MO BB Associate Struggle to FO

Hi All,

Hope you are all safe and healthy through these trying times. I am a MO Operations (Trade Support) Associate at a bulge bracket bank in NYC. I am in dire need of some advice. I really want to be in a Sales/Trading role, it's been my passion since I was in middle school and I know it's my calling in life. I have listed a short summary of my journey for context. 

  • 2017 - Interned with a FX broker on their Sales desk, and received a full time offer a few months later. Unfortunately all interns were let go 2 weeks before my graduation date because of illegal wrong doings by senior management, it was a very unfortunate situation for many of us . 
  • 2017 - Managed to land a temp role with my current bank and busted my butt until they gave me a full time role with Operations (2018). 
  • 2017 - Beg of 2020 - As I worked to become full time I networked with the desk aggressively and landed 1 or 2 interviews but nothing stuck (mostly because they were looking for temps to fill assistant roles). I talk with the Heads of the desk all the time and I keep getting the same response, "We are looking out for you but there are no seats at this time but you are first on the list"
  • End of 2020 - Started to study for CFA and also bought 2 investment properties to flip. Studying for my CFA has been difficult between working and managing the flips. 
  • 2021 - I was offered 2 interviews by 3rd party headhunters at 2 of the largest Hedge Funds in the US, both of which are operational roles. I turned one down and pending an interview with the 2nd one. I am thinking about turning it down as well. 

What are your thoughts? Should I take the operations role with the HF? I feel like I will be stuck in Operations my whole life and in addition ruin the front office connection i've made at my current bank. My biggest fear is time in this case, I am 26 and the desk looks to only want younger grads out of an Ivy league (I went to a reputable NY City School). Should I continue to work at my CFA and see where that takes me (Ill be 28 by completion). I don't want to go back to school because of debt, a MBA at Columbia will run you 230k. I've also tried to apply to other junior sales/trading roles at other smaller banks, I am struggling to get a reply no matter the strategy. i.g. contacting recruiter via LinkedIn. 

Also, you may ask why I bought 2 investment props last year. I have a very aggressive and entrepreneurial background (especially since I grew up fairly poor). I like to have back up plans in case my career doesn't work out as planned, I wanted to try home flipping. 

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Comments (27)

Jan 20, 2021 - 12:05am

1) learn to code

2) build trading algos

3) see your algos fail...build better algos

4) when you have something profitable, talk to your trading desk about it

The expectation here is not that you'll build a profitable trading algo...you most likely will not...its that you will learn about the trading side of the business, and shows intellectual curiosity, which is the bigger requirement to get into trading.

just google it...you're welcome
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  • Analyst 1 in IB - Gen
Jan 21, 2021 - 1:36pm

Oh yeah, because every trading seat spends all day coding right? If we are talking big BB, most traders simply do not code, saying otherwise is bullshit. At a prop shop/HF sure, in an algo trading seat at a BB sure, but if we are talking FI or FX or EQD, then you aren't going to trade via "algos". If your seat uses algos for small size, they will be built out or you will help devs refine them, but as a trader you'll be managing the risk that either you or your algo put on (that some CS person built).

FOH with the nonsense advice

  • VP in S&T - FI
Jan 22, 2021 - 11:30am

Disagree with you on this completely 

i don't give a fuck about some guy from middle office telling me he thinks the yield curve will steepen or equities will selloff cause the fed will have to taper earlier than expected. Nobody cares about random discretionary opinions since everyone has their own views, and i read 50 of them a day

if a kid from middle office shows me that he back tested a strategy of paying rates when the 1y1y crossed above the policy rate, and hedging with fx has generated a 20bp pnl 13/17 times over the past few years, that's actually useful to me and I'll take him seriously 

you need CS to find these opportunities, even if you trade them in a discretionary way without an algo. People in S&t don't code all day because they're busy with other shit, but they will code more when The generation of older guys trading on gut feel retire 

Jan 20, 2021 - 11:00am

How big are the hedge funds? One of my closest connections started out in ops at one post grad but told senior management that he wanted to trade and became an execution trader after 2yrs (then he went from there to bigger roles in sell side and buy side). I don't know if you can do this if the hedge fund is too large. Also, he started out in ops at the fund right after college.

