How PWM really works (part 2): Breaking In, Staying In, and Getting Out

Hey guys, got quite a few questions on breaking into PWM, 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:

Part 1: Past, Present, Future, and $$$

Next post will focus on misconceptions, differences between PWM & PB, and if space allows, lifestyle/day-in-the-life.


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 ML, then UBS, 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 ER, 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, formerly of Merrill, 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 like a MBB 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.


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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.



Comments (45)

Jul 6, 2014 - 12:01am
BreakingRich, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Thanks for the great posts! Mind if I send you a message with some personalized questions??

Jul 6, 2014 - 8:53pm
cje2013, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Thanks for the great post! Would you please speak to exit opps for sales assistants who do not want to go the broker route? Currently in that boat.

Best Response
Jul 7, 2014 - 10:09am
Bobb, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I'll add some information on exit opps..

As mentioned, if you are successful advisor that is what you will be doing. I do see advisors bounce around from firm to firm taking a nice pay day in the process (upwards of 300% of your revenue). Since firms are making a big push into the PWM/PB area they will pay established advisors some money upfront.

As for everyone staff/analyst/assistants etc etc, It really varies on person to person and how you can spin your actual role. This is what I have seen at my firm and it may help being located in NYC as you can easily interact with other areas of the firm. The past few years I have seen a bunch of assistants move to the private banking side (not JPM type PB, but lending/liquidity). You could move to a sales or support desk within the firm. An internal wholesaler is also a very popular move. I saw two portfolio associates land trading roles at outside firms and another have potential sales role on a middle markets desk.

Jul 7, 2014 - 11:59am
GanciniBelt, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Looking forward to Pt. 3. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this blog series so far!
As a side note: One thing that is kind of alarming to me about PWM is, as you mentioned, the exit ops. It's very difficult for many young professionals to decide their career path and because PWM is a pretty straightforward career path, It would be a pretty big decision for many recent college grads to become a financial advisor for the rest of their lives.

Jul 7, 2014 - 6:04pm
thebrofessor, what's your opinion? Comment below:

This is precisely why I caution against anyone younger than 25 consider PWM, unless you're one of the fortunate few who manages to get into an analyst/junior PM role with a massive team. It's a career decision, and unfortunately most of this forum's users have a "grass is greener" outlook and are looking for the next big payday because they don't know what they want. That's fine to not know what you want, but this is my warning: PWM is not like IB and ER, there's no 2+2, 2 years & out then MBA then PE, none of that. PWM is a permanent move, not just in job, but in location. Most practices are very grounded geographically. Thankfully, all of the metro areas in the southeast are close to a beach, so I could certainly move to the beach later in life, but never more than a car ride away. Clients generally want someone close by, not always, but mostly.

This is another reason why I think an admin position if you can't get into IB or ER is a great idea: you get licensed, you get exposed to the industry, but you're not tied to growing your practice as you would be if you were a broker, you can pick up & leave. It's never easy, but it's possible.

Jul 9, 2014 - 4:19pm
thebrofessor, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I addressed breaking in in this post.

as for role, analysts vary in duties. I've seen teams that have analysts be something more technical like a trader, junior PM, or something akin to a buy side research analyst. What's most common, however, is they have someone who wears many hats, does some admin stuff, runs financial plans & proposals, maybe do 3rd party manager research, and essentially does non-clerical operational work. there are very, very few true "analysts" in PWM, it's simply not economical for the team (too expensive) and for the analyst (doesn't pay enough).

Jul 14, 2014 - 11:33am
Randy Quaid, what's your opinion? Comment below:

A different route for the analyst role is in the HNW space for a firm that operates under a trust bank model or family office. It is a different model than the wirehouse and can come with a salary+bonus comp structure. Some of these firms will have structured analyst programs that recruit on campus. A firm may have a credit training program and 12 month rotational program through the different positions on the team i.e. private banker, trust officer, portfolio manager, planner, business development role etc.

