Wealth is the name of the game in any capitalist society worthy of the name. And frankly, it plays a big role in pretty much every other kind of society too… Forbes’ most recent annual listing of the world’s wealthiest people ranked by nationality puts the People’s Republic of China, an avowedly Marxist-Leninist socialist republic, second in the world when it comes to the total number of billionaires.
High-net-worth individuals (HNWIs) measure their worth in assets, less any liabilities on the balance sheet… and let’s just go ahead and define VHNWIs and UHNWIs while we’re here, because the Very- and Ultra- categories are also the kind of people you’re going to want to know about in this field.
Business valuations involve a more complicated formula than that, but even at the risk of being a little too reductive, it’s accurate to say that assets form the underlying basis of institutional wealth too.
The sort of assets they all prize more than any other are real assets: the kind that don’t evaporate when the Fed chair hiccups or, say, a global pandemic breaks out.
Real asset management is a trillion dollar industry globally. According to a 2020 report by Savills, a global property advising firm, the total value of global real-estate reached $326.5 trillion—more valuable than all global equities and debt security combined. And that’s before you add in infrastructure and other real assets.
Managing those massive portfolios isn’t a job to be taken lightly. And with the disruptions coming courtesy of climate change, social impacts, and governmental regulation, it’s one that is going to be even more complex in the future.
In the wide world of financial planning, real asset management is a high-stakes role with a bright future—if you get the training and experience to make the right calls in a world that’s changing fast.
In Asset Management, Real Estate, Natural Resources, and Infrastructure Stand Alone
Asset management is the process of acquiring, trading, maintaining, and maximizing the return on investments for clients. It’s a financial sector service that is provided by dedicated companies, individuals, and major investment banks.
But the term asset is doing a lot of work there. Cash is an asset; so is goodwill, so are equities, so is gold. And you don’t manage all of those the same way.
You can slice up asset categories in a number of different ways:
- By liquidity—current versus fixed assets, for example
- By physical property—tangible versus intangible
- By use—operating assets used in daily activities versus securities or deposits
And of course there are dozens of different sub-categorizations, stuff that accountants love to get into but that we can happily leave aside for now. If a career in real estate asset management — or in the management of real assets of any kind — is in your future, what you really want to know is what makes them unique… why real assets aren’t just another security or financial vehicle.
How Real Assets Form the Core of Wealth-building
But what exactly is a real asset?
Real assets are the foundation of all wealth.
One definition of real assets is that they are the raw material and structures that drive economic growth.
That’s still a pretty broad picture. But in practical terms, real assets are assets that you can put your hands on in some way. A stand of trees, a bar of gold, a barrel of oil, or a wind turbine—these are all examples of real assets.
From an investing perspective, real assets are generally put into three categories:
Real estate itself is easy enough to define and broadly understood by both investors and the general public. It’s easily the largest category of real assets in terms of both value and quantity.
Natural resources are the materials or commodities that come from the natural world around us. Natural gas, timber, gold and other metals, crops, even certain types of soil, can represent valuable natural resources that you can invest in.
Infrastructure are the networks and services used to transport, store, and distribute both tangible and intangible goods, such as pipelines, highways, airports, and electrical and information transmission lines.
The value of all of these items emerges from the physical nature of their very existence. They differ from purely financial instruments like equities or options, which represent a value that is fungible but intangible—purely resting on contracts and perceived market values.
How Asset Management in Real Estate and Other Real Assets Support the Broader Market
The modern world of high finance has floated high and become creative with various investment structures and products. But like the base of a pyramid, real asset classes support every other type of asset class. Own stock in a corporation? See what it’s worth without the raw materials to manufacture products, the machinery to make them with, or the buildings to house them in.
Crypto? Someone had to mine those coins, too, and process the transactions in a data center somewhere… on real property.
Intellectual property? Those patents, trade secrets, and copyrights don’t matter a lot without some real assets that can put them in play. Try publishing a book without trees!