Array

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Jan 20, 2021 - 2:44pm

Thank you very much the comment, very insightful and thought provoking. The hedge fund is >25B and one of the most well known globally. Personally I feel like the odds for me to jump to FO at a fund like this is extremely slim, I don't mean to sound pessimistic but want to be as realistic as possible. Do you suggest to try and look for a smaller fund or keep pushing at those desks at my current bank that know my intentions? As mentioned in another comment, I am only getting older and would love to be placed in a good seat before the desk believes it would be more difficult to mold me into a Sales/Trader. 

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Jan 21, 2021 - 8:09am

Yeah, that big a fund sounds like it'd be the same or worse situation as the bank. I'm not qualified to give that advice but I'd keep pushing both in house and externally for any role that is or is closer to S&T than where you are now. Most people I've made connections with started out in mid/back office roles for a few years so I definitely think it's very possible to make it through. I think having phone conversations with people (especially anyone at your bank) and trying to build relationships is still super valuable even if you can't meet in person because of COVID. I get that it sucks not being able to meet 1 on 1.

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  • Analyst 2 in IB - CB
Jan 20, 2021 - 11:13am

Have been in a very similar spot. I would keep pressing on the desk connections that you have. Perhaps network with any of the team members that you haven't met yet. Find some way to really show them that you have the competency and the drive to work on the desk. Would it be possible for you to focus on one desk and really press for it? I have found that showing some focus on one single desk helps people take you more seriously. (Strategically, if it's possible I would focus on a desk that you think will have hiring needs and pretend it's your top choice.)

Also, how strong is your reputation? I would make sure it's spotless. The desk normally only takes a shot on the top MO people. 

Jan 20, 2021 - 2:38pm

Would firstly like to thank you for taking the time to write back to me, your reply was extremely helpful and thoughtful. My reputation is top notch in MO, so good that the COO knows my name strictly by the good word of the heads of the desk. Problem I face now is spots are very limited in my space (FX), and networking remotely with other desks is a bit difficult as I've always loved the 1 on 1 coffee chat. The waiting game for me is not working because I am only getting older and almost solidifying myself as the "top operations guy". How did you go about talking to other desks you didn't know or cover? My first instinct is they would probably move a MO analyst/associate directly under their coverage as opposed to taking from a different coverage group. 

Most Helpful
  • Associate 1 in IB - CB
Jan 20, 2021 - 5:11pm

(Updated my title but same person as before)

That's awesome about your reputation. I really think that's a prerequisite for making these types of moves. The way that I was able to open some of those doors was through a formal program within the bank that allowed internal transfers from MO to a rotational analyst program on the floor. It was pretty much a program designed for people like us. To be clear, I didn't end up going down that route (went to lending instead). I think most importantly I was having coffee with people 1 v 1 to learn about their team when appropriate. I would also really try to connect with any of the desks that I interacted with by calling them up and asking relevant Qs on my work, and really demonstrating to them that I understood what their desk did, I cared about the markets, and I was going to make their lives easier from my seat in MO. To answer your Q about talking to desks that I didn't cover: I was working in a MO role that spanned across many desks so that was never an issue for me. It sounds like one key difference is that you are working only with FX. I completely feel you on virtual networking, just not the same at all. Especially with a team you don't cover. 

That in-person coffee/lunch chat is so critical for anyone moving from BO/MO -> FO as you seem to know. I felt that those casual conversations ended up doing more for me than any market research or "talking shop" that I did in more formal settings. 

It honestly sounds to me like you're hitting the right buttons but something just hasn't opened up. I personally would recommend networking and expanding your horizons beyond FX but I definitely see how that's not very feasible in this virtual environment. 

Jan 21, 2021 - 1:22pm

Are you stuck on the idea of working at a bank?

I always see roles for Jr Trader or TA looking for guys 2-4 years ops experience. Just be sure you will actually be trading at some point before going down that route 

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Jan 21, 2021 - 3:25pm

Willing to leave a bank if I was given that opp for sure. Where are you mostly seeing those junior trading roles i.e. what type of firms? I do occasionally see a junior trader role pop up at a large asset manager or pension fund but haven't had any luck in securing an interview. 

