How PWM really works (part 2): Breaking In, Staying In, and Getting Out
Hey guys, got quite a few questions on breaking into, so this blog will focus exclusively on breaking in, being successful, and exit opps. If you haven't read my first post, see the link below:
Next post will focus on misconceptions, differences between PWM &, and if space allows, lifestyle/day-in-the-life.
BREAKING IN: THE HOW
Questions I received from the first blog were mainly on breaking in: how to do it, when to do it, etc. I'll try to cover all of that here but please ask questions.
Staff, managers & analysts
Breaking in can be either easy or extremely difficult, depending on the role. Most managers (branch managers, not portfolio managers) are former brokers or admins who moved up the ranks. Staff positions (assistants) are completely need based and are hard to get. Branches only hire staff if there's a gap between staff & revenue (usually 1 assistant per 1.5mm in revenue), and these positions are very cozy if you're good at it, so availability is few & far between. Same goes for analysts, breaking in is difficult because having an analyst is uncommon and usually not economical (I mentioned this in my last post). For either staff or analyst positions, networking is the way to go, and the best way to do this is the way brokers got most of their first clients: cold calling. Brokers love to talk (look at me, I'm writing a blog on July 3rd), and the old timers will talk your ear off about "back in my day" and so forth. Try to get introduced to a manager, and just stay in touch periodically, reminding the manager what you want.
Exit opps for staff are usually operational in nature: operations manager, risk manager, branch manager, etc., but you can also make the jump to be an advisor. I'd highly recommend doing this if you're interested in the business and don't have dozens of rich friends & family dying to invest with you. Reason being: you learn the business, get licensed, deal with clients firsthand, learn what to do (from good brokers), learn what not to do (bad brokers), and either get noticed by a team, management, or both as a potential candidate to enter your firm's training program.
Brokers: breaking in
Here's why some people (*cough* prestige whores *cough*) look down on PWM: it's not that hard to get hired, and being incredibly intelligent (great technicals, target degree, perfect SAT, etc) is not a prerequisite for success. I think that the cream of the crop brokers are very intelligent, but there are plenty of guys producing 500k-1mm who would not strike you as a modern Einstein. PWM recruiting works like this: every branch or complex or region (complex/region=group of branches) has an allowance of rookie brokers they can hire every year. As rookies succeed & fail, positions open up, they will post these online, on job boards, etc., but there's usually a few open, just not always at the same firms (MS may have one open,, then , then Wells, etc).
You apply for the position, and unless you resume is utter crap, you will get a call from a branch manager or in some cases a sales manager. They'll do a few "fit" interviews, you'll have some technical questions (what does P/E mean? Easy stuff), and they'll ask you to write a business plan. They do this because as a rookie with $0 AUM, they have to pay you a salary, and they want to be sure you're worth their investment and that you've thought about how you're going to build your practice. You may be asked to write down wealthy individuals you know, relevant target markets for you (if you're a former MRK salesman, then doctors would be a relevant target market), stuff like that. After that, you negotiate salary, they explain compensation, and wish you on your merry way.
Brokers: making it
I mentioned you will negotiate salary, keep in mind salary is temporary because established brokers' compensation is 100% commission based. Your salary will be low, like lower than 1st year IB analyst low (think $40-60k depending on the market). Depending on your firm, your training period will be 2-4 years. For simplicity's sake, we'll use 3. Most firms will pay you full salary (some pay salary + commission, others the greater of salary or commission) for one full year. After that full year, your salary will steadily decrease until it is at $0, in our example at the end of year 3. So if someone starts as a broker January 1 2014, they have full salary until January 2015, at which point it may dwindle 10% a quarter, 3% a month, whatever. The point is essentially the firm will pay you completely while you try to build your business but after 1 year (usually), the clock starts ticking on salary.
The firms do this for 1 reason: you are a sunk cost for the first 3-5 years of the program. You are a revenue consumer for the first several years of the program, and while you may be generating revenue to meet your goals for the 1st year, it may not be enough to pay the bills, so all of the firms decided to decrease salary periodically thinking that the winners will already have generated enough commissions to make it long term and the losers would fade away or quit because they're not making enough money. It's a cruel world, and that's why 95% of rookie brokers fail (yes, you read that right: 95%).
Part of the reason most people fail is because of time. My business has a very long sales cycle. As you might imagine, wealthy individuals aren't always shopping for a new broker, especially if they've had one for a long time, so in many cases it takes weeks, months, even years to land a piece of business. Unfortunately for those without support systems (wealthy family, team, etc.), all of the firms give you monthly goals which are extremely difficult to make, so while you may have a great pipeline that's looking to mature 12-18 months from now, you need to generate commissions today in order to stay employed. Most firms will give you 3-6 months of not generating commissions before you're fired, it's not a very long grace period.