When you get right to the bottom of it, pretty much every other kind of investment relies on real assets to make their product work. Whether it’s a tangential relationship or something core to the business, real assets are key. A career in this field isn’t going to evaporate like some exotic synthetic derivative that’s abstracted six ways from Sunday.
If that’s what real assets are, though, why exactly are they considered so important in the financial planning world that an entire category of management professionals specialize in them?
Why Investing in Real Assets Is Where Global Elites Play Hardball
Because of the clarity of what they represent, investment in real assets is something that everyone from high net worth wealth managers to your neighborhood financial planner will consider a key part of most portfolios. But what exactly are the advantages to investing in real assets, and what are the challenges they represent that require specialized managers?
The clearest advantage to real assets as an investment vehicle is their intrinsic value. Although that value is set by the market like any other fungible asset, it’s almost certain never to drop to nothing, as purely financial assets could feasibly do. Real assets tend to offer better:
- Price stability – Because real assets have intrinsic worth, their valuation tends not to fluctuate as rapidly or unpredictably as financial investments.
- Current income opportunities – Due to their association with underlying properties or services, many real assets generate additional income streams apart from their intrinsic value.
- Inflation protection – The physical stability of real assets has afforded historic protection against inflationary spikes since their economic worth tends to rise with inflation itself.
- Equity market insulation – For many of the same reasons that these assets are unique from financial instruments, their value is often uncorrelated with financial markets, making them a good hedge against market swings.
- Tax advantages – Governments tend to offer various incentives and advantages to owners of real assets, which improves their performance over financial investments.
And all of this comes without having to compromise on your total return on investment.
According to Morningstar in 2022, infrastructure and global real estate offer total returns on par or even better than many equity categories.
Many of these features come with a dangerous side effect, however: they complicate investment considerations of real assets.
Real asset investors are playing a long game. But as any options trader will tell you, longer horizons also come with greater risk. The uncertainty of the future is compounding.
For Sale: Florida Waterfront Lots — Not as Cheap as You Would Think
Global climate change may represent the ultimate long-term risk for real asset investments. Waves of extreme and changing weather, shifting climatic patterns creating drought or flooding, massive heat waves, fires, pressures to change energy sources… all of these have already started to impact certain categories of real asset investment.
There’s no better place to find a window on that future than Florida. With an average elevation above sea level of only 100’, sitting right in Hurricane Alley, it’s a litmus test for climatological impacts on real assets—and a hotbed for ESG jobs in real asset management.
According to NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), sea levels have risen 8 inches since 1950 and are now going up by about an inch every three years.
You’d think that would make real estate on the waterfront practically worthless. But here’s where real asset management market knowledge pays dividends: the value of waterfront property in Florida has only been rising.
Real estate asset managers understand that other factors are in play. A generational shortage in housing nationwide is one. Another is this: according to the National Association of Realtors, in 2021 the average age of homebuyers in the state was 57. And at 57, the long-term impacts of climate change are probably too long-term to worry about.
Intuiting the counter-intuitive is why real asset managers make the big bucks—and need the best education.
Real assets also have less liquidity than financial assets and usually have higher costs associated with transactions. So it’s not possible to turn on a dime when investing in this class—calculations have to be sure and confidence has to be high when buy and sell decisions are made.
On the other hand, one positive feature of real assets is the near certainty of their appreciation over time. No one is making more land. In fact, with sea level rise, you could argue there is less and less all the time.
Infrastructure, Natural Resource, and Real Estate Asset Management Demand Mastery of a Unique Skillset
All that is really just the tip of the melting iceberg when it comes to the complexities of real asset investing and management. The unique characteristics of these assets make specialization a must when you get down into the gritty details.
In part, that’s because real assets are, well, real. Unlike equity shares, a chunk of land or a barrel of oil isn’t abstract. You have to be able to pick it up and take it somewhere, or make use of it where it is in order to realize the value.
That makes real asset markets a strange combination of completely global and hyper-local. The only place you can get a Malibu Beach condo is in Malibu. Take the same building and accoutrements and drop them in Bakersfield and you have a very different product—with a far lower value.
