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I’m trying to break into the buy-side and it’s full of elitist snobs

Break into the buy-side

I’ve done my time in banking. I’ve worked in this industry nearly 20 years and I’m ready for a change. I’d say I’m pretty employable: I’ve run whole markets businesses. I know how to extract costs and how to implement a strategy that works. I’m a good catch for a hedge fund or a fund manager looking for someone to run the business while everyone else gets down to raising new funds and achieving high returns. Except that it’s almost impossible to get a look-in.

As a banker trying to move to the buy-side, I have several things against me. Firstly, I’m too senior. Secondly, I’m a woman. Thirdly, I don’t know that many people on the buy-side because my career has always been in banks (the sell-side).

If juniorization is a thing in banks, it’s an even bigger deal in funds. All the big guys – Blackrock, Fidelity – are trying really hard to reduce their senior people right now. They want to hire in juniors instead: it’s all about VP-level and below. As far as they’re concerned, the future of finance is Millennials with great grades from top schools who are prepared to work hard. Who cares that these juniors don’t have any experience of the industry?

Then, I’m a woman. If you think banks are bad at promoting women, you clearly know nothing about hedge funds. These places are almost all men. And those men almost all know each other: they hang out together; their wives hang out together; their kids have play dates. Most of them used to work in banks (together) back in the day and they look at someone like me sort of skeptically.

I’ve had a long and illustrious career in banking. I’ve proved my worth over and over in 20 years, but to these buy-side guys I’m still an outsider. In a lot of buy-side firms there’s kind of a culture of being an arrogant asshole: of only valuing the revenue earners and looking down on the people providing the support. When you’re not in the front office, the pay isn’t even that good: you’re supposed to be in it for the prestige of working for a big name, the culture and the perks.

Did I not mention the perks? Well, there are plenty of these at top funds. At the right place (any big prestigious fund) you’re going to get breakfast, lunch and dinner. There’s basically going to be free food all the time. There are going to be parties – not just small parties, but renting a private jet and flying the whole staff to Jamaica with their families parties. You’re going to be living the life with all these elite guys.

It’ll be different at a smaller fund. There, there aren’t any perks. It’s all about being entrepreneurial and rolling up your sleeves, making do and problem solving. You’re supposed to buy-in to the whole idea of the, “journey.”  That’s your perk.

I’m actually happy to work for either kind (yes I want to get out of banking that much). It’s not going to be easy though. I’m having to network one fund at a time. I’m gritting my teeth. I’m working these elitists. I see it as a challenge: they’re going to want to hire me. I’m just what they need.

Alice Fischer is the pseudonym of a senior banker in NYC

Contact: sbutcher@efinancialcareers.com

Comments (10)

  1. There are a lot of sweeping generalisations here about the types of firms you are applying for. Perhaps this piece outlines that it isn’t just people on the buy-side who can be arrogant.

    There are a number of buy-side firms (albeit perhaps not enough..) committed to promoting equality in the number of women they hire, perhaps you should be targeting these. Having said that, you sound rather dispirited with your opinion of buy-side firms. Perhaps you should question if you actually want to work for them… Perhaps that is why they aren’t hiring you.

  2. You’re a woman who can’t get a job within the buy-side therefore the industry is full of “arrogant arseholes” – How foolish of you!

  3. Pretty shocking attitude in this piece, no experience on the buyside at all and she says that she should be ‘running the business’. It’s just all those a**holes that just won’t let her and that’s because they are elitist. Reality check – if you spent 20yrs in banking that doesn’t mean that you’re God’s gift to the workforce and should waltz to any job to ‘run the business’.

    BuySideElitist Reply
  4. I think the question for anyone with 20 years experience is the same whether you are a programmer, engineer, banker or lawyer. Why aren’t you running your own business?

    “Well that’s a lot of risk and a lot of work and I have children”. But you expect someone who doesn’t know you to pay you 500k running his business?

    You are a woman; statistics say right now you get hired before any man with a similar profile in a corporate setting. As a woman you have to know that there is a ton of money that would move to a woman run hedge fund with average potential. Stop using your gender as an excuse and use it as your advantage.

    Time to grow up.

  5. From my experience, anyone who has remained in banking for 20 years (with a few notable exceptions) has done so because they are not strong enough to move to the buy side. The arrogance that 20 years banking should allow you to move across is absurd. The reason most funds hire juniors is that they pick off the brightest and best. Those that are left in banking are very often still in banking not because they choose to be, but because they couldn’t make the move.

  6. Dear Alice,

    I’m glad you’re making the move even after having spent 20 years as a banker.
    I am unaware of your financials, but if I were you I’d have saved up some money by now (being an Indian) and this is what my strategy for landing a hot seat in a hedge fund would be.
    It’s simple (but not easy), execute proprietary trades on your own account for a couple of years and have the performance audited by a reputed firm. This would help you create the much needed track record and help you get meetings at the funds that you are looking to join (ofcourse, the performance should be good).
    During the course of the meeting, all you need to convince them is that you’d be able to better or at least replicate your performance deploying a much larger pool of money.
    To my mind, all that a hedge fund cares about is how much money you can make. They don’t give a damn whether you are a cultural fit or not, whether you are male, female, transgender, straight, gay, lesbian. Nothing at all matters.

    Hope this helps!
    Yash Shah

  7. Your attitude is atrocious. What do you expect to achieve with this post?

    Why do you want to transition to the buy side? Why so late?

    If you project the kind of attitude and tone in person I am not surprised that you got a cold response.

    I will always be an arrogant snob to people with your attitude.

  8. Surely if you have run a markets business, part of your job (at least on the way up) was dealing with and managing clients. If you really have run markets businesses, then there should have been no shortage of opportunity to network with buy-side clients. #confused

  9. It’s not that she can’t get a job in the buy-side, it’s that she can’t get the job she expects and wants. If she even knows what that stellar job she so deserves actually is, given that she thinks she can ‘run the business’ while other people are doing such non-businessy things as ‘raising funds’ and ‘achieving high returns’ …

  10. Atrocious. The value at HF is with those making the investments and taking the risks. If you’ve been in banking (whatever markets means), for 20 years, I’m willing to bet that you haven’t been successful at either and therefore do not have what it takes to be successful at the business.

    HF is an incredibly meritocratic business as are the paths that lead to it. Stop pulling the gender card to compensate for your own short comings. The industry has a very short life span and is incredibly stressful. There are very few women who genuinely want this, and especially not someone who has worked in banking for 20 years. They have every right to be skeptical of your abilities and your motivation.

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