Can one go from Back Office to Front Office?

Wanted to float this question to the boards and see what kind of feedback comes my way.

Currently working in an operations role of a top-tier hedge fund and want to carve a path toward a role as an investment analyst.

I understand the magnitude of the impossibility, but I am trying to be tactical and get a feel for what I am up against.

For the purpose of this exercise, I'd like the below inputs to be taken into consideration.

Items I've considered / am working on below.

  • Wharton MBA (feel strongly about my odds)
  • The "why not sooner/why now" questions
  • Building a deck of investment theses with models/backup for when opportunity strikes
  • Networking with anyone and everyone I've brushed shoulders with in the FO of former firms (not sure if smart to network internally in this respect).

While a top-tier MBA would cost me two years time and some income, I would pursue if deemed absolutely necessary; working with the logic that this is a 20-30 year decision.

Thank you for taking the time, I appreciate all feedback and advice!

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Comments (13)

Mar 8, 2021 - 10:54pm

Yes, it is possible. It takes a lot of hard work, persistence, and a good bit of luck. However, I'm a big believer in if you take enough swings you're bound to get lucky at least once. Based on what you've mentioned, I'm going to assume you're pretty sharp and mentally curious. If not, you need to consider something else, and that's OK. But asset management is hard work even for those that are already in the front office, so it'll be even harder for those trying to break in from the back.

Two suggestions (1) network your tail off, both internally and externally. Leverage any relationship you may have from colleagues, friends, family, whatever. Try not to make it feel transactional when you network, it's completely OK to strike up a relationship that may not lead to anything for several months/years. Create as much  exposure as possible and it will compound on itself over time (this is honestly the key to everything in life imo).

(2) Add value. Make people's lives easier. Create opportunities in any way possible, even if not asked. Those that go above and beyond to make the jobs of front office folks easier are much more highly regarded than the back office analyst who basically just slaps spacebar and shuffles emails around asking someone to fucking "opine." 

I made the jump from BO and I did it basically by volunteering for every interesting new responsibility I could carve out and take on. It was hard, stressful, and I dealt with some serious assholes, but one day it paid off and I made the right person happy. Still working for him today.

Hopefully that helps. MBA is suppose to be a good alternative but I've never pursued.

Mar 11, 2021 - 9:16am

Thank you, really awesome advice. I totally agree on the compounding effect of effort! I don't necessarily want to go the MBA route, but if I keep punching and don't see myself building any momentum, I will tread down that path for the sake of internships and apprenticeships – the branding helps too, I guess.

I understand the importance of making peoples lives easier or adding value, but the question is how does someone in the BO help someone in the FO? Performance reporting? Tracking their positions? Will try to do some catch-up calls with investment staff from former firms just to ask about their experiences, advice, and paths they took.

I found myself having to hop around ops roles because after a year or two of fixing, streamlining, and automating everything around me, I'd get bored because the intellectual challenge was over and it turned into monkey processing work… Looking to seat myself into a role that will keep me challenged and growing for the next 30 years.

Mar 11, 2021 - 10:32am

A top b-school will give you a structured path to moving to the FO in the AM or HF industry. 

The move without an MBA is totally doable,  but the issue is a lot of it depends on circumstances beyond your control. You can keep pushing on all the added value and networking you're doing, but you may not get anywhere in 2 years or ever. A top MBA program will give you a structured path that given your background, you should be able to capitalize on.  Any of the M7 programs will get you there. 

Best of luck!

Apr 26, 2021 - 9:56am

Just here to give you a little motivation. 

I used to work in BO (Finance Division) of a BB IB. About 1 year in I made the decision that it wasn't right for me, explored my options for a few months and decided  on my first choice of career (Infra PE). 

Eventually I moved BO to FO Infra PE. But this took almost a whole year of studying & learning, applying, interviewing before finally landing a role. I think I applied to over 100 places in total (my current bank wouldn't even give me a second look). And got interviews in about 10 shops, some of which I had 3 or 4 rounds before rejection. There is no way I would have had a hope in hell of passing my final interview and model test without the prior practice from my previous 10 interview processes.

I know I wasn't chasing the same sector as you are, but I just wanted to give you some motivation to keep applying and don't get phased, you will get there eventually... it's NEVER too late!

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Apr 26, 2021 - 10:08am

Yes exactly! In my scenario, each process I went through had a modelling test, so each time I got to practice the modelling test, and ask for feedback as well. It's safe to say that by my final interview my modelling knowledge and ability to do well on modelling tests was probably better than most Bankers.

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Apr 26, 2021 - 10:55am

At a friend's fund (~$2bn AUM), one of their partners started at the fund as a fresh grad in its back office 20 years ago and within 10 years had made his way to PM on the investment team, and now co-heads the investment team as a partner (fully investment focused, not an admin partner).

Clearly an outlier, but just an anecdote that it is possible if you're lucky and play your cards right

Apr 26, 2021 - 11:27am

the highest probability path would be MBA --> IB associate --> lateral to preferred career

if you think you are mathy, then learn to code and go for a quant role...but...i don't  get this impression

just google it...you're welcome
Apr 29, 2021 - 4:01pm

That is what I've heard but I don't think it's an option for me unless in a part time MBA, which at that point may not be worth it. Different types of students/experience - even if it is an M7 school.

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