The program would conclude with placement as an associate into one of the functional positions where you would work to support the senior advisors and begin to take on client facing responsibilities little by little. These roles give you the opportunity to learn and serve as the bullpen players as senior positions become available.

A good way to find these opportunities is by checking out the firms' websites.

Jul 9, 2014 - 8:30am
redivider, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Thanks @thebrofessor. As someone in PWM and moving on to CorpFin, I've certainly considered going back once I have the contacts and connections.

Jul 9, 2014 - 9:24am
yonib91, what's your opinion? Comment below:

WM doesn't necessarily working as a broker, and cold calling at UBS or Merrill. I think you're (can't tell if intentionally or unintentionally), forgoing to mention the RIA network. The services provided are the same, the pay largely the same, and entry level doesn't consist of sitting on the phone, but rather being an analyst and learning the various intricacies of managing one's financial picture. CFP and CFA on sight. Just a thought

Jul 9, 2014 - 4:07pm
thebrofessor, what's your opinion? Comment below:

not sure what you're getting at here. the difference between a true RIA and a wire is custody of the assets. good brokers will act as fiduciaries out of principal, not out of obligation. in practice, clients will get a very similar experience dealing with a good RIA and a good wirehouse broker.

as far as analyst programs, the economics of a RIA are very similar to those of wirehouses, so my point about there being very few practices that have the need for an analyst in the traditional sense (similar to a sell side ER analyst or AM analyst), the fact that you are at a RIA doesn't change that. now some of the bigger RIAs might have tons of analysts for the entire firm that all of the brokers and clients have access too, but I'm talking analysts working with a specific team on one book of business. my firm, as well as the other big wirehouses, has tons of analysts working for the greater PWM organization at large, but they're not MY analysts.

Jul 14, 2014 - 7:47am
thebrofessor, what's your opinion? Comment below:

wholesalers are a different beast, I have no direct experience with breaking in, but my casual observations tell me that it's usually a few years as an internal wholesaler (the guy at the AM firm's office) before you get promoted to an external wholesaler (a guy out in the field) or a regional VP (someone who manages wholesalers).

as you may know, wholesalers used to be product pushers (to be fair, this is when brokers were product pushers instead of advisors), and as the brokerage business changed to more of a fee-for-advice rather than a commission for a trade type model, wholesalers lagged a bit, still pushing product. recently (starting a few years back), wholesalers have become more engaged with the practice management side of the business, providing brokers with whitepapers, team training/advisor development workshops, and things like that. the most successful wholesalers are those who help us grow our business and lead with that instead of leading with product.

no idea on comp, hours, lifestyle, etc., hope this answers your question.

@"Stuckey" I prefer to keep anonymity, so for now, I'll just say I'm in the southeast US.

Jul 19, 2014 - 6:18pm
sfbroker, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Adding onto thebrofessor's well written response...external wholesalers come into the business from a few different areas but most have worked as an internal wholesaler and often they have worked as an PWM advisor as well. It makes them far more effective in connecting with the advisors (and also convincing the branch manager to let them come in to host the lunch or breakfast meeting) if they have first hand experience on what our job entails. In my experience I have found that about 50% of the wholesalers have worked in PWM at somepoint.

Comp is based on the product type, company tier within that product type and also the territory. When you get your first external wholesaling job you most likely will not jump into a top tier fund or annuity company and you also won't likely get the most desirable territory.....there is obviously fierce competition for those. Hours will vary but beyond the typical 8 to 5 monday through friday; wholesalers are expected to participate in evening and weekend events, dinners, golf outings, etc. Not every night or every weekend but fairly often. I would guess you are looking at about 60 hours per week. Comp for the wholesalers I know runs from around 250K on the lower end and about 500K on the upper end. There may be a few outliers that make more but I would say the variance in pay from the median value is considerly less in wholesaling than it is in PWM. I've never met a wholesaler making 1MM nor have I ever met one making 100K,

Typically they get a smaller salary of around 80 to 100K and then most of their comp is based on net new assets into the fund family (or annuity). That is what keeps the wholesalers out there trying to drum up business because without lots and lots of new assets coming in....they starve and won't hold onto their job for long.

