by Exeter Jones Comments (66)

The Back Office at a Hedge Fund: Time to Jump Off a Cliff?

The Back Office at a Hedge Fund: Time to Jump Off a Cliff?
If you’re working in the back office at a hedge fund right now, congratulations!

You should rip open your Oxford shirt and be proud of your monogrammed B.O.B. club t-shirt (the acronym stands for “Back Office Beefcake” – Brian and I are still ironing out intellectual property details, so for now, just write your name and B.O.B. on an old gym shirt and wear it to work).

Feeling good? Excited about your career trajectory and exit opportunities? Fantastic!

Now settle down before someone sees you.

If you actually stood up and loudly professed your adoration for working in hedge fund operations, go to the nearest kitchen, find a glass, fill it up with reality, and take a long sip.

Your life may not be over, exactly, but you need to play your cards right or you’ll be stuck in the back office forever – almost like what happened to me, before I escaped the insanity.

What In The Hedge Do You Actually Do?

I’m sure you already know all about the front office vs. the back office, so let’s not repeat all that here.

In short: if you earn revenue, research how to make it, trade it, or directly manage it, you’re front office.

Pretty much anything with a two-letter acronym falls into this category: IB, WM, PE, S&T, HF, ER…

By contrast, “middle office” applies to any role that supports those people.

At hedge funds specifically, “middle office” refers mostly to accounting roles.

And the “back office” at a hedge fund is every role that supports the trading and accounting groups, such as Pricing, Cash & Collateral Management, OTC & Settlements, and so on.

Before you leave a comment with an elaborate explanation of why this is wrong, yes, at some funds the back office duties vary from what I’ve described here… this is just a general rule.

If your job description falls under the support areas I just described, find an old gym shirt and make some room to stamp “B.O.B” on the front.

When You Have Cable and Can’t Find Something Good To Watch…

You get depressed. When you get depressed, you start looking for jobs in hedge fund operations – especially if nothing in the front office worked out for you this time around.

While my description above might seem dire, don’t get too depressed: working in hedge fund operations may actually lead to an opportunity to work in the front office at a hedge fund.

In fact, that is exactly what happened to me.

Six years ago I was working in Tartarus, otherwise known as Buffalo, New York.

I had just completed the first year of an analyst program at a middle-market bank and I was absolutely desperate to get out of Buffalo.

As part of that desperate attempt to leave town, I ended up landing a support staff role with a new business that had just been acquired by JP Morgan.

At the time I actually thought this was a good idea for getting into a front office role at a bulge bracket bank… especially since the hedge fund that sold JPM this business continued to operate in the same physical space.

Time for a Promotion?

If you’ve ever worked at a fast food restaurant in your youth, you know that getting promoted from fries/burgers/tacos/mop duty to cash register is a HUGE deal.

Getting promoted from analyst to senior analyst in the back office is similar: yes, you just got promoted, but you still work in fast food.

If that’s your life’s aspiration, there is nothing wrong with it. But if you want more out of a career, you can’t stay behind the cash register waiting for preparation to meet opportunity.

So once I took this support role at JPM and realized that no matter how much I “got promoted,” I’d still be working in fast food, I decided to fix it by networking like there was no tomorrow.

I used everything at my disposal, including:

  • Internal analyst gatherings
  • General networking events in Greenwich, CT (HF capital of the world)
  • Hedge fund placement recruiters

And plenty more that I’m forgetting about right now.

All that networking led to a relationship with a recruiter who provided me with an unbelievable opportunity: an offer at a US-focused, long/short equity hedge fund.

It took a little over 2 years, but I found myself sitting in a front office analyst role rather than wilting in the back/middle office – or losing my youth among other tortured souls in the underworld.

Past Performance is Not an Indicator of Future Results

Before you get your hopes up here based on my transition, realize that it only happened to me, and it doesn’t happen often.

All the stars were in alignment: it was the right firm and the right geography, I had received the right training, and had the right instinct, preparation, and contacts.

And then my preparation unlocked the right opportunity, and “right opportunity” had a distant cousin named “dumb luck.”

But there are some distinct advantages to taking on a support role at a hedge fund – and ways to turn it to your advantage and use it to break into the front office:

1)      The Word “Hedge-Fund” Appears On Your Resume

Studies show that it takes less than 20 seconds for a recruiter to review one resume.

