Why are Equity Research and Investment Management looked down upon?

It seems like there is a lack of content on WSO outside of the IB and PE forums on here. I would guess that this is because of the site's general focus toward IB, but I also noticed that are no WSO ER or AM guides? Personally, I would definitely get them if they were available but I guess there isn't enough interest for it to be created. As far as the looked down upon I've noticed some people really don't recognize that ER and AM both have decent balance and exit ops.

Comments (77)

Apr 24, 2016

I think a big part of it is that there are not nearly as many roles available to undergrads in research/investment management as there are banking spots.

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Apr 29, 2016

I completely agree on this one. I personally worked at AM. It's extremely difficult to get a job without any significant working experience. Plus people who work at AM generally don't leave or switch the job that often. Also very few women are working as research analysts or PMs - more or so for PMs role.

Best Response
Apr 24, 2016

I would agree with rugbyladdy. I may catch some shit for this, but I think you're seeing equity research dwindle as an industry - it's not the same as it once was, and it may not be heading in the rosiest direction. I haven't been in finance for very long, but I've seen it and I've heard the same from those that have been in finance longer. There used to be a lot more brokers and thus analysts because commissions were more prosperous. I think a lot has changed since then and in particular, regulations have changed (in Europe, for example, MiFID looks to separate the traditional brokerage and research). My guess is that, in the long run, the BBs will survive and continue to offer that service (but I could be wrong, given Nomura's recent decision) and the very good analysts will always have a place, but we'll probably continue to see downsizing of the industry.

I hate to advertise WSO's competition (if they are anyways), but I always enjoyed reading Mergers and Inquisitions' "day in the life" posts. Check on that website for some material. If Patrick or Andy are reading this, I think it's also tough sometimes to find the old posts that are useful, so I wonder if there is some benefit to rehashing a few of the old posts that received several silver bananas (maybe more frequently than a TBT post). Maybe some weekly spotlight for certain industries would be good or a rank of best posts by industry, so that someone can quickly find those legendary posts.

In all seriousness, about 90% of this website is high schoolers asking which college they should attend, SAs asking what clothes are acceptable, and recent grads asking which offer they should take. Same ol', same ol'. You need to check in often and search deep for the material you want to read about.

EDIT - And I don't think that investment management is "looked down upon." I think IB is just more favorable for some people because of deal exposure and the other aspects. You'll still find a lot of people who would rather go the AM or ER route.

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Apr 27, 2016

Deal exposure in this environment is kind've lackluster...especially if you're looking at healthcare sectors. Companies still demanding high valuations on a sector that has clearly taken a step back.

Apr 27, 2016

It was just a general reference. I assume everyone gets at least a little, especially over their tenure in IB.

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Apr 27, 2016

Agreed. I think the big thing is that ER is already a small space, and it doesn't offer as many exit opps as banking. Banking can send you to any job afterwards, while ER is more limited.

Apr 24, 2016

There isn't a need for them. Almost everything you need for research interviews is in the IB guide. There are some items that are missing from the guide I have, mainly a through section on how to pitch and perform diligence on a stock, but other than that, IB prep overlaps with research. Moreover, I'd argue there is actually more available information on research than investment banking. It existed way before WSO and other companies produced IB
guides, too.

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Apr 24, 2016

I don't think it's "looked down upon," but it's certainly a less well known career path. A few points:

1) As rugbylady said, there are far fewer ER positions (buy or sell side) than their are investment banking jobs, especially at the undergrad level. My guess is that in the U.S. alone the BBs and elite boutiques collectively hire 400-500 undergrads per year. There are probably <100 ER positions per year, possibly even <50, for undergrads.

2) Comp is lower initially for ER. Most undergrads flock to the highest paying jobs.

3) Totally agree with RobberBaron; ER is shrinking very rapidly. Sell side ER has been hit the hardest so far but I think you're going to see a lot of headcountreductions on the buy side soon. I don't see this situation getting better anytime soon. This is something I think about a lot.

4) ER is less glamorous. When undergrads think of investment banking they think of movies like Wall Street, Boiler Room, The Wolf of Wall Street, etc. You don't see movies about Equity Research Analysts publishing research notes.