Yet both those values are at the same time subject to global demand and finance. You can start to see why real asset management calls for a very special set of skills and knowledge.
Real World Factors Have a Lot To Say About Real Asset Values and Management
It’s the real nature of land that makes it subject to forces apart from the pure ebb and flow of finance and the overall economy. A high-value condo in New York might lose twenty percent of its value virtually overnight simply from an announcement that a high-rise permit has been issued that blocks its view of Central Park.
Real estate asset managers have to develop a comprehensive understanding of the factors that can affect investments, going far beyond the usual factors in investment management. It’s a highly specialized field, sometimes requiring expertise as narrow as a single city or neighborhood.
For other real assets, that knowledge base has to extend in the opposite direction, going global, to understand how markets move. Commodity and other natural resource real assets flow into a worldwide market. Housing demand in China may spur timber sales in the Canadian Rockies.
And that brings into play other factors, like transportation and accessibility. The real world connections that allow real assets to be accessed or distributed is far more fraught than the trading floor. A perfectly stable, predictable flow of a commodity like oil is only one exploding pipeline away from becoming entirely worthless. And when one lousy little 1,300 foot freighter gets hung up sideways in a shipping lane that carries almost 12 percent of global freight traffic, hot rolled coil steel and copper prices can skyrocket.
The geopolitical environment can be just as important as economic factors when it comes to managing these kinds of assets.
Finally, real assets often require more active management than other classes to realize their full value and potential. You can hang onto a stock certificate or bearer bond in your brokerage account of file cabinet for a decade and forget about it, and it will emerge with the full market value whenever you decide to pull it out and trade it. No activity on your part was required—the asset took care of itself.
Real estate is a different animal. It needs to be maintained to maintain full market value. In order to provide current income, it has to be actively managed, with rents collected, improvements made, and tenants scrutinized. Natural resources have to be produced from the environment, stored, and safely transported to market. And infrastructure has to be planned, maintained, and improved to stay current and useful.
These are all factors that make real estate asset management jobs a far great challenge than other kinds of investment management. And that’s why professional-grade real estate asset managers are so highly valued.
What Does ESG Stand For?
You can see the world of real asset investing shifting right before your very eyes just through the explosion of those three little letters next to so many job openings and investment opportunities – ESG
Environmental, Social, and Governance considerations are the frontier of global real asset managers. Shifts in both the regulatory and social perspectives on responsible investing are being driven by the realities of climate change and recognition of inequity in traditional asset management approaches.
ESG investing aims to direct funds toward more sustainable, equitable practices. The first stage of ESG portfolio building is simply aimed at excluding immoral or unsustainable assets – from non-fairtrade coffee growers to fossil fuel projects. But ESG funds today are sophisticated enough to also steer investments to where they have a positive environmental and social impact.
Building an ESG score for real assets today can include looking at positive impacts, like those that come with green energy projects, or desalination projects.
While ESG investing trends were originally pure plays in ethical investing, it’s become clear that an ESG portfolio can also be about performance. A landmark 2019 study by Morgan Stanley found that total returns in sustainable ETF and mutual funds were similar to traditional funds. As climate impacts, logistics bottlenecks, and a new crop of ESG-informed consumers come to the forefront, there’s every reason to think that sustainable investing will mean high-return investing… which is why ESG consultants are bound to be a hot field for the foreseeable future.
Degrees for Real Estate and Other Real Asset Management Careers
Considering the high value of these types of assets and the importance they have in investment portfolios, it’s easy to understand why most investors expect real asset managers to have very high levels of education. No one wants a multi-million dollar international real estate portfolio in the hands of someone who barely managed to struggle through a bachelor’s degree.
A lot of what makes work in real asset management exciting is the sheer breadth of the field. But that can also leave you with a lot of questions about what kind of degree to pursue to get off on the right foot in this field.
In the past, most natural resources, infrastructure, and real estate asset management jobs have gone to individuals who have more traditional kinds of finance sector degrees – in economics, accounting, finance, or business.