If you’re able to hand your resume directly to a recruiter, perhaps that buys you an extra 30 seconds.

No matter the job environment, there are so many applicants to be reviewed for any one entry-level analyst job that anything even remotely related is pretty much required for you to have.

Simply having the word “hedge fund” on your resume (or identifying the business you work for if you don’t work for a prominent fund) or industry-specific jargon can help you get past this initial screening.

Always dress for the job that you want, not the job that you have.

In this case, “dressing” your resume up to highlight how your back office skills are relevant for the front office role you’re applying for is crucial.

And remember that unlike with investment banking, where the back and middle office have little to do with front office skills, it’s quite different on the trading / hedge fund side, which takes me to point #2…

2)      Being Around Traders, You Pick Up A Few Things

If you’re fortunate enough to sit in close proximity to the trading desk, always look for every opportunity to engage traders about the market, the asset classes that they trade, the economic environment, and even general financial news.

There’s a fine line between “stalking” and “inquiring” so focus on trader(s) who don’t mind talking with you from time to time.

Over time you’ll get better and better at thinking critically about the markets, financial instruments, and pertinent economic news.

Traders generally make good coin because they’re intelligent, resourceful, and execute well under pressure.

If you don’t possess those character qualities, you probably won’t succeed in any front office role, at least not on the public markets side.

Not to mention that if you are given an interview for a front office position, you will be less than ill-prepared.

3)      Don’t Take Your Support Staff Background For Granted

Remember that back and middle office roles are more relevant to traders than they are to bankers because trade settlement, risk management, and other roles are important to the actual business of making money.

Accounting is a building block of any business. Pricing is a critical component of any trade book. And Purchase & Sales serves as an important link between traders and support staff.

In a hedge fund environment, all of those areas have to work cooperatively and each area can offer tremendous insight into understanding trade value, trade positions, and general trade strategy. 

The more proficient you are in the support area that you work in, the easier it will be to create strong relationships with members of the portfolio management team, trading team, and other “front office” staff.

So it’s not nearly as much of a stretch to wander over and chat with people in the front office as it might be elsewhere – most hedge funds are small, anyway, and traders and investment analysts are more likely to at least partially understand the importance of your role.

4)      Somebody’s Been In Your Shoes Before – Find That Person

No need to reinvent the wheel – just find the blueprint.

There’s a strong chance that someone in a front office role at your fund did what you are trying to do right now.

While no two journeys are the same, you need to take similar steps to ensure similar results.

Go and find someone in the front office who worked elsewhere before, and find out how they advanced:

All these questions will give you insight into the nature and culture of your fund, and whether or not you can move up the ranks at that particular fund.

Sometimes it’s easier to get promoted if you simply move to another fund, and you want to figure this out early on so you don’t spend years in support roles.

5)      Slow and Hedgey Wins the Race

You can’t execute a plan without preparation, and if you plan to move from back to front office, you’re going to need a lot of preparation.

Oddly enough, sometimes taking on support roles actually gives you more time for preparation because you may not be working as much as the front office staff.

So you have more of a chance to:

  • Expand your professional network
  • Get a professional analyst designation
  • Explore other roles that move you closer to the front office

Sure, if you’re ambitious you don’t want to stay in “normal job” land forever… but if you’re already there, take full advantage of the benefits before writing it off entirely.

Your move to the front office won’t happen overnight, but with a calculated approach it can happen.

Just make sure you have an extra suit at the office for when that day finally comes – and you can cast off the shackles of your B.O.B. club t-shirt without remaining naked afterward.

About the Author

Exeter Jones is a philosopher trapped inside the body of a writer, trapped inside the body of an alternative investment analyst. He's worked in investment banking, alternative investments, and corporate finance, and his favorite breakfast food is ESPN.

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  1. Hi ,

    Thanks for the article , it has been a big help to me . I recently graduated and have been working in Treasury in a retail bank ( Treasury Risk and Control) . Don’t mind the job but don’t feel it’s stretching me mentally. I recently signed on to do my masters at a top tier university and will be completing my CFA level 1 in the coming months .

