The Hedge Fund Portfolio Manager Job: A Day in the Life, Salaries, and Trade-Offs
Few jobs in the finance industry have been glamorized as much as the hedge fund portfolio manager (PM).
Yes, everyone hates bankers now, and politicians threaten to destroy private equity…
…but plenty of people still fantasize about becoming Portfolio Managers and earning hundreds of millions of dollars.
At that level, who cares if everyone hates you?
The only problem is that the reality is much different from the headlines about hedge funds or what you see on shows like Billions:
What Does a Portfolio Manager Do?
The Portfolio Manager sits at or near the top of the hedge-fund hierarchy.
At single-manager funds (SM funds), the PM started or took over the fund and has responsibility for everything that happens.
At multi-manager funds (MM funds), there are potentially dozens of PMs who are each assigned a certain amount of assets under management (AUM) to invest.
Regardless of the fund type, the PM makes final trading decisions, manages risk and the entire portfolio, and oversees back/middle office operations such as compliance, IT, and accounting.
The PM also reviews ideas generated by junior team members and is responsible for marketing the fund, raising capital, and maintaining relations with the Limited Partners.
The Portfolio Manager earns money based on his/her performance (Profit & Loss Statement – P&L or “PnL”) in the year, which means that it’s possible to earn a bonus of $0, or a bonus in the millions of dollars… or anything in between.
On average, PMs tend to earn far more than Hedge Fund Analysts because making the correct trading decisions, executing them, and managing risk are more valuable skills than generating investment ideas.
Without the hedge fund portfolio manager, however, those ideas and strategies would remain in the “potential” column – not the “actual dollars realized” column.
Research Analyst vs. Portfolio Manager
There are some similarities between the different roles in the hedge fund career path; for example, everyone generates and evaluates trading ideas, monitors current positions, and conducts due diligence.
But the key difference is that PMs are responsible for far more than those tasks:
- Investment Logistics – For example, what percentage of AUM should you allocate to Idea X vs. Idea Y? What’s the best way to hedge, and how much should you allocate to that? How well can the traders execute the orders required to build the position?
- Risk Management – PMs focus on risks related to both the individual positions and macro factors that might affect the entire portfolio – and how to prevent disaster if there’s a market meltdown.
- Entire Portfolio – PMs spend more time thinking about portfolio-wide diversification and points like the net exposure (% long positions – % short positions). Even if Company X has 50-70% upside, it might not make sense as a Long if it doesn’t fit with the rest of the portfolio, or if it would skew risk too much in one direction.
- Non-Investment Responsibilities – PMs must spend time marketing the fund, raising capital from LPs, and answering their questions and concerns. They also oversee the infrastructure required to support the fund, which means they may be further removed from the nitty-gritty details of investing.
Some of these points change a bit for hedge fund portfolio managers at multi-manager (MM) funds; for example, such funds will probably have separate teams for IT and other middle/back-office functions.
Also, since most MM funds run tight net exposure, there’s less flexibility with the structure of the entire portfolio and risk management.
A Day in the Life
This one will vary based on factors such as the fund type, strategy, and AUM, but if we use the same type of fund as in the Analyst article:
- Fund Type: Single Manager
- AUM: $1 – $5 billion range
- Strategy: Long/short equity or other long-term, value-oriented strategy
Then your typical day as a PM might look like this:
6 AM – 7 AM: Wake up, check your phone before rolling out of bed, and see what happened in Europe and Asia overnight and how it will affect your positions.
You get ready and head into the office while listening to a few finance/market podcasts.
7 AM – 9 AM: Arrive at the office, read news related to your current holdings as the rest of the team arrives, and take notes on issues to follow up on throughout the day.
An existing LP also “wants to chat” sometime today.
Your team takes turns pitching ideas, and you hear a few interesting ones about over-levered REITs with high retail exposure that could be good Shorts.
9 AM – 10 AM: Just before the market opens, one of your companies (a building door manufacturer) announces a plan to spin off its EMEA division.
You immediately call the Analyst who worked on that idea and ask him to run the numbers, and the company’s stock price opens down 5% in the first 30 minutes of trading.
To hedge against the risk of an even bigger drop, you think about asking the traders to increase your stake in an industrial conglomerate that is a potential buyer of this division.
10 AM – 11 AM: The Analyst runs into your office with the quick numbers.
The expected selling price for this division is a ~20% discount to fair value, which is why the market hates the deal.
But it doesn’t contribute enough to the company’s financials to justify a 5% drop, so you ask the traders to up your stake – easy to do when everyone else is selling.
11 AM – 12 PM: The LP from earlier in the day finally gets through to you (you were dodging his calls up until now).
He’s skeptical of your current portfolio because he thinks you’re mostly holding small-cap stocks, even though you have a mid-cap focus. You agree to send him more information later.
12 PM – 1 PM: You meet with a Sector Head and another Analyst and find out that you’re in trouble with another position, a 4-5% stake in a software company.
The CEO has just announced an aggressive, high-growth-at-all-costs strategy. You and the Sector Head want to sell your stake immediately, but the Analyst pushes for a longer-term hold.
1 PM – 3 PM: You review the best ideas from your team over the past week and think about how to structure potential new positions.
You want to maintain a net exposure of 40% (e.g., 70% long and 30% short) while limiting each sector to 15% of your total AUM.
One new Long idea is in Healthcare, where you already have 10% of AUM, so you decide to allocate 5% to it and then sell off a 3% stake in another Healthcare company to stay under 15% total.