But the complexity of real assets has been crying out for a more specialized education. Today, it’s here in the form of field-specific master’s programs, including unique options that exist at the intersection of real estate, infrastructure, and ESG (environmental, social, and governance), such as a Master of Science in Global Real Assets.
Since real estate is the area with the most demand in active real asset management, you’re going to find a lot of programs that make that clear in the title, with options out there including a Master’s in Real Estate with a Real Estate Asset Management concentration, or a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in Real Estate Management.
Your investment in a college education may be the most important asset acquisition play you make in your career planning.
Master’s programs can take a year or two to complete and, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) cost $12,394 per year at public schools, or $26,621 at private universities.
But that probably understates the actual cost, since most colleges price programs different in different fields. NCES stopped tracking those differences in 2016, but even then, the total average cost of an MBA program was $65,090.
For a less expensive shot at getting some graduate expertise in real asset management, you can look instead to certificate programs. These don’t check all the boxes for high-end jobs in the field, but they can deliver a very targeted boost to your skillset in areas that can make a big difference in your career. Some examples include a certificate in Hotel Real Estate Investments and Asset Management, or an Asset and Portfolio Management Certificate.
How Your Undergraduate Degree Prepares You for More Advanced Degrees in Real Estate or Other Real Assets
Of course, you don’t get into master’s degree programs without a bachelor’s degree behind you. It’s definitely not a requirement that you have a degree specific to asset management or real estate in order to get into master’s programs in the field. So you’re perfectly fine getting studying finance, accounting, or other more general fields on your way to a real asset management career. These all come with the essential groundwork in areas like:
- Accounting and finance
- Business law
- Communications skills
In some cases these types of degrees can be found with concentrations in real estate. But you can also find bachelor’s programs that are more closely oriented to real asset management. A Bachelor of Science in Business Administration (BSBA) with Real Estate Management and Development, or a Bachelor of Science in Real Estate Property Management are solid ways to get ready for more advanced degrees.
Real Asset Management Degrees Have You Covered with Coursework in ESG, Real Estate, Banking, and More
The curriculum you will find in these degree programs is wide-ranging and often can be customized to fit the specific career path you are interested in. But there are certain core elements of business, analysis, and finance that you’ll find in common to juice your real asset management skills.
- Debt and Financing – Leverage is a big deal in real asset acquisition and development, and debt financing is one of the most common ways to acquire it. You’ll learn about structuring deals, the influence of interest rates, different loan types, and the pitfalls to watch out for with debt financing.
- Transportation Infrastructure – Even if infrastructure isn’t the specific type of real asset you plan to manage, coursework discussing the networks, regulations, and operations of transportation are an important education for real asset managers. Since access to or transportation of other kinds of real assets affects value, you’ll want to get all the background you can in this important area.
- Sustainability and Ethics in Investing – If you were wondering what ESG is when you started reading this page, this class is for you. Ethical and sustainable investing in real assets is clearly the future of the field. Whether you plan to specialize in ESG or are aiming for a different road in real asset management, you’ll need a strong foundation in the ethics of management and the new impacts coming from environmental, social, and governance movements in the future.
- Energy Systems – Power systems are also a concern for many real asset managers, both from the ESG perspective of sustainability and the role that energy systems play in both infrastructure and natural resource management. Whether you’re in a natural gas play or developing wind farms, or just making investments in grid build-outs, the characteristics and operation of global energy systems needs to be on your radar.
- Real Estate Markets – As the single largest area within real asset investing, real estate management gets its own focus in most degree programs. It’s just a first taste of what real estate development and asset management looks like, but it will lay the groundwork for you to go into fields like commercial real estate asset management, real estate investment banking, or real estate development analysis.
- Global Financial Markets – Whether you plan to focus on international real asset management or not, you’ll need a clear picture of how the category is impacted by the movement of global financial markets. You’ll get a snapshot of global economic relationships, international regulatory structures, and the impacts of multinational financing and international relations in these courses.