    I may have the choice between two career paths , either a front office capital markets analyst for a small retail bank or a middle office operations job under prime brokerage, at a large investment bank. I’d ideally like to be front office , as I am less concerned with processes and control mechanisms , as I am with generating a profit. I’m happy to be patient for the next 2-3 years . Which role (if either) offer greater prospects of a front office role either in a hedge fund or investment management firm?

    1. Anything front-office-related is better than anything middle-office-related if your goal is the front office. Prime brokerage can sometimes lead to hedge fund roles, but usually not in investment analyst positions.

  2. Hi Nicole,
    Many thanks for the article. I have 2 MSc’s one of which is in Trade and Finance and the other is in Financial Maths. I have been offered a back office role within a small hedge fund and a mid-office role (including both acc and corp finance M&A related duties)within a reputable AM firm. I do not have any finance work experience whatsoever but I have been trading equities and managing my own long-only equities portfolio for 5 years. I am in between either pushing for a PE role in future or taking a risk and going for the HF job now. I have a good chance to start trading slowly in the HF in a couple of months as well. I would really appreciate it, if you could give me your thoughts. Which one would you go for? Thanks again

    1. M&I - Nicole

      Seems like you have plenty of options. It is hard to give you a definite answer based on your comment alone. It depends on how long you’re willing to wait, and how badly you want to work for a HF now, even if this means working in the back office. I think pushing for PE can be tougher without the relevant IB experience. However, you can always make use of your current HF role and move to front office down the line. This article on PE may also be useful: https://www.mergersandinquisitions.com/private-equity-recruiting/

  3. Great article!!
    I’m currently working in a fund administration in the back office space in Singapore for 8 years (reconciliations, trade settlements, pricing etc). I love alternative investments and to pursue my interest have enrolled in CAIA with a hope to be able to move to front office. Is there any hope for me? Any suggestions/advise will be greatly appreciated.

    1. M&I - Nicole

      Yes CAIA can potentially help, but work experience probably matters most.

  4. Hi, I’m working as a HF administrator. Recently, the client invest into derivative instrument called interest rate swap (IRS). I don’t know much about this topic. Can anyone recommend some good book for me so I can learn more about this topic ? Thank you.

    1. M&I - Nicole

      I haven’t read the book, but this maybe useful: http://www.amazon.com/Interest-Rate-Swaps-Their-Derivatives/dp/0470443944

  5. I am currently an Corporate Finance Analyst at a small boutique. I have been offered a PE administration analyst job. There is no much progression in my current role and I always want to work in PE.

    Is it possible for me to move from a PE admin to a front office role in a PE fund? Do you think I should take the job?

    1. M&I - Nicole

      Yes it is possible if your fund is small and you can be involved in deals during that time. It is easier to transition internally and then lateral once you’re in a FO role. Yes if you don’t think there’s much growth in your role, but I’d make sure you can be involved in deals first

      1. Thanks Nicole!

        Sorry maybe I wasn’t clear enough. I was offered a fund admin job in a PE administrator which provides Private Equity Fund Administration, IR, Corporate Services and so on. I am thinking if that experience would give me more exposure in the PE industry and help me land a FO PE job…or would you think my current role is more relevant? (Corporate Finance Analyst, ECM)

  6. Who was the HF recruiter you used?

    1. M&I - Nicole

      We don’t have any HF recruiters we recommend though I’ve heard https://www.glocap.com/ is a decent firm, but we can’t endorse this company because we have not worked with them before.

  7. A HF recruiter told him the position is a FO job, however the more I read the more it seems like a BO job. Base on everyone expertise, could you share your opinion whether it is FO or BO?

    .Assist with the development and necessary revisions of fund marking materials, including investor presentations, private placement memorandums, portfolio company case studies, due diligence questionnaires, et al.
    .Coordinate distribution materials between offices across multiple clients
    .Manage both internal and external document databases
    .Selectively assist with due diligence and research process prior to formal engagement of fund managers

    1. M&I - Nicole

      I’d say a combination of both, assuming you get to meet clients. If you don’t I’d say maybe its more of a middle office role, though most definitely not BO because you’re still working on fund marketing materials DD etc.

  8. This is comical, Exeter. I, too, began my career at a small mid-sized bank in Buffalo, where I’m from, and ended up at JP Morgan in Ops. What to do next?

  9. Hedge fund back office intern

    Hi, thank you for the article.

