Interview Insights is a series of interviews that we conduct with junior staff across major banks and other firms with the hope of providing job-seekers with first-hand information on what each role entails. The interviews are conducted on an anonymous basis so that the interviewees can share their thoughts freely.
For the benefit of the audience, could you give an introduction to your current role?
I currently work as prime brokerage sales at one of the bulge brackets in Hong Kong. For those of you who don’t know, the prime brokerage business is an extension of sales and trading that focuses on the needs of hedge funds. More specifically, we provide leverage and short sell access to the entire spectrum of hedge funds – from fundamental equity long/short to quant funds.
My job as prime brokerage sales is to talk to hedge fund managers on a daily basis and pitch the bank’s entire suite of services to them – from algorithms, financing rates, market access, research coverage, to corporate access, etc.
What is your average day like?
The average day for my team starts later than most desks on the trading floor – we come in at around 7:30/8:00, and work for the next 12 hours.
On a daily basis, we scout out new sales “opportunities”. These opportunities can come from a variety of places – a portfolio manager who we know setting up his/her own fund, a referral from another desk, cold emailing funds that we do not know, etc. There is really no daily routine for the desk as it really depends on what opportunities we are currently speaking with and how we can prepare and better position ourselves for the pitch.
As a junior on the desk, the role can be separated into three main parts: sales support, content creation, and client coverage.
Sales support is exactly what it sounds like, to assist senior sales on the team to pursue opportunities. The work consists of everything from creating pitchbooks and coordinating follow-ups to meeting, to creating customized analysis for specific client queries. While the desk work is quite administrative, the upside is that you always get to participate in those pitches and observe how senior sales pitch to the client.
Content creation is I believe how a junior sales can really differentiate him/herself. As most of the team is busy pitching to new clients all day, there is a general lack of thought leadership either on industry trends or the data that we collect from clients. For example, information on aggregate hedge fund performance, leverage, and positioning is always an interesting talking point to clients, so it’s up to the junior sales to analyze the numbers and disseminate the findings in an effective manner to the wider team. How effectively and creatively the analysis is conducted differentiates one analyst from another.
Client coverage means that you will be one of the relationship managers for the client, and people will come to you whenever they have any questions on the client. Junior sales are often secondary coverage for the client, with the primary coverage sitting with the more senior sales. Over time, you will take on more coverage duties until the point where you can cover a client solely on your own.
How did you land this role?
My path to a front office position was probably different than most. Coming from a computer science background at school, my first internship was actually in the technology department of another bulge bracket. The team I was allocated to focused on building systems for the private banking business, which was too slow paced for my personality.
Despite my dislike of the team I was in, the upside of interning at a bulge bracket is really the platform. I remember talking to one sales trader on the equities side of the business and thinking to myself: this is so much more interesting than what I am doing! From there on, I made up my mind that I wanted to go into sales and trading.
Making the transition from technology to markets was then an exercise of leveraging my tech background while learning about markets as quickly as I could. The second internship I had was at a credit trading desk at a regional bank – I helped them code a credit trading algorithm while they taught me how fixed income markets worked. Transitioning from that experience to prime brokerage sales was then more fluid as I wanted a wider exposure to different products.
Is there anything about your interview process that you think would be good for applicants to know?
In a sales position, especially one as client facing as prime brokerage sales, I think the main deciding factor is whether you have the potential to face clients one day. The interviews were never too technical (although there were the mandatory stock pitches) and focused mostly on behavioral questions. My suggestion to potential candidates is to prepare well for your behavioral questions and do some research beforehand on what prime brokerage is.
In terms of the interview process, I had two rounds of phone interviews, one round of superday, followed by an additional interview with the desk head. I’ve heard that in recent years, the interview process has been amended to include a round of video interview, but the overall structure should be similar.
If you’re applying to positions in Hong Kong from overseas, I strongly recommend you to read a previous post comparing the differences in hiring in Hong Kong compared to New York or London.
How was your internship experience different from working full time?
As an intern in sales and trading, because you are only on the desk for five weeks and also lack the background knowledge of everything, it was hard to make any real impact on the desk. This can be challenging because you want to impress your manager, but there are so many things you cannot do.
Coming back as a full time analyst is completely different – you will be given responsibilities from day one and are expected to carry your own weight around the team. Of course, there will be a ramping up period, but just know that the experience would be very different from the internship.
What do you want to do long term?
The honest answer is that I don’t know. Many senior management across the firm have moved laterally throughout their career to different desks/departments, and I think that’s something I would like to do as well. However, in the short term, I just want to perform the best at my job while being open to any potential opportunities.