- Econometrics and Quantitative Analysis – Every real asset manager engages in some level of analysis in their job. If you plan to specialize in analytics, these courses are your first foot in the door. If not, they offer you a grounded set of lessons in how to evaluate investments, opportunities, and financial deals using the latest quantitative and econometric tools.
- Pricing Theory – Real asset pricing is one of the things that makes the field so complex, so expect to take courses exclusively in the area of valuation and the theory behind pricing real assets. Its an invaluable piece of the mental toolkit you will need to develop as a real asset manager, building on research and historical work, and honing your risk management calculations at the same time.
There’s an almost endless array of electives you can choose from to further develop your expertise in any of the many areas of real asset management. Just a handful are:
- Hedging Strategies
- Commercial Lease Analysis
- Public/Private Debt in Real Estate
- Financial Regulation
- Fixed Income Strategies
- Digital Infrastructure
- Portfolio Management
- Monetary Policy
- Green Financing
Most master’s programs in this field will call for a capstone project of some sort rather than a traditional master’s thesis. A capstone project is a practical exercise that demonstrates that you have absorbed and integrated knowledge from every area of your studies and learned how to apply it.
In some cases, you’ll find that your capstone project is an actual real-world project, performed in conjunction with an internship or practicum placement.
Real Asset Management Jobs Take Experience, Some of Which Your Master’s Will Provide Through Practicum
Like other degrees in business and finance, there’s a real premium placed on experiential education in real asset management programs. That reflects the perspective of the industry itself—you’re not likely to be able to compete for jobs in the field without some hands-on experience, both in and out of school.
But you can at least get started through the internship and experiential opportunities offered in your degree program. The sort of placements you find to get your hands dirty in asset management are as broad as the industry itself:
- Internship opportunities at major asset management firms with real asset portfolios, working with experts who allocate, manage, and analyze properties every day.
- Research studies in cooperation with professors who are studying the intricacies of investing and managing various types of real assets.
- Working on projects in concert with outside agencies to analyze or optimize various asset management portfolios.
Further, these opportunities can take you anywhere in the country or even overseas, getting you familiar with the global nature of real asset financing and investing. It’s invaluable introductory experience into the reality of working as a real asset manager, real asset analyst, or real asset consultant.
These are more than just learning opportunities. Every single placement is also a chance to network, making contacts in the specific area of real asset management that you are interested in building your career around. The people you meet along the way are easily as important as what you actually learn.
Finding Colleges With Real Estate Degrees or Other Real Asset Management Programs
Speaking of making the right contacts to smooth your path into real asset management careers, you’ll want to think carefully about the school you pick to earn your degree in the field.
Like just about every other job in finance, you’ll find the first thing a hiring manager’s eye will check on your resume will be the university you graduated from. It’s going to say a lot about the quality of education you received, the people you know, the way you think about asset management in general and real assets in particular.
Of course, elite schools with a strong relationship to the financial world are almost always the best choices here. The big business schools that are sending eager interns and grads to Wall Street every year have just as strong a reputation in financial advising.
And because you’re likely pursuing these degrees in the middle of an already extremely busy career, it’s worth considering online real asset management degrees. By pursuing your degree remotely, you keep yourself open to attending some of the best colleges in the country without having to relocate. And with flexible attendance that lets you stream classes or cram coursework at any hour, you can keep up at the office while you are getting ahead in school.
What Is the Best Accreditation To Consider for Real Asset Management Degrees?
Real asset management degrees are almost always offered through business schools. Those schools are eligible for a specialty accreditation from one of the three organizations recognized by CHEA (Council for Higher Education Accreditation) and the Department of Education for evaluating the quality and standards for business schools:
- AACSB (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business)
- IACBE (International Accreditation Council for Business Education)
- ACBSP (Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs)
These organizations dive into the details of curriculum structure, faculty accomplishments, grading and admissions processes, and administrative standards so you don’t have to. While there are going to be all kinds of differences between the philosophy and features of the schools you are looking at, you can be sure business schools that hold one of these specialty accreditations check all the boxes that the financial and business world expects of graduates.