    I am the type of people who are mentioned in this article. Next week, I am joining the accounting and operations group as an intern at a local hedge fund that has about 23 billion dollars under management. After reading your article, I got extremely concerned about my career because I am looking to get into IB or Corporate banking for the full time job. As you mentioned, back office roles do not have much overlap with banking jobs so I would imagine it would be extremely difficult for me to compete in the full-time recruiting against others who have banking experiences. Regarding my situation, I hope to get some advice from you in terms of things that I should do over the summer (ways to prepare for the full-time recruiting). Thank you for reading my comment and look forward to hearing from you.

    1. M&I - Nicole

      Yes back office roles can be tough. I’d network a lot and really try to gain exposure to front office if possible. If there are any industry events, attend them. https://www.mergersandinquisitions.com/recruiting/

  10. Hi. Thanks for the insightful post.

    I’m currently at a HF in the IR group focusing on capital transactions (not client facing) Basically we track net capital flows, share class terms and liquidity, create capital performance reports for senior management among other things.

    What is IR considered BO/MO? I’m a CPA with a MBA in accouting. What role do you think has more potential, this IR role or get into a fund accouting or financial reporting role?

    And which role do you think gets paid more?

    Thanks!

    1. M&I - Nicole

      I would say IR is considered MO/border line FO depending on the firm you work for and your responsibilities. Some IR teams in PE groups are responsible for fund-raising so I would consider them FO. I think this role may offer more potential (and pay more) and you can always lateral to another fund’s IR arm.

  11. Hi!

    Thanks for the article. Very helpful.

    I’m currently an experienced big4 transaction services consultant (financial due diligence / valuation type of work). I’m exploring outside opportunities for my career. do you think a fund controller role at a HF is more likely to offer access to the FO or a financial analyst/associate position in an boutique IB (highly specialized in an industry)?

    1. M&I - Nicole

      I’d say the latter. It can be challenging to move from BO to FO even within the same firm

  12. Great post! I’m currently stuck in risk management at a big bank, where I work with traders on a daily basis doing mundane calculations for them.

    I have an offer from a mid sized hedge fund to do operations work and to install a new trading system. I’d be in very close proximity to the front office.

    Do you think that this back office hedge fund will give me more opportunities to advance to front office than my current role?

    1. M&I - Nicole

      The risk at the HF may be higher though there may be higher chance that you can move to the FO since the fund is smaller than the big bank. However, you may still remain in middle office unless you learn the ropes of trading, and be given a chance to trade in the future at your new role.

  13. Hi Exeter-

    Great, well-written piece. I know that your article was focused on front office roles, but I was wondering if given your experience in the hedge fund world, if you have any advice for seeking an Investor Relations role? How do hedge funds tend to hire for this role? Thanks for your input.

    Thanks.
    J

    1. There’s a good description of the IR role and what they’re looking for here: https://www.mergersandinquisitions.com/investor-relations-jobs/

      That is more for normal companies but the job requirements are similar for hedge funds.

      1. Brian-

        That’s incredible. Thanks. I’ve been looking for an article like that and have yet to find one. This is one of the most informative websites I’ve found on breaking into the hedge fund industry.

        Best,
        J

  14. I got a summer internship at a quant hedge fund. The title is securities reference and data and is said to be in the IT division. Does this seem like middle office? back? Thanks

    1. M&I - Nicole

      It seems like back office though I may be wrong

  15. Hi,

    I graduated with a finance degree in a city college. I’m currently working for a small hedge fund managing $700 mio doing back office duties. This is going to be my 3rd year here. I feel very limited in this fund. There is no promotion available and no room for growth. Trade activities are low. I’ve just started taking some classes for a portfolio management certificate.

    I’m inexperienced in the financial world, and not sure what I really want to do from here. Will this certificate give me a hedge in future jobs?

    What other opportunities do I have?

    1. M&I - Nicole

      Probably not, I’d say the CFA or the CAIA may be more useful in the field. Otherwise, I’d look at other BO/MO roles in banks, esp in trading. I’d suggest you to start networking with people in funds and sniff for opportunities elsewhere – make it a point to meet 2-3 new contacts a week.

  16. Currently at a European BB doing product control (MO/BO). Recently got an offer from Mercer in their M&A Consulting group. I’ve always been interested in M&A and feel that this may be a good way to go into a FO role. This role seems interesting as I will be doing a lot of cross border M&A deals, and will be advising on how companies could successfully achieve organization synergy doing deals abroad.