3 PM – 4 PM: You conduct a quick job interview with a Senior Analyst candidate from a larger fund. You like her ideas, so you ask the other Senior Analysts to speak with her as well.
Then, you get interrupted by a new potential investor calling to request performance stats.
4 PM – 6 PM: The markets close, and neither the software company nor the door manufacturer has turned into a disaster… yet.
You finally get time to do uninterrupted research on an idea one of your Analysts brought you last week.
6 PM – 7 PM: But then news breaks that executives at that software company are “staging a coup” to remove the CEO. The Analyst and Sector Head come into your office, and you all agree to sell your stake ASAP to cut your losses.
7 PM – 9 PM: Go to dinner with a few brokers and other hedge fund portfolio managers. The brokers keep pitching ideas that you’re not interested in, but you stick around to get a sense of everyone else’s mood.
They all seem downbeat, so you avoid mentioning that your fund is up 15% YTD.
9 PM – 10 PM: Head home, respond to a few personal emails, and go to sleep.
Hours and Lifestyle
You could argue that professionals at hedge funds “work less” than ones in investment banking, but this day-in-the-life account shows the flaw with that argument: the stress levels and intensity can be much higher.
Many PMs work around 60 hours per week (or more), but they’re “on call” all the time because the markets are always moving, and potential crises are always waiting.
At multi-manager funds, the PM may not be quite as responsible for non-investing tasks, but stress comes from lower risk tolerance – if you have a bad year, that might be the end for you.
Hedge Fund Portfolio Manager Salary (and Bonus) Levels: Where the Fun Begins
So, the PM job is quite stressful, and you need a wide variety of skills to succeed… but the huge compensation makes up for it, right?
Compensation spans a huge range at this level because it’s linked almost 100% to performance.
We gave a range of $500K to $3 million USD in the hedge fund career path article for the “average” PM, with median pay in the high-six-figure-to-low-seven-figure range.
But there are several important footnotes and caveats.
First, there are thousands of small/startup funds (< $50 million AUM) that are not necessarily included in these compensation surveys.
Pay tends to be far lower at these funds because the average AUM is much lower.
These compensation figures are most applicable for funds with $250+ million under management.
Second, base salaries are often capped at less than $200K because no hedge fund wants to pay much more until
Third, total team compensation is between 10% and 20% of their P&L, depending on the fund size, structure, and the team’s split of the total AUM.
Here’s an example to illustrate the math:
Let’s say that you’re managing a $500 million portfolio at a multi-manager platform fund with $20 billion total in AUM.
The fund had mediocre results for the year, but your team had a positive performance, so you’ll get paid.
Your team earns a 3% return on its $500 million for the year, for a P&L of $15 million.
Yes, a 3% return may seem low, but most MM funds are highly levered because of their neutral net exposure… so 3% could add up to far more at the platform level.
For example, many of the large MM funds, such as Citadel, run 0% net exposure but 400-500% gross exposure (gross exposure = long % + short %).
In addition to your annual profits of $15 million, your team also had expenses in the form of administrative staff, data providers, Bloomberg terminals and other IT, travel and meals, and so on.
Altogether, those add up to $1 million per year.
So, the “Net P&L” before bonuses is $14 million.
Your team earns 15% of that, which is $2.1 million.
You have one Analyst and one Senior Analyst, and you allocate bonuses and base salaries such that the Analyst earns $300K and the Senior Analyst earns $600K.
That leaves $1.2 million for you in total compensation.
Of this $1.2 million, you’ll receive $150K – $200K during the year in base salary, and the remaining $1 million or $1.05 million as a bonus at the end of the year.
How to Become a Hedge Fund Portfolio Manager
No one ever “becomes” a Portfolio Manager from outside the finance industry; you need a track record and years of experience managing money first.
The four most common paths to PM include:
- Perform well over 5-10+ years and get promoted internally (possible at MM funds; less likely at many SM funds).
- Switch jobs and move to a smaller/startup fund or one that is expanding and willing to take a chance on promoting you.
- Join a MM fund that has clear promotion opportunities and is willing to bring you on as a Junior PM.
- Start your own hedge fund.
Paths #1 and #2 are probably the most realistic ones if you develop a solid track record.
And we’ve covered all the reasons why it’s probably a bad idea to start a hedge fund before, but knock yourself out if you enjoy the pain.
The key to everything above is performance.
If you cannot point to a consistent track record of generating a P&L within teams and funds that have done well, you will not become a PM.
Is a Hedge Fund PM Role in Your Future?
For most people, a PM role is probably not appropriate.
This point is part of a broader one about the hedge fund vs. private equity vs. investment banking debate.
In IB and PE, you can succeed by following a process and advancing up a clearly defined hierarchy.
You don’t necessarily need to be “passionate” about deals as long as you can execute them, stay on top of process details, and avoid mistakes.
But with hedge funds, you must be passionate about the markets and investing to get into the industry, and you can’t “fake it.”
And you can’t just “follow a process” to reach the PM level – you also need performance results every single year, and there isn’t one universal method for achieving that.
Plus, you must also be able to make time for all the other tasks besides generating and evaluating ideas.
Managing a personal or family portfolio is no guarantee that you’ll be able to do the job because trade execution and risk management are totally different at the institutional level.
If you understand all that, then the job might be up your alley.
And if not, you can always fantasize about it by watching Billions.
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