Jul 14, 2014 - 11:45am
Bobb, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Wholesaling is a pretty decent gig, have a bunch of friends who do it. You can work for a bank in their AM arm or for an AM firm themselves. Entry level usually starts in a support role where you assist both the internal and external guys. Work on getting licensed and learning your product, territory etc before moving onto an internal sales role. As mentioned above these roles are a lot less product pushing and more support/education/business development (especially at a bank). Moving to an external role seems to a be a pit tougher as there are only so many positions available. I know some places also have a hybrid role where you have a little bit of both the internal and external responsibilities.

I know a top firm (MS, ML, UBS) has this structure. Internal > Hybrid > External. I believe pay was a long the lines of 95k > 150k > 250k+. As you move up, more of the pay is tied into revenue generated. There are external guys who do real well.

Jul 15, 2014 - 4:17pm
nyhoya67, what's your opinion? Comment below:

appreciate the reply Bobb.. currently looking at a few of those roles at my firm and some others.. they definitely look promising if you are willing to get out there and work a territory..

Jul 16, 2014 - 8:56am
chicandtoughness, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Thoughts on PWM/PB as a "second career" of sorts? Let's say I work in another financial job (PE, corpfin, whatever) until age 40 or so until I've reached financial independence. Since I'd admittedly have better connections (in terms of wealth and quantity), wouldn't be easier to build a book?

Or is PWM something you really need to get into at the ground level and build your reputation/success?

Currently: future neurologist, current psychotherapist Previously: investor relations (top consulting firm), M&A consulting (Big 4), M&A banking (MM)
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Jul 16, 2014 - 9:18am
Bobb, what's your opinion? Comment below:

That is the way a lot of people go. You see a lot of 20 something year olds come in and they are gone within a few months. Buying a list from and cold calling is tough to do and doesn't really allow you to make your numbers.

I have seen a number of former traders, salesmen and other finance professionals come in and start off pretty well. Having an established notwork is huge and potential clients feel more comfortable speaking to an "experienced" FA.

Jul 16, 2014 - 11:04am
thebrofessor, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I wouldn't say your likelihood of success is tremendously higher if you're older, I've seen plenty of older people with tons of connections absolutely blow it, just like I've seen plenty of young guys blow it. I think that entering the business when you're older certainly gives you a better rolodex, but it's not a silver bullet. I think that entering PWM as a 2nd career path is smart, if you're financially independent at 40 but want to build on that, I'd do PWM in a heartbeat. if you fail, oh well you're financially independent, you can go back into PE or something. if you succeed, you'll turn your financial independence into "fuck you" money.

Jul 16, 2014 - 11:11am
CorpFinanceGuy, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Having a hard time with this because I just don't see how any UHNWI's would let people with limited money management experience actually manage their entire fortune. I've only really been exposed to UNHW wealth management and they seem to be fairly sophisticated, investing mainly in alternatives, small companies, etc. That's got to be hard to transfer into after a career in CF or PE. Maybe not so much after PE, but definitely CF.

If I was financially independent, I would start an MFO and partner w/ a BD that has an open architecture platform. MFO's are pretty fucking cool.