    Just one thing that kind of worries me is that Mercer is mainly known for its HR consulting practice, and me being labeled the HR guy. Do you guys think it would be a good move to switch now, or stay at this BB and try to look for something better?

    Been working in MO/BO for 3+ yrs now and worried about getting pigeon-holed if I stay any longer..

    Thanks!

    1. M&I - Nicole

      What does your intuition tell you? Do you like Mercer?

      I’d probably take the opportunity (if you like the team and people at Mercer and your gut tells you to do so) esp cause you’ve been working in MO/BO for 3+ years now and you are craving for a change.

  17. Hi Brian,

    I just received an offer for an internship as an Investor relations administrator at Citco funds- a hedge fund administration co.

    I am a final year finance student. Does this role help in career progression, seeing that this role is primarily administrative but with a lot of communication roles with the investors.

    The fact that I am yet to land up with an internship (being an international student it has been difficult to get an internship due to visa regulations), do I accept it?

    Does working in HF Administrators give you career progression opportunities?

    Thanks

    1. M&I - Nicole

      Yes you can progress to IR which can be fun

      Do you have other offers? If not, I’d take the internship if you want to gain experience

      It depends on you!

      1. The offer is for IR……With this role, will it help me in future for more technical roles like analyst or in risk mgmt areas..

        I don’t have any other offer at the moment.

  18. Hi Brian,

    I’ve got a question about resume writing. I’m currently interning at a BB in “Commodities Product Group”, which is a hybrid group combined with Commodities Strategy and Technology. Should I put “Commodities Strategy and Technology Group” on my resume so that is easier for others to understand what I was doing or I should stick with “Commodities Product Group”?

    1. M&I - Nicole

      You might want to stick with the official name of that group and explain what you did well on your resume and interview. You can even elaborate what that group does in the first line of your work entry

      1. Will they ask me which business line / division I was in?

        1. In interviews, yes, they will ask. Generally as Nicole said you want to stick with the official name. Maybe use the other one if you’re applying for roles outside the finance industry and they won’t understand it.

          1. We do quant analytics and basic modeling in securities tech, I’m not really sure if that makes sense to every other banks..

  19. i wish i could write as well as you do in your blog, congratulations

    1. M&I - Nicole

      Thanks! Yes Brian has a very unique writing style. He is awesome!

  20. Speaking of hedge funds…

    I’m going into college this fall and am looking towards trading in the long term (HF, prop trading, etc). Do you think technology will be replacing these jobs and I will therefore be better off looking elsewhere in finance or is it safe to pursue trading? Thank you!

    1. No. Technology will never “replace” those jobs because top investors will always beat computers. http://www.lifeonthebuyside.com/future-of-active-management/ And everyone thinks they can become top investors one day…

  21. Carrie Bradshaw

    Good article about a topic rarely addressed in these types of media.

    I have to disagree, though, that back office means less hours and pressure. I’ve seen BO staying later than the traders.

    Also, there are many people who – yes – actually ENJOY working in the BO. It’s less pressure than having to meet revenue thresholds. Also, once you understand trading processes, there are plenty of opportunities with prestigious consulting firms who deal w clients looking to improve their strategies and operations.

    1. M&I - Nicole

      Carrie, thanks for your insights. True, BO roles do suit some more than others.

    2. Yeah I agree that there can be a lot of pressure… but still not as much pressure to perform as traders because you’re not judged on revenue necessarily.

      I like your name, BTW – I wonder if we’ll get “Mr. Big” showing up here next… (yes I am male but a big Sex and the City fan)

  22. Brian (not M&I)

    Exeter,

    Just want to say thanks for your honest approach and for not shitting all over FO hopefuls like some other writers and websites out there. Thank you!

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.

    1. Thanks for your feedback! I’ll pass it along to Exeter.

  23. What are your thoughts of working in confirmations department for derivatives (e.g. IRS) and the possibilities to move to FO. One still deals a lot with FO and has to know everything about the specific products.

    1. Don’t know much about that group specifically but if you have good product knowledge I would assume it’s as good as anything else for moving to the FO side.