Commercial Real Asset Management Jobs – Building and Managing Asset Portfolios
Not every investor who has a chunk of their portfolio in real assets needs a devoted real estate asset manager looking after them. A lot of that exposure is going to come through derivatives or other managed options.
And even high net worth individuals who buy investment properties, running long-term rental units or amassing a portfolio of short-term VBRO properties, are typically content enlisting the help of a property management company to handle the day to day business of it all. To this point, even when scaling it out to institutional buyers with billions in real estate holdings, the difference between real estate property management and real estate asset management is obvious.
A real estate asset manager’s job description covers the big-picture business of assembling and managing a portfolio of properties. An asset manager is running the numbers on income and expenses, looking at long-term trends, and analyzing how a particular asset fits into an overall portfolio strategy.
It can take years to get your head wrapped around the intricacies of investing in real assets. While they are key parts of many investing strategies, not every financial planner or investment advisor has to dive in at that level. After all, you don’t need a master’s degree to buy a REIT (Real Estate Investment Trust).
On the other hand, if you’re looking someone to run one…
Real Estate Asset Management Companies Can Be Their Own Real Asset Investing Vehicles
The vast majority of investment in real assets actually comes through various financial instruments. Not everyone needs to go out and acquire a parcel of farmland in order to enjoy the benefits of real estate ownership, the same way they don’t have to put together a cell tower with their bare hands to invest in infrastructure.
In order to capitalize on real asset development projects, there are many derivative products that offer exposure without direct investment. These types of derivative securities come with their own pluses or minuses, all of which advisors responsible for putting together real asset portfolios have to understand.
One of the most common of these is the REIT, or real estate investment trust. These companies take advantage of favorable tax laws that allow investors to buy shares of equity or mortgages of various kinds of real property. REITS offer retail investors easy exposure to real property investments in everything from cell phone towers to hotels to private prisons to forest lands.
Of course, REITs themselves are effectively real estate asset management companies who need asset managers to analyze and maximize profits through the special rules governing such entities. And institutional or HNWI investors may look to real estate asset managers and analysts to evaluate prospective REIT investments.
Similar investment vehicles, with similar management needs, also exist for other commodities.
Who’s Hiring to Fill Positions for Real Asset Management Jobs?
Real assets management is a big business in the financial world. Just about every major investment management firm will have a department dedicated to real assets. And there are plenty of niche firms out there that focus entirely on real assets, or even subsets like alternative energy infrastructure.
Like any investment management company, they work with clients to develop strategies based on wealth preservation or generation needs. They build those strategies around current portfolios and other individual considerations, like sustainability, analyzing risk and reward, then executing and monitoring performance.
Like other kinds of asset managers, real asset managers have fiduciary responsibilities and are required to make decisions with the best interests of their client in mind. That also makes it a kind of customer service business, where it’s important for firms to get on the same page as their clients.
Naturally, derivative funds like REITs also need expert real asset managers to build and manage portfolios that are attractive to investors.
Who exactly are those clients? Basically, anyone who has or needs real asset exposure in their portfolios—for either operational or investing purposes.
Asset management firms are retained by:
- Government entities
- Institutional investors, such as colleges or pension funds
And like all asset management firms, they attempt to maximize value while mitigating risk. Since real assets are often only one part of a portfolio, and usually the part that is itself intended to hedge risks, that means that real asset management firms also have to work together with other asset managers and analysts to ensure they have the big picture in focus for the goals of the overall portfolio.
Real Estate Asset Management Companies Aren’t the Only Ones Hiring Expert Real Asset Managers
While we started off our discussion with the investments made and wealth held by individuals in real assets, the fact is that corporations often have extensive real asset portfolios as well. In some cases, this is a side effect of their operations — grocery chains don’t have much of a business unless they have stores, for example. But in other cases they hold real assets for the same reason as other investors. The same can be true for non-profits, and even governments.