Jul 16, 2014 - 8:27pm
chicandtoughness, what's your opinion? Comment below:
I think that entering PWM as a 2nd career path is smart, if you're financially independent at 40 but want to build on that, I'd do PWM in a heartbeat. if you fail, oh well you're financially independent, you can go back into PE or something. if you succeed, you'll turn your financial independence into "fuck you" money.
Exactly my thoughts. Good to know that it's a generally accepted path and that the increased life experience works in your favour.
Currently: future neurologist, current psychotherapist Previously: investor relations (top consulting firm), M&A consulting (Big 4), M&A banking (MM)
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Jul 19, 2014 - 3:52pm
Wallstreetmotivation, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I recently graduated undergrad and began working for an RIA with about 4B aum as a junior pm. Our account sizes range from 5M - 150M. The job's very different than your basic wirehouse broker role in that I do almost nothing sales oriented. It's essentially an analyst role where the responsibilities include research, rebalancing accounts, processing trades, building portfolios for prospects etc. I'll do everything from execute basic trading strategies, to write research reports for large clients and our PM. Outside of my position there are about 20 other support roles that include financial planners(CFPs), tax guys(CPAs), opps, secretaries, and 2 other portfolio managers. We get a lot of access to knowledgeable opinions on the market (CFAs and PHDs on site) and we get to speak with a different fund managers all the time. The job itself is awesome, but the pay isn't great (not sure how large the bonuses are yet), there's only one other person their my age, and things can be slow a times. Any idea what the exit opps may be going from something like this? I'm not sure if I'll just stay here for a while and get a CFA or try to jump over to a trading role at a fund.

Jul 21, 2014 - 7:40am
thebrofessor, what's your opinion? Comment below:

if you just graduated, exercise some patience; you've only been there 2 months and you're thinking about exit opps? you won't really get into a job until you've been around for at least 6 months, probably a year. bottom line is you need to put some time in there so you can go through some earnings seasons, some up markets, some down markets, and so forth. I'd take advantage of the PWM hours you likely work right now and sit for the CFA. unless you went to a target, a CFA is going to be important if you want to move to a different part of the buy side or if you want to go to sell side ER.

the thing is people have this image of PWM that it's very basic in its investing, and therefore you're not looked at in the same light as somebody who worked at an asset manager out of undergrad. the bad part about this stigma is it's not far from the truth. PWM is less about sexy investment strategies to outperform the S&P or R2000 and more about managing portfolios that clients can achieve their goals with but more importantly, feel comfortable with. if I were you, here's what I'd do:

  1. spend next 4 months getting super settled in your job, crush it, and seek input on getting CFA (maybe they'll help pay)
  2. crush L1 June 2015, continue passing CFA exams (easier said than done)
  3. source ideas for your PM; you'll get the idea on what stocks/managers he likes, come up with some original ideas and be ready to defend them. even if you get shot down 100% of the time, it probably won't jeopardize your job and it will give you good practice if you want to move to a fund. hint: PWM guys are less detail oriented than you'll have to be at AM/HF/ER, so make sure you do this the old school way (reconstruct a 10k, have calls with IR, build a model, etc.)
  4. network, network, network. after passing L1 (you'll have >1yr experience by then), find out who the big buyside headhunters in your area are, join the CFA society (and attend the events), etc. put yourself out there
  5. if your schedule is like PWM, take some vacations. heaven forbid you go to sell side ER and start working ridiculous hours, take advantage of being 22 for a while. these don't have to be multi thousand dollar trips overseas though; for me at 22 (didn't have IB analyst pay), this was beach/golf weekends with my fraternity brothers, not that expensive but so much fun.
Jul 25, 2014 - 3:27pm
sevensevens, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Does anybody have insight on indy PWM? A buddy of mine just graduated and entered under a family friend in a Midwest state and was telling me they take less of a haircut and is essentially the same industry with the same opps. What are the benefits of being at a big bank?

"Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face."
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Jul 28, 2014 - 7:38am
thebrofessor, what's your opinion? Comment below:

here's the deal, I think wirehouse is where it's at, I'm biased. I admit it, I own it, but I think I'm right. if I were to ever move firms, it'd be to another wirehouse, period. that said, I don't think there's ANYthing inherently wrong with indy shops, I just don't like the business model for my practice.