Also, there are definitely career and interview guides for ER out there. Vault used to have a pretty good one. Reading that guide made me think, "hey, maybe I should be looking at ER as a career." You can find a lot of good posts on this forum about ER; you just need to dig a little.

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Apr 24, 2016

If they did make a movie, it would most definitely have to be some sort of scandalous plot, like most finance movies. Maybe the analyst writes favorable research notes on a company to boost their price (or the opposite) with some sort of goal of personal profit. Odd that most would think of Wolf of Wall Street as an IB movie, at least to me. Despite the piece on the Steve Madden IPO, I would say that is more of a broker movie.

Apr 27, 2016

Is equity research still worth getting into in your opinion? Especially if the industry is downsizing?

Apr 24, 2016

I'm not sure that I'd say that ER is "looked down upon" necessarily, moreso that (as others above have stated) it's simply not as visible/well-known as IB. At my target, perhaps there are 3-5 of us juniors at most who are doing ER internships, versus maybe 40-45 or so that are doing IB. This doesn't indicate to me that ER is easier or harder to get into than IB - perhaps marginally easier since the very top students are almost unanimously IB (or buy side in rare situations), but the lack of student interest is also offset by a lack of available spots - there are way more to fill in IB than ER, where even the BB summer analyst classes hit the mid-teens at most.

Despite the general lack of interest, there was still a considerable amount of on-campus recruiting for research positions from multiple bulges and a few smaller firms as well, which was nice and somewhat surprising to see given the aforementioned consolidation in the industry (which, if anything, makes it tougher to break in). As for why there aren't as many ER-focused prep guides, it's probably because the prep is very similar to IB - I used mostly IB guides and that was more than sufficient. The stock pitch portion is where the interviews diverge most notably, but I didn't find myself technically preparing for that (after all, if you're looking into ER you're probably well-versed in stock pitching already). I do think if ER was more widely-known you'd see more a lot more interest in it from undergrad students, but the IB hivemind is so strong (especially at targets/semi-targets) it's almost sad to see. I'd guess pay is also a consideration - base is the same, but bonuses diverge decently, albeit are offset by fewer hours in ER.

Unlike ER, I would say that IM/AM is looked down upon to an extent, and the pay being lower doesn't help either. Anecdotally, the quality of students that I've seen go into IM/AM are nowhere near as strong, and it also skews a lot less technical and tends to attract more girls (not that "more girls" should at all be connected to being looked down upon, but that's unfortunately the reality of the perception, at least among undergrads, many of whom are of the "IB or bust" mentality).

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Apr 24, 2016

I just don't get the AM part. I've never seen a woman PM. Secondly, I just think that being a PM>IB MD. Extremely hard to become in either case but that's just my opinion.

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Apr 24, 2016

I guess I should clarify than when I say IM/AM, I'm referring to sell-side, mainly BB Asset Management, which is fairly diverse/wide-ranging, so to compare it to the top level of PM I guess isn't as directly comparable.

Apr 29, 2016
AreWeHavingFunYet:

even the BB summer analyst classes hit the mid-teens at most

Mid-teens would be a LOT. Like, seriously. I interned at a BB in London and they had 8 ER interns with 4 available FT offers. Management was talking at the time about "increasing their investment in ER". I don't know, maybe the ER offices in NY have more people, but besides that I can't imagine that any bank would have more than 10 SAs in ER.

Apr 29, 2016

I talked to a ER analyst at one of the better BBs and he said they had 35 interns last year. I think he probably meant firm-wide in the US though.

Apr 24, 2016

Unlike ER, I would say that IM/AM is looked down upon to an extent, and the pay being lower doesn't help either.

This is a strange comment. Most people I know that work in investment management make a hell of a lot more than most bankers with a much better lifestyle to boot. The pay is only lower at the entry level.

Despite the piece on the Steve Madden IPO, I would say that is more of a broker movie.

Most people have no idea what the difference is between IB, S&T, ER, etc. This includes most undergrads. They think everyone is a "banker" which they also consider synonymous with a broker. Personally, I had no idea what the difference was as a freshman. I just thought it was cool because they made a lot of money.

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Apr 24, 2016

Lol, funny you say that. I interned at a brokerage and I swear every broker there thought they were Warren Buffett.

