Since the onset of the Great Recession, I have received many telephone calls and emails from Wall Street professionals asking if I know of anyone hiring. For long periods of time from 2009 through 2011, my answer was "No." Firms were going out of business. The big names were absorbed by bank holding companies with attendant layoffs. Trading desks were closed. Entire business lines were no longer viable. For some, it was less money for more work - and those were the lucky ones. For many, it was the end of a career and the start of a life turned upside down. Life may never be the same at Merrill Lynch, JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, Wells Fargo, UBS, or any of the household names of the Street.
In an effort to take the temperature of the industry, I've been speaking to a number of recruiters; trying to learn who's hiring, what compensation packages are being offered, and where the future of the Street is headed. I will be reporting on some of those conversations starting with today's column.
Dinosaurs of Wall Street
I recently spoke with Craig Enderlin, the Chief Executive Officer of the Advisor Placement Group. Before taking on the role of a full-time recruiter, Craig was a financial advisor with Merrill Lynch, Bank of America, and an independent broker. Consequently, he has been-there-done-that and a lot of job candidates appreciate his industry savvy.
As Craig Enderlin sees it, since 2007, Wall Street has dramatically changed. He's no longer actively seeking out candidates who simply want to make the career circuit among the once dominant wirehouses. Enderlin sort of sees those folks as dinosaurs who are happy punching in the old clock at someone else's shop, cold calling to push the firm's product, and focused on maximizing their payout on the grid. As Enderlin tells me, today's ideal candidate is a tenured Financial Advisor with a solid book of business who is also looking to migrate to the independent/regional segment of the industry.
Go Indie! That's the familiar refrain these days. Along with that shift in focus, I hear the subtle changes in what recruiters and their employer clients are looking for: not the killer quarter but the consistent record of production; not the hired gun seeking a bonus and an expense account but the self-starter looking to build his or her own business. Along with that altered emphasis, the compensation lingo is less about commissions and more about fees, as in fee-based. Similarly, you hear far more talk about "dings" - the accumulation of customer complaints, regulatory run-ins, and assorted legal problems that in this new era of Wall Street have taken on increased importance.
Of course, let's not get too sanctimonious and theoretical here. The first question typically asked by a recruiter or potential employer is still: How big is the candidate's book?
What's A Top Producer
What constitutes a top producer in 2012? According to Enderlin, someone deemed a "serious" producer these days is generating at least $500,000 in commissions. In years past, that might have been the beginning and effective end of an employer's concerns; however, as Enderlin explains, once you make the revenue cut, it's not like the old days when no one asked (or cared) about compliance issues or regulatory histories. Dirty records and busted books may off-set a lot of production. On the other end of the equation, if you don't have at least $200,000 in production, even the best recruiter may not be able to generate much, if any, interest in your book of business.
Listening to Enderlin talk about who he looks for, who he presents to his employer clients, and who is the future of Wall Street, the term "entrepreneur" keeps popping up. Although there are opportunities for many wirehouse refugees to turn their business around after they've left the big firms, the problem is whether they've drunk too much of the Kool-Aidand have become too comfortable with a paternalistic, professional lifestyle. Invariably, Enderlin says he's looking for men and women who want to build their own business and not merely work for someone else.
Given his industry experience, Enderlin says that he has an eye for the underachiever. He has worked with many an FA who was being held back at one of the big boys in the industry - often without realizing it. The change of scenery at an indie or regional firm often proves a catalyst that lights a fire under brokers and dramatically improves their revenues. Enderlin told me that bench players at wirehouses often achieve stardom once they are given a chance to run with the ball in the indie community.
In the indie channel, Enderlin says that premier advisors can expect a transition package with a starting payout of at least 90%. Better candidates can also anticipate some upfront money - a decent deal would generally offer 10% of trailing 12-months, usually in the form of a forgivable loan subject to a five to seven year period.
Plan, Plan, and Plan
Before worrying about negotiating a new deal, Enderlin urges brokers to plan how they're going to pursue the interviewing process. Too many folks have a bad day at work, send out some resumes to friends and colleagues, transmit a batch of emails with attachments, and then find themselves before an angry manager when word has gotten back.
Ultimately, you want to leave on your own terms and when you're ready, or as close to that ideal as possible. You should have retained copies of any employment agreements, particularly if they include to non-compete and/or no-solicit provisions. Unfortunately, registered persons don't always retain those documents - which then creates the uncomfortable proposition of having to ask a current employer for a copy. As most industry veterans know, that request is often a surefire tip-off that you're planning on leaving. Not the best head's up to send your current manager. Can you say:Call security. Can you say: Who wants a piece of this lowlife's book?
