are based in London, NY, Paris, Asia etc. so basically impossible for me to meet them. There's some private banking but the only openings I see are for senior people with existing client networks that they can bring in.
Regarding the 'stigma', I just saw it with all the applications and networking I was previously doing; nothing would materialise. Going into consulting with a focus on prof/fin services sector is because I believe I can sell my experience. I have been involved in quite a few projects (currently in a big one which includes outsourcing in a different country) and have had some client interaction - from the feedback I have actually, clients quite like me lol, although I'm more of a shy/introverted guy. I wouldn't like to take that route to be perfectly honest because I feel it will just take longer and have a negative prejudice about consulting. However, I've seen that, in Europe at least, consulting experience is appreciated in quite a few investment roles.

Colourful TV, colourless Life.

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Nov 17, 2015

@cubsfanatic8228" I won't ask for explicit #'s but are you paid much more now as a "assistant portfolio manager"?

Nov 17, 2015

Since my position is deemed a lateral, the pay is the same as my job previously, that being said though, I moved at the right time because as far as my previous role I moved a level up, here in my role now (assistant portfolio manager was closed thing on WSO i could find for what I do) is a step below, but I stayed at the same pay level, with chance to move up again. If I had waited too long or the timing didn't work I would think it would have been harder to move, especially to an outside company, since it would probably have resulted in a pay decrease depending on the seniority of the role, if I was taking a demotion to get into the FO.

Nov 17, 2015

Fund accounting god bless, I'm about 5 months in and I want to crawl under a rock.

Nov 17, 2015

Try and learn as much as you can, use your experience to set yourself apart, it might suck but in the long run hopefully pay off!

Nov 17, 2015

Now are you able to disclose either or both of:

  • Your base/bonus comp in the last BO role
  • Your base/bonus comp in the first FO role

Thank you.

Nov 18, 2015

I really prefer not to get specifically into that, I don't think it is necessarily valuable in general given where I am at. Sorry about that! Below average for the industry right now, but it's been growing steadily each year at least at a rate higher than like a standard raise.

Nov 18, 2015

No problem.

I do feel comp. is relevant to FO vs. BO "discussions" in general because:

-> many times companies "sell" you on "FO" (which is really just a word at the end of the day) and use it as leverage to lower comp. How many times have banks pulled a "bait and switch" that people actually admit? (Answer: lots of times, but no one wants to admit it).

-> I know way too many guys who say they are (ooooohhhh) Front Office, but they're really not and they know it. This is not a judgement on YOU, but I'm specifically referring to guys I personally know.

Help a poor man out. How about just a TRUE/FALSE reply to the following statement:

"My BO pay (all in, base + comp) was > $130k and my FO pay (all in, base + comp) was at least $20k higher".

Dec 24, 2015

Frankly one isn't truly FO unless you surpass the $150k NYC glass ceiling (adjust it to whatever other city equivalent if not NYC). Maybe not in their first year in the role - but if people that "claim" they are FO but aren't pulling over $150-175-200k+(NYC) after 2-3 years into the role, guess what, they're not really FRONT OFFICE after all.

You all know you're out there folks - well into their 3rd-5th+ years into your roles going around telling your buddies at the cocktail party about how you're front office and all that, but pulling in less than $150k a year. Sorry, no Bentley yet!

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Dec 29, 2015

Are you telling me I am not what I am? Or just making a generalized statement? I guess my point is not for this discussion to be about compensation. Getting here was the first step, and all that stuff should take care of itself. But to keep the conversation from getting thrown in another direction, I guess I am in good shape based on your "FO glass ceiling" criteria from a cost of living adjusted basis.

Feb 4, 2016

What are some of the most useful things you learned in your compliance internship? Did it help you understand the Asset Management more in depth? How did you justify your BO to FO move in interviews for your current position?

Feb 12, 2016

I would say learning about all of the processes that go on behind the scenes. In my FO role that helped create contact points which made it easier to transition since I knew where to go for what issues. During the internship I was able to see every side of the Asset Management process given we are pretty small, so I would agree let me see more about the process in depth given I looked at Back office issues, front office issues, and sat in business meetings with management. Now I am placing trades and helping manage client accounts, but how does all that activity get there. Awareness of that helped significantly. Also regulation is continually more prevalent across the industry, so I am constantly tapped for references to my prior experience regarding our policies and procedures.

Since it was at same company, I was able to credit my experience with all of our systems, having passed the CFA exams, and like I just mentioned experience with policies and procedures given we are the one's putting them into practice. Having passed CFA and prior FA experience I think helped sell it further. Just the familiarity with the shop and how it worked allowed me to get up and running ASAP which is what they were looking for. It was something I could provide that someone outside could not.

Feb 5, 2016

There's guys at the back office, there's guys at the front office, and then there's guys that are made to believe they're on track to the front office. Its basic HR and been like this for years. Lets move on.

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Mar 29, 2016

So, wait... You work in Asset Management but you work on the compliance stuff? My bank does rotational in compliance and I am hoping to get a front desk/office advisory role working in compliance. PRAY FOR ME!!!!! So at my bank (DB) you will be a compliance professional who works sits with a FO team like AM, IBD etc -- I am hoping I get an advisory role in a FO desk big time. Not really into the whole surveillance stuff. It is kind of boring. I start soon.. wish me luck!!

Mar 29, 2016
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