So You Want to Be a Financial Advisor...

By laura lorber

Investment management is a fertile field for career changers. With a big book of contacts and a willingness to put in long hours, those ready to take the plunge as a financial advisor will get a warm reception from recruiters. Here's a rundown of what to expect.

The Hours

Those new to the profession shouldn't blush at 50- to 60-hour workweeks, and even then the job doesn't stop. "Typically, you'll see financial advisors are glued to their BlackBerry(s)," said Peter Izzo, a financial advisor in New York at Bank of America Merrill Lynch Global Wealth Management Group.

Many advisors often devote two to three evenings per week and one day per weekend to socializing with clients.

The Pay

The average annual compensation for advisors in 2009 was $173,000, including commissions, fees, deferred compensation and bonuses, according to Registered Rep magazine. But rookies should expect less and the pay can be unpredictable.

"You're the most overpaid people in the world in a bear market; you're the most underpaid people in the world in a bull market," said Joe Matthews, who teaches investment planning as an adjunct instructor at New York University School of Continuing and Professional Studies. Many junior-level advisors work mostly on commission and the attrition rate in the early years is consistently high.

The Benefits

Employees at established firms typically receive standard health-care packages and retirement-savings plans in addition to tuition reimbursement for training programs required to earn licenses and registration. Continuing education is another common benefit. Financial advisors, who often call their own shots, can technically take as much vacation time as they want, though "out-of-the-office" messages aren't great for client retention.

Other Incentives

Since relationship building and networking are a big part of the job, dinners, Chamber of Commerce breakfasts and golf outings are de rigueur. While larger firms often have a small budget for entertaining clients, advisors frequently foot the bill. Izzo and his team, for example, contribute part of their pre-tax pay to an entertainment pool. They buy a tent at the Bridgehampton Polo Club for the season and treat clients to meals at the James Beard House, a renowned private-dining institution in Manhattan's Greenwich Village.

"We pay for it ourselves and talk to our accountants about how much of it we're able to deduct," said Izzo. "It's all on us."

Many peripheral perks, such as exotic trips, have largely gone away at the major financial institutions that received, according to Matthews, who, in addition to teaching at NYU, is also a financial advisor at a large Connecticut firm. Such rewards "wouldn't sit well with the public," he said.

Best Part of the Job

The potential for high pay and a lots of autonomy are big draws. "It's got unlimited upside," said Izzo. "You're your own boss."

Helping people is the most rewarding part of the job for Jeremy Joiner, a wealth adviser in Houston with United Capital Financial Partners Inc., a Newport Beach, Calif.-based wealth-management firm. "You have to have a passion for it," he said, because a lot of clients don't bring that to the table.

Worst Part of the Job

Dealing with the skeptical and second-guessing clients is a constant challenge. "At the end of a long day, it can leave you feeling pretty drained," said Izzo. "You have to have a thick skin."

The recent financial crisis was a particularly challenging time. Especially trying was the weekend of Sept. 14, 2008, when Merrill, with its "thundering herd" of brokers, was sold in an all-stock deal to BofA. "Those are tough days," said Izzo. "We do a lot of handholding. More than anything, [clients] just want to know that there's someone who's there who's not freaking out when everyone else is."

The dot-com bust was another dark hour. "I had two good years, and then February and March of 2000 came, and I got smacked with a Mack truck," he said. "Everything that worked didn't work. You definitely learn from it. You recognize why things like modern portfolio theory really did matter."

Another downside is complying with an often dizzying number of complex regulations. "In this job, you can drown in paperwork," said Joiner.

Career Path

Advisors entering the field directly from college are in the minority. Advisors have several career routes to choose from: becoming a broker with a large national firm, such as Wachovia; signing on at a registered investment advisor firm, such as Charles Schwab; or joining as an independent at a firm such as American Express Advisors or Edward Jones. Brokers must pass the Series 7 Exam General Securities Representative Exam, and may take a range of qualification examinations, including the Series 63, 65 or 66. Credentials such as Certified Financial Planner or Chartered Financial Analyst can also burnish an advisor's resume.


Entry-level candidates are recruited mainly through word-of-mouth or job boards. Candidates may be recruited for their potential or to provide a special expertise, such as estate planning. Once established in the business, advisors typically are contacted frequently by company recruiters or search firms. Wirehouse brokers may be lured away by the prospect of hanging their own shingle, and RIAs may be tempted by the attraction of working under the brand and support system of a larger firm. "You get recruiting calls all the time," said Matthews.

At senior levels, employers want recruits to bring a book of business. At all levels, advisors in a job hunt will find greater success by focusing on networking, rather than relying on ads or recruiters, according to New York career coach Robert Hellmann. Use your personal contacts, alumni associations, LinkedIn groups and professional organizations such as the CFA Institute and Financial Executive Networking Group, known as the FENG. "Using those relationships and building those relationships, that's the key," said Hellman.

Write to Laura Lorber

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