Coming And Going With Class
Enderlin is adamant that brokers should join a firm as a professional and leave in the same manner. The value-added proposition of using a recruiter is that firms such as Advisor Placement Group are sensitive to these issues and can get your name before potential employers quickly and with assurances of confidentiality. Instead of you making endless blind calls in response to ads or taking the risk of asking around the office for leads, a veteran recruiter can look over your resume and book, know where you would best fit in, get you set up for the interview, and advise you on about the give-and-take in any deal. Not only does this result in most brokers getting the best bang for their buck in terms of their time and compensation package, but it may well avoid those horror stories we've all heard about how someone's resume wound up on the desk of his present manager. Keep in mind that if a recruiter has established a track record of quality placements with a given firm, referrals from that recruiter often go to the top of the pile.
If you're serious about exploring your options, you typically need to put together a spreadsheet of your past three years' production. Armed with that, most recruiters can pretty quickly let you know if there are any interested firms. Also, Enderlin urges his candidates to set up a confidential email address and/or telephone number so that communications about switching jobs never run through their current firm's office. However, before you start downloading any files or transmit any information to a third party, familiarize yourself with your current employer's confidentiality policies as they pertain to client data and the firm's records (which are often claimed as trade secrets or proprietary). Also, don't run afoul of industry email rules.
SIDE BAR: In 2004, Citigroup Global Markets, Inc./Smith Barney, Merrill Lynch, and UBS Financial Services created the Protocol for Broker Recruiting, to which several hundred wirehouses and other industry brokerage firms are now signatories. This agreement sets forth what is typically permissible for a departing broker to take and the manner in which such information is to be accessed, copied, and transmitted. The Protocol was supposed to facilitate the departure and arrival of broker among signatory firms but it is not without hiccups. Before making a jump, see if your firm has agreed to be bound by theProtocol.
If there's one complaint that Enderlin and other recruiters have, it's about folks with dings on their records who play coy and don't disclose past or pending problems. That strategy is a waste of everyone's time because given all the compliance and regulatory forms, eventually your background comes out - and if it's a shock, a pending offer may be withdrawn or you may be fired after you started based upon your misrepresentations.
Don't make folks pull teeth during the interview stage. Also, remember that no one likes to get clobbered by a sandbag after a job offer has been made - you're going to look like a liar and the interviewing manager who recommended you will look foolish. Enderlin urges his candidates to openly admit any errors they've mad and to be prepared to offer assurances about future compliant behavior.
In addition to criminal/regulatory issues, credit issues have emerged as an enormous concern on Wall Street. Because of the Great Recession and the markets' decline, there are concerns about bankruptcies, lien, and judgments and how they enhance an FA's and the member firm's potential liability. Sometimes you may be unaware of the existence of these legal/credit issues. Prior to initiating a query to a recruiter or employer, you might want to check out your own background.
Far beyond the gamesmanship of getting a job offer, Enderlin tells his candidates to seek to achieve more during the interview process than just getting a job. Don't go into the process trying to fit yourself into whatever is being offered, and don't force yourself to fall in love with a firm simply because they're offering you top dollar. The challenge is to not only get the right comp package but, also, to begin a nurturing relationship with a new firm - one that will increase your income and your customers' satisfaction.
Sand on your own two feet and build something that's your own. Feel comfortable where you're working. Take some pride in the name that's on the shingle hanging outside your office. Before you turn your nose up at the small indie firm, remember how you felt when you got to work early in the morning and learned that your wirehouse just paid a $100 million fraud settlement to the Securities and Exchange Commission or has been named in a class action by disgruntled investors. Also, remind yourself about all the time that you're prospecting for new clients and the mere mention of your firm's name instigated the slamming down of the receiver on the other end. Take off the blinders when you're looking for a new home.
How The Placement Engine Works
Finally, Enderlin and I spoke about the mechanics of dealing with a recruiter. Once you contact a recruiter, you should not expect a placement much sooner than at least four to six weeks. As the saying goes: A lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine.
A typical placement often requires two months, which has the benefit of giving the FA a chance to learn about the firm and vice versa. If necessary, most recruiters can refer you to lawyers, consultants, and accountants for additional assistance on issues ranging from regulatory concerns to the fair valuation of your business.
Historically, Wall Street tends to have a hiring surge around late First Quarter/Early Second Quarter; and summer is often the worst time. Consequently , folks should make note of those seasonal factors when planning their moves for maximum impact.
Reputable recruiting firms charge nothing to the applicant and are solely compensated by the employer upon a successful placement. If you find yourself dealing with a recruiting firm that wants an upfront placement fee from you or asks you to pay some points upon a placement, I'd advise you to find another firm. Recruiters who are reputable should be solely compensated based upon your trailing 12 with the bulk of the recruiter's compensation based upon some future considerations. As such, your recruiter has a vested interest in placing you in the best situation that will result in you producing at higher levels.
For More Information About Advisor Placement Group: