Is 50 too old to break into Wall Street?

So I was recently listening to a WSO webinar where one of the speakers said that -- for a college student -- it's not a bad idea to take Level 1 of the CFA exam to have it on your resume.

I was listening to the Webinar with my father -- a non-pro -- and we went to Google to check out some CFA sample questions. We both thought the questions weren't quite as daunting as we anticipated (though we've heard Levels 2 and 3 are very difficult), and my father actually started contemplating whether HE should take the exam and consider a career change (he's always loved investing and following the markets, he's just never done it professionally).

I immediately Googled the subject of someone breaking into the biz at his age (over 50), and just about everything I read intimated there is NO CHANCE that this is possible.

What do you guys think? Is there even a slightly reasonable chance that a guy over 50 who's just passed Level 1 of the CFA can get a job as some sort of analyst for an asset manager?

Comments (46)

Jun 25, 2018

We had a guy interview for a new associate job at our law firm. He was fresh out of law school, bright as hell, funny, really passionate about transitioning into a law career. But he was also 53, which everyone thought was weird and an impractical age to start a law career, so we didn't hire him.

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Jun 25, 2018

But is finance different -- specifically, stock picking -- because it's more performance-oriented?

Jun 25, 2018

At my firm nearly 100% of our PMs have at least 20 years of relevant experience.

Point being, you need lots of prior experience before stepping into a stock picking role. Additionally, CFA Lvl 1 doesn't hold much weight, especially if you want to be a stock-picker. If he was able to pass all 3 levels then it's a different conversation to have.

Jun 27, 2018

Poor decision. If the guy is good as hell, bright and all that, he could have connected easily with most clients at his age. Plus if he retires soon enough, no messy competition from his end to become Partner.

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Jun 28, 2018

That was the tricky part -- despite his humor, intelligence and charm, would he have connected with clients his age? After all, they would be - - if not leaders of industry - - at least leaders and senior executives of their respective companies... and this 50-something associate would've been just starting out, on the bottom rung of the ladder. Sure, some clients would have been accepting of this dynamic, but many would be dubious and skeptical. Plus, regardless of his intelligence, he simply wouldn't have the experience that most clients expect from a more senior (looking) attorney. Whether it's right or wrong, for many it would just be strange to interact with a 53 year old first year associate.

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Jun 27, 2018

.

Jun 25, 2018

It's too old in the overwhelming majority of scenarios that I can imagine. Maybe if he was some sort of biotech researcher, he could help with research on the underlying science....but even then, probably not. If it's just the idea that 'hey, I'm a good stock picker', then, almost certainly, it won't work.

Jun 25, 2018

Yeah, that's kind of his philosophy -- he enjoys it, he's good at it, so why not do it professionally? It's kind of depressing to think that, in reality, there's almost no way in. But I guess it is what it is.

Jun 25, 2018

I don't like to use the word "never" because it implies that it literally cannot be done.

So to that point I'd say it is very very unlikely that he'd be able to break in. Also considering this - he'd have to start at the ground floor and what incentive does a company have to "train" somebody who may retire in 10 years

That being said, why not continue to try and learn as much as he can (assuming he truly finds the work interesting) and then continue managing your families' money

Jun 25, 2018

That was actually kind of his thinking -- to spend the last 10-15 years of his professional life doing something that he truly enjoys. Interesting to hear that that many (if not most) firms would deem that kind of time-frame an insufficient dividend for their training-investment. But yeah, I'll relay the info. to him. And I get that you guys aren't speaking in absolutes, but that this is just your educated guesses regarding what is most likwly to happen. Thanks, I appreciate the feedback.

Jun 25, 2018

To be blunt, most firms in most industries (especially high-stress, highly competitive fields) would be very reluctant to take somebody much later in the career with no relevant work experience and looking to get in at the ground level

Honestly - looking at your dad's situation, I have literally never heard of something like that happening in this industry. I'm not saying whether it's right, wrong, or fair.... just providing my feedback

Jun 25, 2018
MichaelScarn:

That was actually kind of his thinking -- to spend the last 10-15 years of his professional life doing something that he truly enjoys. Interesting to hear that that many (if not most) firms would deem that kind of time-frame an insufficient dividend for their training-investment. But yeah, I'll relay the info. to him. And I get that you guys aren't speaking in absolutes, but that this is just your educated guesses regarding what is most likwly to happen. Thanks, I appreciate the feedback.

It's not happening. He could become a broker at Merrill or Morgan stanley maybe, but they're not looking for stock pickers.

