Hassan Ashraf: Life as an Equity Research Analyst at Morgan Stanley

Morgan Stanley is one of the most renowned global financial institutions. The investment banking and wealth management company is one of the largest and most successful in its industry. It has an enduring reputation of success, and employs only the most ambitious, hardworking, and talented candidates. Therefore, I'm delighted to be able to present to you all an interview with Morgan Stanley’s Equity Research Analyst, Hassan Ashraf…

Good morning Hassan! Thank you for joining us and agreeing to share some of your thoughts and experiences with us! Why don't you begin by telling us a little bit about yourself and what your role is at Morgan Stanley?

Of course! No worries! Like many in Morgan Stanley’s diverse workforce, I have a relatively unconventional background in that I studied Chemical Engineering at university. I completed a four-year bachelor’s degree at the University of Edinburgh before studying for a Masters at University College London (UCL). My current role as an Equity Research graduate does not involve a lot of the fluid dynamics or distillation column design that occupied my days at uni, but there is significant overlap in the underlying analytical skills required.

I work within the European Equity Strategy team where we focus on equity market direction, thematic macro-related research, sector rotation, and stock selection. My responsibilities are primarily to help the senior strategists with any analysis they may need for an upcoming research report, and to help fulfil any requests we receive from our buy-side clients, such as investment funds. I also write a few data-based research notes personally and also try to contribute to team discussions on overall market views.

It would be great to hear more about what this entails on a daily basis! Would you be able to talk us through a typical working day in the life of Hassan Ashraf?

Certainly! The work day typically starts at 6:45 am. I normally start by finishing any work that was left over from the previous day or reading up on any news from overnight (financial press and our own Morgan Stanley Research are the key sources for me).

At 7 am, I usually attend the morning sales meeting. This typically involves research analysts pitching their ideas to sales people and sales providing feedback both on the ideas and also on general market sentiment. The meeting provides a great opportunity to see what work other teams have completed and also the key themes that sales and clients are thinking about.

Our team then has our own internal meeting where we try to plan ahead both for the day and for any longer-term projects we have lined up. From here we have a clear foundation for the day which is normally centered on work for upcoming research reports. Throughout the day, we receive requests from clients which can range from a simple 15- minute assignment or sometimes something much longer, so one always has to be prepared to quickly switch plans.

The senior analysts also often have client calls during the day, which I tune into to hear what issues investors are interested in and to get an idea of their perspectives on key market themes. I find this to be a great way to understand the investor mindset.

Normally we finish at around 7 pm although this can vary depending on how busy we are. There is definitely flexibility around this, for example, if you have a personal event in the evening.

Starting work before 7 am certainly isn’t for everyone! It sounds like, for your role, while there is some structure to your daily routine, there is also a need to be flexible. What other skills are vital for the Equity Research role?

It’s crucial to have a curious mind. It really helps to be someone that wants to seek out conclusions and figure out problems, rather than relying on consensus views. Much of the job of an equity analyst is to find what the market has missed and to effectively relay this to clients.

Attention to detail is also crucial for the job. Unlike at university, where getting things 90% correct is a good outcome, in the workplace, you have to be sure that you are 100% correct. This is something that does greatly improve with time but is a very important skill, especially early in your career when you will spend a lot of time on execution-based tasks.

As mentioned before, enthusiasm is crucial. You can only learn if you ask questions and go out of your way to be as informed as possible about what is happening in the markets. The more work you can do to learn while away from the action, the quicker you will be able to contribute to any discussion with the team which itself tends to accelerate your growth.

Unsurprisingly, analytical skills are also very important. You certainly do not have to be a math genius – in fact, most of the technical elements of the job can be taught and learned on the floor, but it is very difficult to teach someone to have a genuine interest. It is important that you are comfortable dealing with numbers as that is often a very large part of the job.

Finally, something that I think is not mentioned enough is the ability to be a good sales person. Equity Research essentially involves two things: performing your analysis and then convincing others of your views. It is therefore very important to be personable and good at telling a story. In my view, the most effective stock pitches are those where one can easily understand the story behind the numbers.