Also, most of the firms will not give you a ton of support as far as help building your business. They will provide you with whitepapers to share with potential clients, an investment platform, etc., but like @"Dingdong08" said, you pretty much get a computer, a desk, a phone, and a pat on the butt with a "good luck!" from your manager. The reason they don't tee up business for you is because that's your job, if they had people knocking down their doors to be clients, making it in this business wouldn't be hard and it wouldn't pay so well. Your managers will motivate you, educate you, and help you where they can, but you need to generate revenue on your own.
There's no right or wrong way to build a business. Cold calling, sending mailers, knocking on doors, networking, none of it works consistently, but every now and again some of it works. I could write an entire book on building a business (maybe later in life, I still don't "feel" successful enough), but the takeaway is this: it's incredibly hard to start from zero and become a productive broker. Most people fail, but a few don't.
Brokers: exit opps
A huuuuuuge misconception of PWM is that it's a stepping stone like IB or, it's not. If you want to be a broker, you've planted your flag, it's a career position. Barring some unforeseen circumstances with our business, I am going to retire in this city, with this firm, and with this practice. The reason people do this is because unlike IB where your compensation somewhat stair steps from analyst to associate to VP and so on, or goes in a sine wave like a hedge fund with inconsistent returns, PWM comp looks like a J (PE guys will appreciate the J curve reference). You start very low for many years (5-7), but then your business building starts to snowball and you become more and more compensated as the years go by. So the reason there's no exit opps is because your best years are later in your career, versus other paths on this forum that tend to peak around 40-45.
I will say that there are some exit opps for senior guys. Taylor Glover,, is now an executive for Ted Turner's operation, but that's rare. What's more common is brokers retiring and then starting a coaching operation. One of Marty Shafiroff's mentees, Sarano Kelley, did this. Another guy sold his firm for billions (John Bowen) after being a very successful broker for many years, and now he's one of the best coaches around. Think of a coach like Bowen or Kelley as for a PWM practice. However, all of that being said, most brokers simply work until they don't feel like it, pass the practice on to someone else, and go to the golf course.
BREAKING IN: THE WHO
This part of the post will be 100% opinionated, so take it with a grain of salt. I'm going to be writing about who I think would be a fit for PWM, background & personality wise. The good news is there's no one right or wrong on both, I've seen extremely type A people (you'll see at next year's WSO conference, I'm one of those), shut ins, complete jerks, annoyingly nice people, and normal people. Keep in mind that you will attract people with a similar personality to yourself, so make sure if you decide to become a broker, that you look for clients with similar personalities to yourself. Most of us are nerds, but pleasant nerds, ergo we have a lot of nerdy clients. One guy in my office is a dick, most of his clients are dicks. It's just how it goes.
I've seen people from all walks of life break into the business. Some of the Barron's top FAs had histories in finance before becoming a broker: take Brian Pfeiffler from MS, he was an investment banker in London before becoming a broker. Jeff Erdmann from Merrill joined right out of undergrad, both guys are consistently towards the top of the Barron's 100, so there's no formula. The way I see it, there are 3 main ways to do it with higher probabilities of success than starting straight from undergrad with no connections:
- Have a career in which you're exposed to wealthy, successful, and powerful people on a regular basis. Be able to build relationships with these people on a professional and social level, exit that career years later, and leverage your existing relationships to help provide you with your first clients.
- Enter the business as an admin person (sales assistant), do this for several years, get involved around your branch and in the community so teams can see your work, and after several years start telling teams your intention of becoming a broker but that you want some support in the early years so that you don't get fired.
- If you have an extremely wealthy family with wealthy friends and your parents think they will invest with you, that's another way to go about it. the downside there is it's extremely difficult as a 22 year old to convince people to invest with you. It's certainly plausible, but it's not as easy as it sounds.
The first method may seem foolish, because anyone who does banking & PE for 10-15 years after undergrad will be making so much more money than someone in PWM at that age, but if you have the connections and want a better lifestyle with more autonomy and more predictable income, it's a smart move. The second method is tough. Very few teams will be receptive to the idea (because you're a sunk cost for several years), but the demographics for this method are favorable. Most advisors are over 40, with a significant amount over 50 and over 60. Except for family ties, these clients are going to need new advisors, and many don't want to shop for them. If you can learn the business, generate some business of your own, and help an advisor form a succession plan, everybody wins. The clients win because they get handed to someone they can trust, you win because you get handed a great practice that's already established, and the advisor wins because when you inherit a book you pay the retiring advisor for several years (sort of like a pension based on commissions).
Hope this was helpful, next blog will cover PWM v. PB, differences, similarities, firms, etc.