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The Happiest Branch Office Managers Around

The Happiest Branch Office Managers Around

The world of the brokerage office managers and their equivalent peers in the bank-based investment offices are similar in most respects but one: Happiness.

While job satisfaction surveys seem to be everywhere in the industry these days, you’d be hard-pressed to find even one devoted to the role of branch office manager.

Perhaps it’s because the job doesn’t garner the attention it did in years past. Or perhaps it’s because surveyors already know how much morale has fallen among so many in the profession.

It’s a sign of that lack of attention that one of the more recent studies was conducted five years ago. But it focused on banking investment program directors and regional sales managers—the banking channel’s equivalent of B/D BoMs— and sought to find how satisfied they felt with various aspects of their jobs. Contrary to conventional wisdom, it yielded some rather positive results.

The survey asked how much time they felt they should be spending on things like managing staff, recruiting, compliance, etc., versus how much they actually were spending on those tasks. The difference was surprisingly minimal, and seemed to suggest the bank-based investment program directors were a pretty happy lot (see chart).

Intrigued, we asked industry insiders if they felt the quality of life was better for bank investment sales managers these days and, if so, what disgruntled broker-dealer BoMs might glean from their happier counterparts.

No doubt the culture in the traditional B/D and bank-based investment worlds are in some ways different—and so, too, is the role branch manager in each. “The former is essentially a recruiting and retention job of high-end brokers, and typically pays substantially more. The latter tends to attract career bankers, and is more of an internal business development role, for example the bankers already have the clients and the FAs just need access to them,” says Chip Roame, who heads industry research firm Tiburon Strategic Advisors.

“Wirehouse BoMs get most of their compensation through recruiting and growing assets,” says Howard Diamond, managing director of Chester, NJ-based Diamond Consultants, an industry recruiting and training firm. “But, since they also have a much wider breadth of overall responsibilities than in years past, how much time do they really have to tend to their flock as mentors? They’re no longer really valued by their firms for leadership.”

“Typically, once a wirehouse BoM gets a good producer on board, the rep is essentially left to his own devices,” add Paul Werlin, president of HCR. “The manager’s next priority generally is not helping him grow—but, rather, getting back to recruiting. Bank managers are compensated on more than accumulating assets. Things like inter-departmental referrals, low client complaint rates, etc. all factor in. I think more emphasis is put on continually training and coaching new recruits.”

Naturally, managers are going to spend most of their time doing what they’re compensated for, says J. Edward Diamond, a consultant with FTC Methods in Boonton, NJ. A former wirehouse BoM, Diamond was recruited in 1990 to form the proprietary B/D arm of Dime Savings Bank (acquired by WaMu in 2002).

“In the wirehouse world, I found the emphasis was more on an advisor’s bottom line— not how he got there. In the banks, managers carefully track advisor activity on a weekly basis— specifically, activities that ultimately improve their numbers. If wirehouse BoMs emphasized that more, it could change some FAs’ view that they only care about sales figures.”

Adds Howard Diamond: “If you work on your existing advisors’ quality of life, getting them the resources that can help them grow assets, retention rates are bound to increase. And it’s subsequently easier to attract talent to an environment like this.”


Consolidation has hit the banks as hard as traditional brokerage firms, so job security for their managers isn’t necessarily better, Werlin says.

But compensations surveys indicate the disparity between the two channels has shrunk over the last few years. “Twenty years ago, bank-based investment programs were in their infancy. Today, the products offered are far more diverse and sophisticated, so there’s a lot more money to be made,” Werlin says.

A manager’s comp is really a function of the size of the program, he explains. “People running the investment programs at [large regional or national] banks like Key, Huntington, or US Bank make several hundred thousand dollars per year or more. Those managing 10-25 FA’s typically make in the $250,000 range. At smaller programs with only two or three FA’s, they may only make $150,000. Whether they produce as well is also typically a function of size.”

“And, we all know wirehouse BoM compensation has taken a substantial hit,” he says.

Werlin doesn’t think the banking world is a good fit for displaced or disgruntled wirehouse BoMs, however, “unless there is almost a wall between the bank and its investment program. Success there requires so much inter-departmental relationship building and client referrals, where B/D BoMs are focused mainly on relationships with FAs and recruits.”

Howard Diamond doesn’t agree. “Wirehouses are doing what they always do in hard times: handing out pink slips to brokers with smaller books. And, this is enabling banks to pick up some trained talent. If you get a former wirehouse BoM in that mix, there’s bound to be some good synergy.”

John P. Minnillo, who has been Key Investment Services’ (an affiliate of KeyBank) Cleveland District Sales Manager for the last year-and-a half and oversees 19 FAs, spent a decade in the wirehouse world, managing UBS’ Beachwood, OH branch from 2001 to 2009, and then Merrill Lynch’s Chagrin Falls, OH branch until 2010. When Key offered him “a better opportunity,” he says he left and never looked back.

The appeal of the banking world, he says, is “my interaction with the FAs and Bank Relationship Managers. I get to formulate partnerships and enhance client satisfaction through coaching and training. I have a very hands-on approach, and I can affect positive results in the team's success. It’s a true managerial position.”

Werlin believes that, because of this, bank sales managers “feel more in control over what goes on in their branches.”

Perhaps one legacy wirehouse BoM, who asked to remain anonymous, put it best: “If you’re a bank-based manager or advisor, you’re an employee of the bank. If you’re an advisor with a traditional B/D, you’re basically renting your firm for clearing purposes. Bank managers almost always make less than we do— maybe $250,000 at the high end. But, they can usually produce on top of that. And, there’s a lot less stress to the job.

“Bank-based advisors don’t have to ferret out clients the way we do,” he continues (Though Werlin say there’s a vast misconception that bank-based FAs get all of their clients from the bank and don’t have to prospect elsewhere). “And managing them can be a very nice job. And even though we once looked down on bank FAs for not having to prospect as hard as we do, B/D BoMs are now happily recruiting them, because this industry is shrinking, and we’re all in trouble. It used to be that, if you worked your butt off in this business, you’d be okay. Now, with so many people, particularly younger ones, investing by themselves on-line or with discount houses, it’s simply no longer the case.”


In 2006, HCR distributed a web-based survey to national sales managers and program directors at bank-based investment programs across the country, ranging from $1 billion in asset size to over $60 billion. It received completed surveys from 50 investment sales managers who collectively manage 1,038 dedicated investment representatives, 3,059 platform reps, and 228 administrative staff. Here are some of the results:

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