Apr 24, 2016

Yeah I have no clue why people automatically assume PE and IB pay more. A pm can make a ton more money (as can a trader) but everyone seems to have this weird obsession with trying to be a KKR MD. Not to mention the possibility of going to a HF or starting their own fund.

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Apr 25, 2016

This isnt necessarily true.

Definitely an 'easier' lifestyle-- but on average, you will make less at a traditional AM than you will in banking. Almost at every level.

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Apr 25, 2016

on average, you will make less at a traditional AM than you will in banking. Almost at every level

Not sure how you figure this. I compared notes with MBA classmates heading off to BB banks and their comp was equal to or lower than the comp for those of us headed to top tier investment managers. At the more senior level, comp in AM comp varies significantly based upon product AuM. My guess is the comp for most banking MDs caps at a few million with only the superstars bringing home >10mn. In any case, the real money is in PE in my opinion...

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Apr 27, 2016
models_and_bottles:

on average, you will make less at a traditional AM than you will in banking. Almost at every level

Not sure how you figure this. I compared notes with MBA classmates heading off to BB banks and their comp was equal to or lower than the comp for those of us headed to top tier investment managers. At the more senior level, comp in AM comp varies significantly based upon product AuM. My guess is the comp for most banking MDs caps at a few million with only the superstars bringing home >10mn. In any case, the real money is in PE in my opinion...

Yes, at the top tier AM's you will receive pay comparable to IB with a much better work/life. But we are only about talking about a handful of 'top tier' firms . On the other hand, the kids at my Bschool program who went to 2nd tier AM's (Good but not great), were offered good base salaries, but their expected bonuses were several multiples lower than those in banking.

I agree with you that senior level professionals in AM have the ability to earn much more due to AUM. But on average, banking will pay more.

Apr 29, 2016

Would brand names like BlackRock and PIMCO be considered top tier firms?

Apr 27, 2016

Is equity research still worth getting into in your opinion? Especially if the industry is downsizing?

Yes, but only if you're going to a top firm. A lot of the second tier firms on both buy and sell side are going to go away in the coming years.

Apr 27, 2016
models_and_bottles:

Is equity research still worth getting into in your opinion? Especially if the industry is downsizing?

Yes, but only if you're going to a top firm. A lot of the second tier firms on both buy and sell side are going to go away in the coming years.

Genuinely curious, what do you think is going to drive headcount reductions on the buy-side? I can't see the trend to passives continuing forever, given that 100% passive by definition leads to a "no market" equilibrium. Equally, consolidation of the investment management industry also cannot continue since with massive AUM come problems of maintaining your performance, so there's only so much you can put into an active manager's book. At one point, the start-up feel type funds become ultra interesting for investors due to their agility / nimbleness (read: effectively the "reach for yield" story we had / have with fixed income), however the truly good funds do bulk up beyond what the initial investors of the fund would have liked to see.

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Apr 29, 2016
TheFamousTrader:

models_and_bottles: Is equity research still worth getting into in your opinion? Especially if the industry is downsizing?Yes, but only if you're going to a top firm. A lot of the second tier firms on both buy and sell side are going to go away in the coming years.

Genuinely curious, what do you think is going to drive headcount reductions on the buy-side? I can't see the trend to passives continuing forever, given that 100% passive by definition leads to a "no market" equilibrium. Equally, consolidation of the investment management industry also cannot continue since with massive AUM come problems of maintaining your performance, so there's only so much you can put into an active manager's book. At one point, the start-up feel type funds become ultra interesting for investors due to their agility / nimbleness (read: effectively the "reach for yield" story we had / have with fixed income), however the truly good funds do bulk up beyond what the initial investors of the fund would have liked to see.

ER headcount is decreasing because more and more firms aren't getting paid for coverage. You're not going to get into a syndicate without trading and retail unless you are a bank providing debt to the company as well. Boutiques and any firm without retail distribution isn't going to bank a company just because you cover it.

So trading cash flow is way down, BB Banks are giving debt and demanding the vast majority of deal economics and small shops that don't have significant retail are screwed. As more and more of those shops roll up, belly up or consolidate there is less seats for ER.

Apr 27, 2016

Genuinely curious, what do you think is going to drive headcount reductions on the buy-side?

The move to passive and ongoing pressure on active fees.