  24. I don’t get all your hatred about BO. I work in tech at a BB, work 9-5 Mo-Fr, enjoy what I’m doing and still earn very good money.

    1. There is no hatred. There’s nothing wrong with it.

      It’s just that most people reading this site are ambitious and want to rise as high as possible, and eventually become Partners / CEOs / Founders.

      That is not say that you’re unambitious if you’re in a tech or other BO role at a bank. It’s certainly not easy and can be very demanding.

      But most readers are more interested in client-facing roles with more advancement opportunities.

  25. Hello, thanks for another insightful article!

    I’m a student in target school working as operations intern in a big oil company, going up to Junior year. I trade my own portfolio, am in investment club

    Question – I have no finance work experience – If I can’t land FO role for my junior year summer, would it be a good idea to go into BO.

    -Between Tech/Operations which would give me more edge when trying to break into S&T?

    1. Hmm that is a close call but Ops would probably be better for S&T if you do not land a front office role. I think even a smaller, not as well known prop trading firm would beat that though, if you want to do S&T.

  26. Radostina

    Thanks again for another great article. Is there anything on the website for MO (I could only see about BO)as it’s a bit of a gray area for me what MO is in AM/IB and etc?

    1. Thanks! There is a bit of coverage on the middle office here: https://www.mergersandinquisitions.com/middle-office-to-sales-trading/ Hope to add more soon, especially on risk management.

  27. galestana

    Hi Exeter,

    Thanks for the insightful and funny article. I am currently an auditor of hedge funds and private equity funds at a Big 4 firm. Do you suggest that I make the jump to a fund in order to start the process of potentially moving to the front office?

    Thanks.

    1. I’ll speak for Exeter (he works full-time whereas I check this site full-time :) – yes, it’s probably a better move to go to the fund directly rather than staying at the Big 4 firm. If you were in a TAS or Valuation or internal bank group at the Big 4, it might be better to stay there. But auditing is less closely related, so it makes more sense to move over, in my view.

  28. Great article as usual! I’ve got question here:

    I am currently interning at a BB in tech and working on risk/pricing/sourcing market data. I’m kind of working closely with traders and quant strats and I know what they are working on everyday. However, my projects are more techy and more of an infrastructure stuff. I plan to apply for summer internship in S&T for next year and I was just wondering how I should spin my experience into sounding related on my resume?

    Thanks in advance for your reply!

    1. Thanks!

      I would try to make your projects sound as business-related as possible, i.e. instead of just talking about the tech, figure out how they impacted the traders… did something you implement help them trade more efficiently, hedge risk better, or pay lower commissions? Did it improve the internal process and allow for more efficient trade settlements? Did it allow them to get the market data more effectively, improving the quality of trades they could make?

      Focus on those types of points.

  29. good article. I have some questions:

    1. does risk (quantitative risk) count to BO or MO?
    2. any good suggestions for risk ppl to move to FO (investment analyst)?

    I think risk ppl have some advantages compared to other BO/MO ppl. Not sure if it is true: 1. know different asset class/derivatives well. 2. know macro market and index better.

    1. 1) Most people would say “middle office” for risk management since it’s closer to the trading side.

      2) It’s easier to make this move vs. some of what was described above because of what you mentioned. So for risk, get as close to traders as possible and maybe suggest ways they could be more efficient, ways to better hedge risk, and so on, and basically be as helpful as people. If you can show that you have deep knowledge of certain asset classes / securities, even better, and you’ll be much more convincing if you can walk in with specific trade ideas for them. Also, pitch yourself by pointing out how important risk management is for any type of trading… even great investment ideas can fail if they’re not properly hedged.

      1. According to other HF articles on your website, many prominent HF prefer ppl with IBD background since they are doing a lot of corporate research. And I verify that via the chief HR in my company (a top HF). So do you think MBA->IBD Associate->HF FO is also a path?

        I’m thinking about that because the lack of corporate level research experience limits my future potential. Directly jump from my current position is more likely to a quant fund which I don’t like.

        Thanks.

        1. Yes, it is still easier to go from IBD to an FO role at a HF than to move from BO to FO at a HF.

          Moving in as an associate is harder than moving in as an analyst, though, and is not the easiest way to get there due to the cost and opportunity cost of the MBA.

          Quant funds can be good as well, but they are a lot more specialized than a typical long/short equity place.

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