  • VP in S&T - FI
Jan 21, 2021 - 7:16pm

Couple of thoughts on the networking front

1. Have you reached out to anyone you worked with or at the broker you interned with or other brokers? 
2. Have you reached out to people at other banks who do FX sales or trading?  I typed "FX" into LinkedIN Jobs and found some banks with job postings that seemed like they could provide good experience and were hardly name banks, I would try reaching out to people who work at those places and see if they will talk to you.  I would skip HR and just reach out to people working at other banks that you might have something in common with and seeing how it goes.  

Thoughts on other jobs

1. I would not turn down any interviews for other operations jobs, it costs you nothing to interview and see what else is out there.  Also by leaving your current bank I don't think you are ruining your front office connection, and I am sure they will be understanding of you leaving especially if the new role is higher paying.  If you decide to move to a hedge fund you become a client of every bank out there and your network grows.  Will take some time to figure out the lay of the land but I am sure you will start to meet some junior traders and sales people who might be able to help out.  I know a lot of people who got their start on the sell side from ops/trading assistant roles with clients.  
2. Would you consider working at a corporate?  Treasury departments do a lot of FX stuff and I am sure there are some that would love to hire someone who has a solid bank on their resume.  Once again this makes you a client of many banks so you can meet more people.   

Good luck, you seem to be doing a lot of the right things so hang in there and I think you will find something.  

Jan 21, 2021 - 9:12pm

If I knew you in real life, I would buy you a coffee and lunch. This was extremely helpful and I would like to thank you taking the time to write that.

1. In regards to networking, most of my colleagues at the broker shop were let go and the remaining picked up jobs in an unrelated field. I also tried to take the route of reaching out to other junior sales/traders at other banks and got nowhere in the end. Landed one or two phone calls and inevitably ended off at the "ill forward your resume to HR". Imo from the 3 years i've been working at a large BB bank, we never hired a sales/trader unless they were originally a sales/trader from a competitor. We also never see a MO to FO transition from another bank. I think my odds are very slim in that regard.

2. I actually think the corporate FX type role is a wonderful suggestion. Sure it won't pay 500k a year but it's a great foot in the door to learn the basics. I tried pasting a role i've found on LinkedIn for a FX Treasury Associate with AIG but I cant seem to post it, was hoping for your opinion. 

3.In regards to your latter point, don't you think I am late to the party? I am 26 y/o now, if I take up on an ops offer at a HF and learn my way around - lets call it 1.5-2 years, ill be 28/29 y/o. Even if I was given an interview, what shop would hire someone that age with no actual sales/trading experience? You are definitely more knowledgeable than I am so I may be wrong here just wondering if this is feasible as I haven't seen it done at my bank. My biggest worry is not being about to leave the endless spool of Operations and finally break out to S&T or any related FO role before it's too late. 

  • VP in S&T - FI
Jan 22, 2021 - 7:18pm

1. Here is how I would approach other banks, I would get a list of all the US banks by assets in excel and I would look around their websites and see what the mention about FX, and their websites for any job openings.  I totally agree with you that GS is not going to hire a guy from JPM MO as a junior sales/trader, but Bank of the West, SVB or Comerica might?  There are a lot of banks out their that do FX in some regards, look a little further downstream.  There will be an opportunity to move to a larger bank once you get some experience in the FO at a smaller place.  FX is strange in the sense that you are part of the banks coverage team for the company and each company knows they have to pay each bank to get the services they want so the "relationship" aspect is important but its not everything.    

2. I saw that AIG job, would be a great opportunity.  There are so many companies out there that need someone who just knows the lingo and some basics about the FX market, I think you could find something that would help you learn and get your name out there.  Does not have to be a big name company like AIG.  

3. I think 35 is sort of the point where you become too late but I have worked with junior people in their early 30s who sort of bounced around a bit trying to break in for a while.  Costs you nothing to talk to the HF and see what they would pay you and if you would like the working environment.       