You can find careers in real asset management popping up in all kinds of odd industries, from actual investment management firms, to trucking companies, to banks, to realty trusts.
Even big businesses without a core investment in real assets may still have huge portfolios just by virtue of their other operations. Microsoft, a software company through and through, owns and manages hundreds of buildings globally, in more than 100 countries. From real estate to transportation infrastructure to green energy, many corporations have big real asset management needs—and hire elite teams to take care of them.
Job Titles Found in Real Asset Management
None of those firms are looking for second best when it comes to real asset management and analytical skills. To get on their radar, you need a pretty extensive education, strong analytical skills, and a feel for finance.
Like other asset management jobs, real asset management careers tend to fall into investment, analysis, or sales.
Careers working as a specialist in real assets aren’t limited to hands-on management jobs. Real assets are important enough to have spawned their own specialized ecosystem of investing and analytical roles. Just a few of them are:
- Real Estate Asset Manager / Infrastructure Asset Manager – These positions handle the day-to-day portfolio management of real assets in various categories. They have a deep knowledge of their market, monitor cash flow, negotiate contracts, and make key decisions in acquisitions and asset use.
- Real Asset Investment Analyst – Investment analysts evaluate the financial and portfolio considerations of real asset investments to make recommendations or provide data to clients or their firm. Like other types of investing analysis, this can happen on the buy-side or sell-side, and is closely related to underwriting positions.
- Real Asset Management Analyst – Management analysts focus more closely on the operations side of real asset investing, looking at ways that either specific assets or portfolios in general can be optimized for returns or risk management.
- ESG Analyst – ESG, or Environment, Social, and Governance analysts are a specific type of investment or management analyst that looks at the regulatory, ethical, and ecological impacts of various real asset investments.
Exploring Specialties in ESG Consulting and More
There are as many options for specialization in real asset management as there are assets, and more. These specialties span career roles, so you can, for instance, find yourself with a long, lucrative, and healthy job in rental property ESG analysis, or as a hydro-power utility investment analyst.
Although the primary way into a niche tends to be on-the-job experience managing the relevant kinds of assets, you can give yourself a jump start in the right direction while you are still in college. For example, anyone looking at a role that emphasizes ESG investments will get the right start down that path by earning a degree that explores ESG asset management, leadership ethics, and sustainability considerations alongside the full spectrum of financing, accounting, and economic analytics that are traditionally taught in real estate degree programs.
There are too many real asset management specialties to list, since more emerge all the time. In real estate alone, you might specialize in:
Those can further be chopped up by region, since the markets are very different from state to state and country to country.
In addition to specializing by asset type, some firms are looking for specialists in specific investment vehicles or strategies.
And of course, with sustainability becoming a hot topic all across the business world, you can also specialize in various aspects of ESG investing, meaning you can develop expertise in management areas like:
- Green energy generation
- Green building projects
- Sustainability financing
- Climate impact analysis
Working Your Way up the Ladder To Real Asset Management Jobs Takes Time
Although it’s more likely that the best paying jobs in real estate investment trusts and other asset management firms to go to people with advanced degrees, it’s entirely possible to get your foot in the door right after graduating with your bachelor’s. Like other financial sector jobs, there is low-level work to be done in the average real asset management shop that doesn’t involve high-end decision making.
In fact, the most well-worn path to portfolio management positions is through the analytical field. According to the CFA Institute, among members who became portfolio managers, fully 46 percent got their start as analysts. And it’s the major way that you will learn various niche areas within the field.
Experience is king when it comes to competing for top jobs in real asset management; get yours any way you can.
These interludes also offer you the opportunity to see what you enjoy and don’t enjoy about real asset management. Getting some experience early at the ground level also lets you fine-tune your master’s program to get into the niche you are most interested in. There’s nothing like burying your nose in the details to help inform major career decisions.