As you’ve mentioned, being a strong sales person and an analytical thinker can be just as important as having a solid technical understanding of equities. Where can students learn these skills, and, for any students starting out, what advice would you give them? What are the best ways for candidates to stand out in their applications to firms such as Morgan Stanley for Equity Research roles?

The main advice I always give is to show enthusiasm for the markets and for equity investing. In my view, candidates and interns that demonstrate this tend to do very well. The job can be very demanding. So, those that are truly interested not only enjoy it much more, but also tend to perform better. I think it’s always a good idea to follow what is happening in financial markets and to have views on key issues. At its most basic, Equity Research is all about espousing your views to clients and convincing them of the merits of these views. So, being able to do this in an interview is a great quality.

It’s a good idea to invest in markets yourself. Even if you don’t have a lot to invest, there are many online resources that will allow you to run proxy investment portfolios. We ran a trading game with the summer interns this year, and it proved to be an excellent way to get them to follow the market and forced them to form views on companies.

Personally, I benefited greatly from joining the Edinburgh University Trading & Investment Club (EUTIC). It’s actually what first got me interested in finance – and joining these types of societies is a great way to develop your knowledge, hear from people in the industry and truly gauge if a role in finance is for you. Being involved in student funds can be especially useful for those interested in equity research as they essentially mirror what we do.

Another good idea is to reach out to people working in the role that you are interested in, as you’ll gain further knowledge and insight and be able to better gauge whether it suits you.

Thanks for sharing that advice! I think that, when applying for internships or graduate positions, many students worry about their CV and their previous work experience, so it’s fascinating to hear your suggestions on how they can improve their skills and develop a deeper interest in financial markets. Speaking of work experience, before applying for your current role, what kind of experience did you have? Was it relevant to Equity Research?

I actually started at Morgan Stanley as an off-cycle intern in our Debt Capital Markets business. I was there for around six months (August 2019 to January 2020) before making the switch to the Equity Research graduate programme. Although working with equities is quite different to debt, in both cases the underlying factors affecting the market are the same so, from a macro perspective, there was a fair deal of overlap. So, the internship was a very valuable experience. I was able to work with some very talented and knowledgeable individuals (from analysts to managing directors). There is an enormous amount of responsibility given to off-cycle interns at Morgan Stanley and, as a consequence, this allowed me to greatly develop during my time there.

Previously, I also interned at a UK asset management company within its equites and multi-asset divisions. This experience was quite similar to my current role, and helped further develop my technical equity research knowledge, much of which had been self-taught. On that note, I would strongly recommend this free, online corporate finance and valuation course for anyone interested in developing these skills.

Working for a company the size of Morgan Stanley, and with such an outstanding global reputation, must be challenging. One can only imagine the pressure that new recruits and graduates must feel upon starting there. What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given, that has helped you manage the pressure and improve your work?

To never let setbacks hold you back from what you want to achieve - very cliché, I know. Very often those who succeed are the ones who simply stuck in a little longer than everyone else. This advice is probably very pertinent to those of you applying for a job in the investment banking industry. I know this first hand! The key is always to learn from every setback, and improve a little for the next time. Over time, these small improvements will really add up. Success will often be determined by how well you dealt with failures.

Great advice! And finally, the question that everyone wants the answer to - what is the best thing about working at Morgan Stanley?

The people! From my first day here as an intern to today, I have always found senior people investing in me both as a colleague and as a person. The most senior people in Equity Research know every analyst and associate by name and try to interact with us regularly. There is a genuine collective approach to facing challenges here, which really suits me personally and I think lends to the strong reputation of the firm.

The firm is also highly diverse (I couldn’t count how many languages are spoken on the floor) and this is also something we are continuously trying to improve. Whether that is increasing our recruitment in underrepresented groups or hiring from a wider range of academic backgrounds. I think this makes Morgan Stanley quite a dynamic and exciting place to work.

Finally and very importantly, the Research department here operates at a very high level. We have a large number of top-3 analysts with many being recognised figures in their industries. This exposure to brilliant, successful people is ideal for anyone starting out their career. Every day you can get a great nugget of advice from someone that has already been there and done it. The high quality of colleagues also pushes you to be better and improve continuously!

Thank you for your time, Hassan. We wish you the best of luck for the future!

My pleasure!

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