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The highs and lows of being a hedge fund accountant

Accounting

Accounting is known as one of the more boring jobs in financial services. Unlike other roles, it’s heavy on routine and offers little to no client-facing time. The good news is that accounting finished as the least stressful job across the industry in our informal survey last year. The bad news is that compared to other jobs in financial services, the pay is on the low end.

But what if you’re an accountant in what’s known as a sexy field, like say the hedge fund or mutual fund industry? Do the millions in fees and commissions flow all the way down to the back office? After all, average hedge fund compensation hit nearly $370k in 2014

The short and unfortunate answer is no. A hedge fund accountant with three to five years’ experience can make as little as $62k, with salaries topping out at $81k, according to Robert Half’s 2015 salary guide. That’s only a 3% increase from last year, one of the lowest anticipated pay bumps of all financial services workers. Most roles should see closer to a 4% increase, according to Robert Half.

Mutual fund accountants have it even worse. Three to five years’ experience will get you $55k to $71k, up just 2.8% over 2014.

One recruiter who asked to remain anonymous confirmed the figures. “Same numbers,” he said. “Pretty sad isn’t it?”

Somewhat surprisingly, boring corporate accountants may do better when it comes to salary. General accountants with more than three years of experience who aren’t management should make anywhere from $68k to $87k, up 4% from last year. A tax accountant with similar experience will take home $76 to $96k.

However, while the money for accountants at hedge funds isn’t fantastic, the experience may be more enjoyable than working in other industries, like tax, where seasonality makes for unpredictable and long hours.

One former hedge fund accountant who now works in tax has nothing but good memories of working on the buy-side. “It was a good place to work – only positive things to say,” he noted, adding that there was no bifurcation between revenue generators and back office staffers.

“We worked closely with our trading desk and were considered part of that team, and would regularly meet with them so it wasn’t like we felt neglected or anything,” he said.

Unlike tax, where he works now due to a layoff, the hours were good: he never had to work weekends or have any late nights. Even so, the work was important, and he says this gave him a greater sense of purpose than some other accountants working in other industries.

“We were responsible for making sure everything was booked correctly and showing correctly in P&L, which goes directly to the desk in their exposure reports, so you feel important and invested in the process and have ownership of the operations of the fund,” he said. “While you are in a support back-office function, its not like you’re just an unseen, forgotten schmo who occasionally clears a trade or something like that.”

But he acknowledged that pay was indeed in line with Robert Half’s figures. He started at $65k after three years working as an accountant elsewhere and left five years later making $87k. And that’s in New York City, where the cost of living is outrageous.

So, as with all jobs in financial services, there is the good – and the bad.

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