Jan 22, 2021 - 11:06am

ultimately, your best path would be to get a TA role on a trading desk that you want to become a trader on....your operations knowledge should make that pretty easy.  Then after 1-2 years, if the desk likes you and thinks you are smart, when a junior trader seat opens up, you can ask to be considered.  Your age here doesn't really matter...but in 10 years, different story.

just google it...you're welcome
Jan 23, 2021 - 4:32pm

Very similar background to you... I jumped from a TA role to sales within my product group. Extremely difficult - had a very senior trader go to bat for me and even then there were a number of factors as to why I was ultimately hired (a lot of it luck/timing/selling myself correctly). I'm going to offer a different opinion than everyone else and recommend that you steer away from the S&T path and go for something like a treasury role or something outside of ops but still within the finance arena. Ops blows. I interviewed with other banks/a couple HFS for other TA roles and yes, while they would've paid more, the skill set is still useless and very rarely will shops take a shot on you to fill a FO seat. I relay the same to people that reach out to network - yes an S&T role would be sweet and the ideal move, but the odds are stacked against you and it's all about right time/right place (people leaving which doesn't happen as much as it used to). Just my 2c.

Jan 23, 2021 - 5:42pm

Thank you for your reply, feels good someone was in the same boat as me and knows exactly how it feels. Feel like I am chipping my life away at mindless tasks everyday and constantly come up flat in the end. I had the COO and Head of Sales/Trading both say I am a rockstar but literally no spots available, it's so bittersweet especially since I've heard the same reason for years now. I feel you on your point, think it's a combination of luck, right timing, and good reputation.

Question for you, why go to the TSY side of the biz? Lots of TSY folks at my current bank rarely trade (maybe 1-2 per team tops) and the rest do a ton of financing and collateral reporting. Also, what are your thoughts on being in the FO? Was it everything that we glorify in the MO? Pros/Cons?   

  • VP in S&T - FI
Jan 24, 2021 - 11:05am

Offering my 2c since I moved internally from a credit risk role into an S&T role (principal investing) at a BB. Also looked for an opportunity to jump for a few years and it was very difficult. Would take the desk MD comments on "you are first on our list" with a grain of salt. I was also the top performer in my old team and the heads of lev fin would sometimes staff me alongside their bankers during structuring / committee, and they also said they will look out for me if an opening comes up. When there was though, as you already noticed in your current situation, it would always either go to an internal transfer (cross region) or be replaced with junior headcount. Truth is in the current day environment with salary and headcount freeze, odds are low and you needs lots of luck.

Advice to you would be to give yourself a deadline on trying to move (say 1 year), but then also think realistically about what other jobs you want to do apart from Ops. Do you really want to take the 30-40% chance that you'll make it when you're 30+ as a junior analyst, and if you don't, DEFINITELY be stuck in Ops? Maybe look for some peripheral teams or roles (TA?) you think could be a semi-match for your interests and leverage your current rep. Cast the net wide. I gave up my 1st preference (banking / buyside) and moved into the current team in S&T, which has maybe 50% overlap with what I enjoy doing (primaries vs. secondaries). I was also prepared to stay in Risk and perhaps move regions to liven up my daily grind, in case no other offers come within the year. 

No point jumping to a HF and then trying to make it into FO. You will waste several years trying to build a rep and then fall into the same rabbit hole. Recruiters for FO roles and even HR at other BBs will 99% ignore people who are in BO, unless you know them personally (my experience), so don't count on that. I personally think the CFA is useless in the functions you're considering. I only have L1 and don't even put it on my resume. No interviewer has ever asked me from S&T to IBD to special sits. The way you present yourself and case studies / pitches matters way more. Study for it if you have some extra time.

Good luck 

Jan 24, 2021 - 6:30pm

Thank you for taking the time out and offering such insightful and thoughtful advice. I'm happy to see individuals such as yourself and a few others above know the exact struggle of the MO to FO jump since you've experienced it, it's REALLY difficult and can only be spoken about if you've experienced it firsthand. 

Question regarding your journey, how did you know the new role you pushed for was right for you? What was your thought process and how did you know what was realistic? Especially since it wasn't your first choice, was it just choosing another role which you thought you kind of liked? Did you branch out and shadow the other team and build a network with them? I was offered a PWM role at my BB bank and turned it down, pay was Ops level and the bonuses were at the discretion of the lead FA. I'd pretty much be in Ops again except with a 7 and 63. Only pro was i'd finally be able to outright book trades for clients. I always contemplated if I made a right choice there but as you alluded to, why do anything so similar to your last role (TA)? Just wasting precious time. Now I feel as though I am stuck in FX and having to find an internal balance on what role i'd settle with and being realistic at the same time. 

  • VP in S&T - FI
Jan 24, 2021 - 9:30pm

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