Asset Managers Seek Operations Specialists

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With the economy showing few signs of a hiccup and Wall Street still raking in fees, executive recruiters are having little trouble placing mid- to senior-level professionals at top asset managers, particularly if they have advanced degrees. In addition, firms need help from people who get things done: those in operations.

Firms such as JPMorgan, Blackrock, T.Rowe Price and Barclays are filling six-figure positions - in everything from relationship management to analytics - as hedge fund trading, institutional investors and high-net-worth individuals seek handholding and number-crunching.

Other prospective employers to watch include "new" firms like Perella Weinberg, which is expanding its fund management business, and Morgan Stanley, which has shuffled in managers from equities and prop trading to help launch new funds.

Despite all the promise, the sector is not without turbulence, potentially in the form of shrinking among boutique firms. These smaller players must combat a Bank of New York - Mellon juggernaut and may be ripe for mergers, says Douglas Rickart, a specialist in asset-management recruitment at Robert Half International in Minneapolis. Many boutiques, Rickart observes, are owned by individuals nearing retirement but haven't put a succession plan in place. It might be easier for them to simply sell.

Nevertheless, asset management compensation is up 10-20 percent year-over-year, whether you're a research analyst or portfolio manager, says Rickart. In most cases, cuts are limited to managers who went heavy in cyclical sectors like energy and health care.

Opportunities in Operations

Ironically, hiring may be the strongest in the area with the least visibility: operations. Firms such as Northern Trust and ABN Amro are expanding in fund administration, compliance, settlement, risk management and internal controls. Growth should continue as managers strive to keep up with a flood of regulation that includes Sarbanes-Oxley, the USA Patriot Act and the Bank Secrecy Act. Compensation for operational roles is up modestly, 3.5 percent over last year, Rickart says.

Buy side growth has been fueled by hedge fund trading, so administrators are needed to assist with the high volumes of short selling and other trades. Recruiters also expect continued growth in hedge funds. Richard Lipstein, of Boyden Executive Search, says hedge funds will continue to tap into other forms of investments, such as bank loans and private equity, creating opportunities. The skills in demand: Accounting and finance as well as those with MBAs, a master's degree in Accounting, and CFA certifications.

Naturally, any slowdown in the economy may cause a shakeup in asset management. "We've not had a period of sustained troubled in the economy where there have been layoffs," says Lipstein. "Right now, there are too many good things going on."

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