I can't see the trend to passives continuing forever

Well the trend just got started, so you'll be waiting some time before it peaks. The data I've seen puts passive assets at 10-15% of the market. There's no reason that share couldn't double or triple in the next few years. That's money coming out of long-only funds at fees of ~1% going into passive funds with fees <30bps and minimal headcount needs.

Equally, consolidation of the investment management industry also cannot continue since with massive AUM come problems of maintaining your performance, so there's only so much you can put into an active manager's book.

As fees continue to get cut the smaller players will get squeezed out. Investment management has always been a high operating leverage business and the small firms will be on the wrong side of that equation.

The big players all have passive products of their own and could potentially benefit from the move from active to passive. BlackRock comes to mind here.

At one point, the start-up feel type funds become ultra interesting for investors due to their agility / nimbleness

It's hard to put a lot of capital to work in those types of funds. These will always be fringe players that have small AuM and thus small headcount. It's not a panacea to replace the headcount loss I describe above.

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Apr 27, 2016

If you assume that equity research = fundamental, active research, then I agree with most sentiment. It's a slowing industry. This is due to technology. Large institutions (read: pensions, SWFs, etc.) are not paying for active performance/alpha (never have), they're competing on costs. Given how difficult it is to outperform over the long term, passive investing continues to outdraw active.

With that being said, passive/quantitative equity research is alive and well (think Indexing, Smart Beta). The focus should be less on fundamental/active research, and more so on technical skills and macro based research that plays well into roles in the passive side, macro based research, and/or institutional investment consulting. That area will continue to grow.

My firm's assets skew heavily toward the passive side, which is of course to be expected (easier to scale, larger dollar amounts invested in passive strategies in general), but also means more roles.

EDIT: My entire thesis is that technology and finance are rapidly converging. You need to learn technical skills in this field now (research, Asset Management) to keep up. Even the macro strategists here are learning to code to wrangle data. Passive investing, Indexing, Quant driven strategies, all rely on technical skills in addition to good, fundamental economic research. Active doesn't do that as much, so if you want to be in EM, recognize that fact and realize that stock picking isn't driving assets, it's technological advancements, scale, and cost.

Apr 27, 2016

Generally agree with your comments.

My firm's assets skew heavily toward the passive side, which is of course to be expected (easier to scale, larger dollar amounts invested in passive strategies in general), but also means more roles.

Your firm might be adding headcount but the aggregate industry headcount for investment professionals is going to decline significantly. I just don't see any way around this. Historically firms needed a research analyst for every 2-3bn of AuM, but that ratio is going to change for the worse dramatically.

Apr 27, 2016

Interesting points and thanks for your responses on this thread. Is it particularly hard to start your own ER shop nowadays, given you're a solid analyst?

Apr 27, 2016

It will decline in the active space, I do not think dramatically in the passive arena. Where I'm at, the passive analysts are more so doing quantitative research, data wrangling, model building, data scrubbing, with the macro part being the performance analysis, market commentaries, etc. We're not hunting for alpha, we're providing beta for institutions - that isn't going to go away. Technology will def force some more mundane roles out the window, but that's more rapid in the active space. I think you probably get my point...nobody escapes it, but it's affecting different areas to different degrees. I'm sure IB feels it as well with model-building (and even decks) a lot of which will be purely automated at some point in the future.

Apr 27, 2016

How useful or complementary is Technical analysis for ER in passive/quantitative roles?

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Apr 27, 2016

None. Passive doesn't make tactical bets in any way. Adherence to the benchmark is king. We derive our portfolio products based on factors (think Fama French), and no research/ideas come from Technical Analysis.

Apr 29, 2016

So innocent............. but serious answer is that technical analysis is used nowhere in professional investing, and especially not on the sellside. Not even at prop shops or quant shops like Citadel (they trade using stochastic models and return distributions, not hokey shit like TA) . Only some highly specialized quant funds or shitty prop shops try to employ TA.

Equity research -> value investing principles, which is the diametric opposite of technical analysis. Never think about TA again.

May 10, 2016

I thought there was two schools of thoughts on this one: Technical vs Fundamental analysis, at least in B school that was what we were taught. I also remember that fundamental was the best to use butit still is a debate today. Please correct me if I am incorrect, I am still learning.

