Practice Management

Careers beyond the adviser role

Openings also exist for support staff and back-office workers, but prospects need to be able to do the math

May 5, 2013 @ 12:01 am

By Darla Mercado

A wave of retiring baby boomers is not only driving demand for financial advisers, it is also pushing firms to attract the necessary support and back-office staff.

New opportunities await college graduates seeking careers as operations personnel, analysts and compliance experts, to name a few. In a survey conducted by InvestmentNews last year, advisers were asked what the primary role of a new hire would be if they were looking to expand their practices, and the largest response was back-office staff at 26.3%. Another 21.6% chose roles involving primarily analysis and research.

Although support staff positions aren't as glamorous or as profitable to broker-dealers as bringing on advisers, these employees are an essential part of firms' everyday business.

“These people don't produce revenue, and as a consequence of that, firms are very jaundiced about expanding their hiring,” said Tim White, managing partner at Kaye/Bassman International Corp. “But there's a lot of people retiring in the financial services space, and that talent squeeze comes for individuals with high math aptitudes and analytical minds.”

At a very basic level, anyone considering a support staff position in a firm ought to have “a good sense of numbers,” Mr. White added.

When it comes to higher starting salaries, junior analyst positions that point toward a career of portfolio management take the cake, starting at a range of $70,000 and going as high as $120,000, according to Mr. White.

“If you look at the top 10 business schools out there — Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford and Wharton — those individuals are, generally speaking, in a better position,” he said.

But there are still plenty of entry-level posts for newly minted graduates with a bachelor's degree from any accredited school. And human resources executives at the largest independent firms said majoring in math isn't necessarily a requirement.

“Majors aren't as big of a deal as the attitude and attributes of the person coming in,” said Kate Creagh, managing principal of human resources at Commonwealth Financial Network. “We have people in our tech department with music degrees and people in marketing with finance degrees.”

At Commonwealth, most of the hiring activity is going on in the firm's tech and compliance fields. Several entry-level positions are open in their San Diego office, largely in operations. Those duties include asset transfers, document services and help with new accounts, Ms. Creagh said.

New recruits don't necessarily show up expecting to make a beeline for any specific department at Commonwealth. Rather, the firm puts job seekers through a round of group interviews after they pass résumé and phone screenings. The candidates then meet with hiring managers from different departments and work on group exercises.

Prospects who make the cut and catch the attention of a hiring manager are then invited back for more interviews with a given department, and they go through job shadowing to determine whether that department is right for them, Ms. Creagh said.

“Some people go through job shadowing and say they'd love to be here, but know that that department isn't a great fit for them,” she said.

New entrants at Securities America Inc. generally start off working at the firm's call center or on the representative tech side, working with the firm's advisers and catering to their needs. Generally, the firm aims for recruits who have had experience in customer service, and it trains new hires via an online program known as Securities America University.

Recruits can spend anywhere between six weeks and three months in training, depending on the position, and at the highest level, workers are preparing for their Series 7 exams, according to Nicole Cummings, Securities America's director of human resources.

Entry-level positions on the rep relations side can start from $14 to $16 per hour, plus eligibility for the bonus program.

This fits with many young entrants' expectations. An InvestmentNews survey of upcoming advisers last year found that the largest percentage (43.6%) chose $25,000-$50,000 as their expected first-year earnings. They also selected bonuses as the most valued incentive, at 67%.

College majors take a back seat to having a steady work track record and customer service experience, Ms. Cummings said.

“If someone comes in from a banking institution, and they've had progression at that institution and they weren't just there for six to nine months, that's helpful,” she said. “We've had people in the retail and food services industry apply for these rep relations jobs, and it does work.”

ROTATION PROGRAM

At Raymond James Financial Inc., newcomers also have an array of jobs to choose from — everything from stock analyst to joining the firm's human resources department.

Recent college grads with the best grades can go through the firm's rigorous 12-month Options Rotational Development Program, which is made up of four-month rotational assignments in a trio of different business units, according to Stephanie Steiff, vice president of talent acquisition at the firm.

These recruits are assigned a “den mother” who will stay in touch with them throughout the duration of the program, she said.

The bar to entry is high for the options program: College graduates must have a grade point average of at least 3.5 to get in, and candidates face personality tests and cognitive assessments. Hires who pass muster generally come in as analysts in their respective departments, but options alumni come in at a higher pay rate, versus recruits who didn't start off in the program, Ms. Steiff said.

She declined to disclose the compensation for these hires.

“What's important to these young individuals is that they have a support system,” Ms. Steiff said. “This generation is different in that it's not all about pay, but what are you doing to make them happy.”

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