Five Things Frontier Doesn’t Offer You (But Might In The Future)

Frontier Research
May 29, 2019 · 7 min read
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This post is the second part of a 2-part update to our 2014 post, Eight Things Frontier Doesn’t Offer You, given that some things have changed at Frontier since 2014.

To make things clearer, we’ve divided the post into the things we will never offer (which you can read here) and things we may offer later (that’s this post!).

If you’ve read our original post from 2014, then some things in this post will look mostly familiar, but we’ve added a few things as well — so keep reading to find out!

We talk a lot about what Frontier does and what Frontier, by virtue of its culture, offers to its clients and team members. But surprise, surprise! There are also things that Frontier doesn’t offer — yes indeed. Some of these things are because of an active cultural choice, while others are consequences of where we are in our organizational growth.

Here are 5 things that Frontier doesn’t offer you, but we just might in the future (if we feel the need for it).

1. The visibility of a Long Career Ladder

Being a rather small organization, even now, we are quite flat in terms of structure. However, we do have levels of hierarchy within Frontier. But at the end of the day, there is a limit to how much you can see yourself rising within Frontier.

Because we quickly give responsibility and leadership roles to team members who we feel confident about and because there are no long “pay your dues” waiting times in job roles, many of our current team members that lead key teams, might be seen to have relatively a few years of experience with all being under 32 years old — many of those that lead our teams have done so within 5 years of being in Frontier.

We believe that the young, with a little experience, can be better than the old. Some might disagree with this and prefer a firm with more experienced personnel that they could get insight from, but we have had much success with younger teams overall. Frontier’s focus on learning also helps our team borrow from the knowledge of those with more experience, further enabling us to function as we do.

2. Training for New Recruits

We don’t offer new team members a formal training program or course, although we do have a short introductory presentation and discuss our culture. This reflects the type of work we do (see next point) in the sense that a lot of what we do can be considered ‘street’. That is, our work is very intuitive, and we improvise as the ground situation changes rather than sticking to formulaic patterns of work that end up not reflecting the realities our clients face in their respective markets.

New team members are often given work projects right as they join and allowed to exercise their creativity and apply their intuition. Additionally, this method has the added benefit of bringing in a fresh pair of eyes to look at old ways of doing things. We often throw team members in the “deep end”, which we seem to have developed quite a tradition of. From very early on, even from day one, we may choose to give the sort of assignment to new team members that would usually be given to someone with much more experience in another organization — from creating client presentations to providing their own view on a particular sector or area of the economy etc.

But being put in the deep end is also a double-edged test, performing badly can lead to having less of the interesting work and more of the routine work we have. Sink or swim is how we usually like to work with new recruits.

With standard products we will most often give specific processes on how to do them, but sometimes we will also just expect you to figure it out on your own (even when we have a process doc) to spur new ideas. While early on, yes, a senior team member could tell you how to do it, our short hierarchy, would allow you to become “Senior” (if you perform well) within a few years and be in a position where you have no choice but to figure out many things on your own.

We are also aware that this approach may not seem very ‘fair’ to some. And as the firm has grown we are beginning to see other ways in which people with different learning curves may contribute significantly as well. As our work has become more complex, there are very important elements that require a lot of reliability, efficiency and effectiveness that also allows a new team member to gradually adjust.

We do, however, provide ‘mentoring’; senior team members will guide new members when needed and provide feedback after work is done.

The only area where this does not hold true is with our fully remote team members working on curated news products. From day one, they work with very specific processes and instructions, to facilitate the completely remote nature of their work. In such cases, there would be very little of this “deep end” work.

Furthermore, we do encourage (but don’t force!) learning/exposure outside of what you do at Frontier. You can read more about that here.

3. Specific Job Descriptions

Frontier also practices not offering its team members a specific job description. Broad areas are usually specified as team members join, ‘sector’ or ‘econ’ for example, but the actual work they do could potentially cover every single area of their field. This, we find, encourages creativity and variety which keeps the work interesting, and also builds a team with exposure to multiple areas.

Team members are also encouraged to ‘cross-pollinate’ working in different areas such as equity, econ and info curation if they like to. More recently, we have formalized this into what we call our ‘Leadership Trainee Programme’, where we actively give new team members work across different teams so that both the team member and Frontier can determine which area they best fit.

4. Conventional Research Experience

Would-be-analysts looking for typical research experience usually find that Frontier’s research is usually different in character from that carried out by most other research firms in the country. We focus very much on client expectations and needs. We also eschew many of the standard tried and tested models in favor of an instinctive, grassroots understanding of how market realities work. Most new members find that a lot of unlearning is required before one can truly grasp our methods, but once a certain level of mastering is acquired, the knowledge gained can be very rewarding; contributing to an overall capacity for analysis that we believe is better rounded and more aware of how actual markets work.

One important distinction in the research that we do, however, is that we do not do ‘Policy Research’ — i.e. research that mainly functions to aid governments in policymaking. Instead we focus on the research that corporates in Sri Lanka would benefit from. In simple terms, we don’t talk about what the government should do to better the economy, but we talk about what will happen in the economy given what the government is doing.

Our research is also largely devoid of any deep quantitative work/econometrics, settling for a more fundamental analysis of the economy. We do have some very early stage plans to develop Machine Learning models that could augment our research, so we could see more quantitative methods creep into our research. However, these models are meant to aid our current fundamental analyses, rather than replace them.

In terms of sector research, we prefer to focus our efforts on broader Sector research and Asset Allocation strategies, rather than analyzing stocks themselves. In line with our philosophy of being the ‘best choice’ for our clients, we believe this is where we can really contribute to equity research.

5. Privacy (in terms of feedback and pay)

Perhaps one of the more controversial aspects of our culture is that we are quite open and transparent when it comes to feedback and pay.

To quote Ray Dalio:

Everyone makes mistakes. The main difference is that successful people learn from them and unsuccessful people don’t. By creating an environment in which it is okay to safely make mistakes so that people can learn from them, you’ll see rapid progress and fewer significant mistakes.

The reason we keep feedback (both positive and negative) open and transparent across the company is so that team members can learn from each other’s mistakes and celebrate each other’s successes. Furthermore, in making this feedback open to our team, we ensure that team members feel safe trying new things, even if they may make a mistake along the way.

All feedback is discussed with the team member in question before it is made public to the rest of the team, so that we can ensure that the feedback given is fair. In cases where the incident is sensitive in some way, the publicly visible feedback may be vague on the details of what happened — however, most of it is not.

Similarly, our transparency of pay is mainly brought about to maintain fairness among our team. While we do not state the exact amounts that each team member gets paid, we do note the ‘bands’/ranges within which each team member gets paid.

We have found that this helps team members understand just how much their pay is linked to their performance at Frontier — something very important, given our more choice-based culture. For example, team members that choose to take on less work (and therefore add less value to Frontier) will also see a corresponding lower level of pay.

While these are all things that we currently do not offer, we may begin to offer some of these in the future, as and when it becomes necessary for Frontier.

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