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Apr 27, 2016

Having just left possibly the most influential active equity manager in the world (although not in an ER role), I can echo what others are saying about consolidation, the effect of passive/technology, and the fact that it is very hard (and maybe unwise in the long run) to get an ER position out of undergrad. Where I was, if you didn't have a CFA, you almost certainly wouldn't get an ER associate role. The associates supported our investment analysts, which almost all had top 10 MBA's and extensive industry or financial experience to boot. In this day and age, it is a very difficult case to make that undergrads could add much value to the ER space, so there are few spots, and thus there isn't as much interest in a heavily-undergrad forum like this one.

Apr 27, 2016

I have not spent any time in equity research but here is my opinion on ER...

From what I understand, research analysts essentially gather publicly available information and tiny bits of insights through conversations with management teams of companies they cover. Through the funneling of said information, they derive insights that help guide readers on the current and projected financial health of a company.

That said, I believe that there are 2 primary phenomenon that are occurring in the financial services market. First, you have a wide spread network of information. It is much easier to gain access to information both financial and industry specific. Nothing reported in an equity research reports cannot be found through a good google search and maybe a subscription to an industry news database. This erodes the value proposition of a research analyst's report/product. Secondly, you have increasing competition amongst alternative asset managers, namely HFs and PEs. Growing competition results in lower average returns and increased scrutiny on finding good deals. You find these good deals/trades and value extraction strategies by employing industry experts. No longer can you come up with a generic investment thesis with just a high-level understanding of the related industry/sector. What does this mean? It means that the people who used to subscribe to the research put out by these ER shops, are now doing their own work. the value add of ER is decreasing over time. Will it go away forever? Probably not. If you've worked in IB, you know you need research reports to feed the pitchbooks you send out to clients.

Seeings as how there is lower value-add in ER, I can see students moving away from research roles to more transactional careers. Transaction centered jobs get you results of getting a company sold/bought, financing put in place, or a restructuring completed. Researchers, just publish reports that don't always get much serious attention (My firm subscribed to a few BB research shops but now only one. I can tell you that the stuff reported is not mind blowing or even accurate...) This might be the reason ER is less attractive.

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Apr 27, 2016

Your knowledge of the subject is lacking. Analysts don't get paid for writing. They write to get clients on the phone. You get clients on the phone to drive votes, which drive commission allocations from large asset managers and hedge funds. Value add is industry knowledge, network, and read on sentiment.

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Apr 27, 2016

You stand corrected. I am not very knowledgable about ER other than what I've read and what I deal with when receiving reports from analysts and jumping on a few conference calls that they organize.

Without derailing the OP too far, can you tell me what you mean by "drive votes"? I agree that they have an extensive network that can be tapped into (kind of like an investment banker's network), but will have to disagree on the industry knowledge and read on sentiment.

Apr 30, 2016

I don't believe this is true. Im on the buy side as well, we have access to just about every sell-side shop on the street. The variability in quality from report to report is very high. An analyst might cover 15 stocks, but they might only be a master of half of those. When i chose who i want to build a closer relationship with, it will vary almost on a stock by stock basis. We are big, so we can afford to do that, maybe not everyone can. There is so much information out there.

A few more data points:

There are some shops that are downsizing though. Citi uses associates stationed in Buffalo to keep costs down. Macquerie is having a hard time. Brand matters far less in this field though. Its all about the Analyst running the group. You inherit your analysts brand...

I generally find ER a tough place to be. The prestige is definitely a step down imo (if that matters to you). I went to HBS, and i can think of only one person who went to the sell-side afterwards. Everyone tries to leap directly to the buy-side (better lifestyle, more interesting), or IB (better exit ops). Ironically, most people i know at HFs all took the IB / PE track to get there. Although, very strong sell side analysts can make the jump. But if you are very good on the sell side, you might not want to leave. Money can still be very good, and income stream is far more stable once established. Unlike IB, you really need to love the job for it to make any sense being there.

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Apr 27, 2016

Anything that doesn't have a well beaten path toward 9 figure earnings is looked down upon on this website. A partner at Deloitte who makes $750,000 a year is a loser compared to a private equity partner making 10x that. Forget that they probably go to the same country club, are great friends, live in the same neighborhood, both love their jobs, and are incredibly successful. Less than 8 zeros in the bank and you might as well pick up a job as a cashier on weekends so you can feed your family.