Salaries for the Top Paying Jobs in Real Estate Investment Trusts and Beyond
While real asset management overall is a hot career path to pursue in finance, you have to remember the flip side: anything that hot will also draw a lot of job seekers. Competition is fierce, which drives down entry-level salaries.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics collects data about employment and salary levels for just about every kind of job category in every industry in the country. Unfortunately, they don’t actually dice those jobs and industries up in ways that line up exactly with most of the positions being filled in real asset management.
Asset management jobs in general will fall into the occupational category of Financial Manager. For 2021, the median salary was $131,710 per year.
Analysts of all sorts are categorized as Financial Analysts. Their median pay was $95,570. BLS further splits those into financial and investment analysis and risk analysis. In the category for securities, commodity contracts, and other financial investments and related activities, investment analysts made a median salary of $100,800, while risk analysis made $127,110.
Other roles in real asset management may fall into the BLS category for Personal Financial Advisors. Their median salary in 2021 was $94,170 per year. Those in the securities and investments field earned a median of $99,970, however.
Roles in real asset sales end up in the Securities, Commodities, and Financial Services Sales Agents category. Although this role saw a median of only $62,910, those in the securities and investments industry made a heftier $98,030. Sales salaries are also often artificially low in BLS data due to their uniquely incentivized compensation structure.
In the top ten percent of each of the BLS categories for real asset jobs, salaries push well into the low six-figure range:
- Financial Manager (Real Estate Asset Manager / Infrastructure Asset Manager) – $208,000
- Financial Analyst (Real Asset Investment Analyst / ESG Analyst) – $171,000
- Financial Advisor – $208,000
- Securities, Commodities, and Financial Services Sales Agents – $205,440
It’s important not to forget that BLS only counts base salary, too. Since financial services salaries tend to be heavily incentive-based, you’re missing a lot of the components that can make these jobs more lucrative. Bonuses, options, and benefits can be a big piece of the pie for the most successful real asset managers at firms that offer them.
Seeking Certifications To Boost Your Shot at Elite Real Asset Management Positions
Business school and programmatic accreditations are important because they offer a third-party, objective assessment of quality and capabilities that are in-line with an industry-standard scale.
There’s an individual counterpart to accreditation that comes in the form of certification. And just like a resume showing you graduated from a college with specialty accreditation could get a better reception from prospective employers, you could personally be more favorably received while advancing in your firm if you hold the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA), offered through the CFA Institute.
CFAs are big throughout the investing world. According to CFA Institute data, as of 2019 some 25 percent of all charter-holders work in portfolio management.
Plenty of them put their skills to use in real asset management, or analysis and planning work in real assets.
Certifications Take a Lot of Work, but Carry a Lot of Weight in the Asset Management World
Part of the reason that CFAs are so coveted in real asset management roles is because of the stringent requirement it takes to earn them. It’s a post-baccalaureate certification, so you have to have a college education behind you to even be considered.
But even meeting that bar still leaves a long way to go. There are three levels of examinations to pass, each of them with 10-year average pass rates that only hover around 50/50. You’ll need two or three letters of reference outlining your work experience and professional character. And finally, within three years of passing the exams, you need to accumulate at least 4,000 hours of practical work experience with direct involvement in investment analysis or the decision-making process.
You come out the other side with one of the most highly respected testimonials to your quantitative, analytical, and portfolio management skills available today, along with the foundational economic knowledge and high ethical and professional standards it denotes.
As broad as the real asset management market is, though, you’ll also find some segments that value other major certifications. Those can include:
- Certified Financial Planner™ through the CFP Board
- Chartered Investment Counsellor through the Investment Adviser Association
- Certified Investment Management Analyst® through the Investments & Wealth Institute®
- Chartered Realty Investor® through the Chartered Realty Investor Society
At the end of the day, career management is a lot like real asset management, though. You build your knowledge, you get familiar with the market, you hone your skills. When the moment of opportunity arises, you strike. And with the right degree and experience, you have the potential to go anywhere in real asset investing and management.
2021 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and employment figures for Financial Managers, Financial Analysts, Securities, Commodities, and Financial Services Sales Agents , and Personal Financial Advisors reflect national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed March 2023.