I'll tell you why I like my firm and that should help you figure out what the benefits are as I see it

  1. resources: my firm has a huge research desk, Asset Management, lending, money managers, private investment vehicles, capital markets desks dedicated to PWM and PWM alone (not sharing with institutional) the list goes on and on. I think having a capital markets desk dedicated to PWM is important because firms that share desks think like this

institutional guy: I've got an order for 100M bonds of X issue, gimme a bid trader: woo hoo! you just made my month!PWM guy: but wait! I've got a 20MM client who wants to buy 500 bonds of Y and this is my best client! trader: dude, spreads are tight, I can't get you a bid right now institutional: I'm waiting..... trader: yes sir, right away sir PWM: what about meeeeee trader: piss off, crusty little wanker, come back when you have at least 10M to buy

not fair, traders are paid on lot size, so by separating out our traders, we get better execution for clients. in retail, lot sizes are smaller than if you're executing bonds for a hedge fund, and because of this traders are not incentivized to give a small order the utmost attention, unless they work at a PWM desk (this matters less on the stock side because the volumes are higher, with bond issuance so low this is pretty important).

  1. name recognition: being in a national firm, nobody asks "what's that," which I think matters in social circles. not a prestige thing for me, but having name recognition gives you a certain degree of credibility, clients will think "oh, he got in THERE, he must not be a putz" when really it's not the case. this is probably the least important benefit for me though.

  2. day to day: even though we take a higher haircut, I spend 100% of my time developing my business. for some people, that sounds like a grind and they'd rather spend time working on the business than working in the business (ahem, consultants). for me, worrying about office leases, managing payroll and other staff sounds like hell. I'd rather have my firm take care of that and basically just have my job be to manage money and keep clients happy.

  3. talent pool/idea sharing: we have a great community at my firm, where advisors across the country share ideas with one another all of the time. we consistently occupy most of the Barrons top 100 (we being wirehouses), so there's a lot of intellectual capital that comes with that and the folks who are at the top are usually willing to share wisdom.

I will say that numbers 1 & 2 only matter with the rich. if a 65 year old with a $200,000 IRA comes to me today wanting to be a client, he doesn't care if I'm at Goldman Sachs or if I'm at Investacenter. He doesn't care what hedge FoF I can get him access to, he wants money management services, maybe some financial planning, and that's it. we can help those people, but what I'm saying is for them, the firm doesn't make a difference.

Also, some cynics (aka people without money) will say "but you work for the man/wall street/too big to fail/other words used by Bill Maher!" in reality, those people aren't my target clients. wealthy people understand that out of everybody involved in the meltdown, 95% of brokers at the time acted ethically. there were certainly advisors who pushed MBS product down clients' throats, got involved in doubling down on financial stocks, etc., but if they were invested anything like we were in 2008, they're not part of the problem. wealthy people get that, and they see the name on our business card as the suite of resources, not the people who took taxpayer money in 08 and squandered it to bonuses (which is far more complicated than the liberal media would let on).

back to the point of this dissertation: indy guys who are affiliated with a big clearinghouse like Pershing or Commonwealth will have access to lot of the same stuff I have access to, but not always. Furthermore, indy guys have to spend more time involving themselves in the minutiae of this business that I do not. for example, if I wanted, I would never have to do due diligence on another mutual fund, my firm has a desk for that. if I have a compliance issue, I walk down the hallway, hand it to my compliance person, and politely ask her to take care of it. if I have a service issue, my assistants make a few phone calls or send a few emails and it gets done by our back office. in my opinion, because we have such deep bench of resources, it gives us an opportunity to provide much better service and have a more controllable service experience than indy competitors. what's more, it keeps me doing what I'm paid to do: invest & sell.

Jul 26, 2014 - 7:12pm
sevensevens, what's your opinion? Comment below:

@thebrofessor Very informative thanks, how much time do you think you would have to spend running the business if you were independent? I brought this up with my buddy and he replied that after you have built a business, costs are negligible - what is paying two people fifty thousand when your revenue is $500,000, and it takes a lot of time at the beginning (when your time is cheap anyway).

What does the research side of PWM do? Are they looking to be risk averse, seeking alpha, etc?

You mentioned a valuable client will recognize the name, but won't they be looking for the best manager for their money, not just the most prestigious?

"Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face."
  • 1
Jul 28, 2014 - 8:11am
thebrofessor, what's your opinion? Comment below:

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Jun 19, 2017 - 7:44pm
Goldenfamily, what's your opinion? Comment below:

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