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Apr 27, 2016

Just go work at an indie research shop not tied to the trading business.

Winner Winner

Apr 27, 2016

This thread is gold.
So am I right to assume that the entire financial services industry is shrinking? I mean sure, you will always need IB, ER etc but I'm talking purely in terms of headcount.
Any areas you guys would recommend looking into which are usually overlooked by college kids chasing prestige?
I always thought that since most of the bright kids are lured into the promise of SV, starts ups etc it would be easier to break in compared to pre '08.

Apr 28, 2016

cuz no one read research reports. lol.

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Apr 28, 2016

I like how nobody has said much about AM

Apr 28, 2016

Just my $0.02, but there will always be more demand for buy-side equity analysts than for sell-side. With the buy side, there are probably fewer regulatory concerns, and I imagine at some point it is just more bang for their buck for the portfolio manager to hire an in-house analyst than to keep buying sell-side research. I still don't think equity research is looked down upon.

Apr 28, 2016
RobberBaron123:

Just my $0.02, but there will always be more demand for buy-side equity analysts than for sell-side. With the buy side, there are probably fewer regulatory concerns, and I imagine at some point it is just more bang for their buck for the portfolio manager to hire an in-house analyst than to keep buying sell-side research. I still don't think equity research is looked down upon.

It's simply not possible to have enough manpower in-house for the very lean players who like to be in several markets across several sectors. Sector specialist funds rely on sell-side research way less than e.g. the generalist lean HFs.

Apr 28, 2016

So am I right to assume that the entire financial services industry is shrinking? I mean sure, you will always need IB, ER etc but I'm talking purely in terms of headcount.

That's a fair assumption.

Any areas you guys would recommend looking into which are usually overlooked by college kids chasing prestige?

The retail side of financial services is highly overlooked here. Being a marketing manager or product manager at a major retail bank would be interesting. The financial technology companies such as Visa, Paypal, eBay, Lending Club, etc. are also very interesting and a hell of a lot more fun to work at than an investment bank.

Apr 28, 2016

I'd disagree with the retail part but I definitely agree with you about the financial technology gigs.

Apr 30, 2016

Depends on your personnality. If you are truly a markets guy, then obviously wall street is for you. Streamlining the checkout process at Paypal won't do it for you.

Also, if you are truly good at making calls then you will do very well. Its a bit like a sport. Volatility in this job is high.

Overlooked careers? For the right personallity private wealth. They can make a lot of money. Smaller firms in general. I think people are way to risk adverse early in their careers.

Apr 29, 2016

look i am not trying to be a dick but the main problem with sell-side research is that everyone know that research department is a glorified PR department for ECM to win mandates. anyone with some brain will not read any of the sell-side research report because they are all fucking bull-shit. how do i know that? just take a consensus - no one in the right mind will put out a "SELL" rating because once you do that shit, the client will almost never use your firm to raise capital no more. and any buy-side who don't build their own financial models or do their own due diligence deserve to go under because that is what you are (buy-side) is paid to do so. so net net, you will start selling buy-side doing more of their own research to service their own clients or you will see Asset Management firm or even family offices having their own internal team to conduct due diligence. sure we will see any sell-side investment bankers who will complain that 1) they are in better position to bring in a much better deal, 2) they are more sophisticated in dealing with potential partners - but with what had happened on wall street - no one trust investment bankers no more, anyway back to sell-side research - the only problem with them is - why are they not fucking rich? if they really believed in their own convictions, they would have double-downed based on their own investment calls but very few of them do so - that itself is a hypocrisy,

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Apr 29, 2016

Because you tend to find that better students go into IB than ER/AM. The entry-level pay tends to be better (one of the reasons why the previous statement is generally true) and it can set oneself up well for top of the line associate/analyst jobs in PE/HF. Going to PE (or VC) isn't really doable from ER/AM, although ER can get you to a HF. But when HF's recruit for new junior analysts they'll still look primarily at IB candidates, just on the basis of the fact that smarter kids tend to choose IB over ER. Similar to how Harvard kids are generally smarter than those at Cornell, and GS kids are generally smarter than those from Citi. It's not necessarily fair, but it greatly simplifies the process. It's a process that's worked for going on decades at this point, so they have little incentive to change.

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Apr 29, 2016
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Apr 30, 2016