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Jun 25, 2018

There is a 38 year old analyst (read: not associate) at a bulge bracket bank in a location that will not be disclosed. That's still quite a gap between your dad's age, but just giving you an alternative outlook other than it's impossible to make the move to any front office, market oriented role later in life.

Jun 25, 2018

Thanks for encouragement! And my dad's not gray yet, maybe he can fudge a few years off his age. Any idea how this 38 year old twisted his way through the door? CFA exam, or did he play off his expertise in his previous professional life?

Jun 25, 2018

He's not grey because he's not working in these BS jobs. Most people I know who work banking and big4 and law are greying by the age of 30, no shit.

Jun 26, 2018

Hard to say for sure. First of all, it strongly depends on his background - if he is a successful, socially-connected guy, there are a lot of doors open for him. Or if he's moving laterally from another industry like biotech etc.

To give you an optimistic example, I had a summer analyst who is in his mid-40s some years ago. Maybe not the brightest guy but a star hire otherwise - hard working and loyal. He was in the military, left due to an injury, had some troubles in life but eventually got a college degree and went to work in finance. I have not spoken to him for a few years (actually, now that I remember I'll hit him on BBG tomorrow!), but last I checked he was employed and happy.

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Jun 26, 2018

Thanks! Always good to hear a guy overcome the odds with hard work and right attitude.

Jun 27, 2018

You could certainly be a financial advisor - being older probably helps in that regard and there are no barriers to entry. I wouldn't want to be anywhere near wall street at that age but more power to you! Good luck with it all.

Jun 27, 2018

Thanks. And yeah, he could be a financial advisor... but I think he's leery of the prospect of asking family, friends and contacts to invest their money with him... meaning he'd be a salesperson who really doesn't want to sell (he just wants to work). But hey, if it's the only way into that world, he might have to do what he's gotta do.

Jun 27, 2018

What is your dad looking for? strictly being a money manager and running other people's money?

I'd think it would be easier to take the CFP, find a gig as an advisor at a local financial planning shop, and get that experience under his belt. Then if he wants to break off and open up his own shop and manage money he will have a professional designation and some relevant experience. And he will need that experience anyways to earn the CFA.

Jun 27, 2018

He should really figure out if he wants to be a salesman or not. If he goes the FA route, this is a large portion of the position. I do think he could have great success if he has the right contacts and drive. I think it will be very difficult to manage money institutionally without any special in depth knowledge (tech, pharma, etc.) that would give him the advantage over a younger employee.

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Jun 27, 2018

Yeah, perhaps he could spin his current position into an "area of expertise" that will give him an edge... but it's nothing specialized, like being an MD or PHD in the biotech industry.

Jun 27, 2018

Steve Eisman seems like he could be an example of someone technically 'past their prime' and getting a stock picker job on wall street without much pedigree. But that is an extremely unique case, I'm sure. If you're thinking of walking into an interview, I'd be very bearish.

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Jun 27, 2018

Maybe I'll look up how Eisman did it... but yes, based on your comments and just about all the others, the bearish view on him breaking through would appear to be the prudent one. Thanks.

Jun 27, 2018

Just read the Big Short, dude. It's a pretty commonly read book by all the types.

Jun 30, 2018

James Simons was 45. It's not impossible.

Bigger issue is stock picker is a little bit dead. Otherwise he could just try to raise some capital and stick his name on the door and start trading.

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Jun 27, 2018

I actually did read it (and saw movie), but I don't remember Eisman's origins... just that he was a contrarian who made quite the call. What sticks with me more is that reclusive/awkward guy who seemed like a total Wall Street outsider. I did recently read that Eisman left his firm because one of his partners at his old firm got accused (not sure if he was charged or convicted) of insider trading.

Jun 29, 2018

Your Dad's best chances are if he has one or both of the following:

  1. An consistent and extremely proficient history of managing money
  2. Access to a large network of people who would be willing to provide capital to his cause

If he has either, or both, he might as well start managing their money directly.

Jul 1, 2018

Close relative got his CFA in his mid-40's and transitioned into a portfolio management related role. It's never too late to do what you want to do and the right company who sees the value in your willingness and ability to get a CFA at that age will hire you, like they did my relative. Granted, he was transitioning from an accounting role. Nonetheless, I think if he wants to do it he should.

Jul 2, 2018

Just when I'm ready to tell my Dad that the WSO consensus is it makes no sense to pursue the dream... you give me this inspirational anecdote to keep his dream alive! Always good to hear (and remember) that, if it's that important to him, he probably shouldn't let people tell him it's just not possible... thanks!

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Jul 2, 2018
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