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Portrait of a Sales Assistant

Sales assistants - who are they, what do they do, and how much do they make? Learn those things and more in the industry's first survey of sales assistants.A typical sales assistant looks something like the illustration here. She's a 38-year-old female employed at a large national brokerage firm. She juggles work for two or more reps, performing client management duties using her Series 7 license.

Sales assistants - who are they, what do they do, and how much do they make? Learn those things and more in the industry's first survey of sales assistants.

A typical sales assistant looks something like the illustration here. She's a 38-year-old female employed at a large national brokerage firm. She juggles work for two or more reps, performing client management duties using her Series 7 license. And for her efforts in 1999, she was compensated $34,900, which includes a $3,800 bonus. Best of all, she's happy with where she's at.

This composite picture comes from Registered Representative's exclusive Sales Assistant Study, which was tabulated in August 2000. It's the first time data has been collected and publicized regarding the assistants working alongside brokers and serving clients.

Demographic Basics Ninety percent of respondents are female. One-third are between 30 and 39 years old. Another 25% are 29 or under, 27% are from 40 to 49, and 15% are 50 or older.

At 57%, more than half work at national wirehouses, while another 22% are at regional brokerages. The remaining 21% work at local, independent or other types of firms.

Response to the survey varied by geography. One-third of the respondents are from the Midwest, one-third from the Southeast, 22% from the Northeast, 10% from the West, and 2% declined to answer.

And because the Midwest and Southeast regions generally represent middle markets instead of metropolitan areas, the data concentration there may affect some figures, such as salary and bonuses, according to the researchers who analyzed the data.

Advanced Skills and Knowledge Data about Series 7 registration rates and education levels reveal a trend toward increasing knowledge among sales assistants.

More than two-thirds of respondents are Series 7 registered. In addition, sales assistants with more experience are more frequently registered than those just entering the job. Of those with six years or more in the industry, 82% are registered, compared with a 41% registration rate among those with less than two years experience.

However, respondents who are new to the industry have a higher level of formal education. Of those who have been a sales assistant for less than two years, 42% have a bachelor's degree, compared with only 21% of those who have been in the industry for more than 10 years. Overall, 87% of respondents have some college.

More Experience, Bigger Salary and Bonus Naturally, an assistant's estimated median total salary increases according to years in the industry and licenses. Those with more than 10 years experience earn about $14,300 more than those with less than two years experience. And those with a Series 7 license earn about $10,200 more than those without.

Interestingly, salaries are higher for those who work for one broker at $37,700, compared with $30,500 for those who serve four or more reps. And salaries are higher at independent brokerages compared with wirehouses.

Geographic differences in salary are evident in the survey but might be skewed due to a concentration of Midwest and Southeast respondents. In 1999, estimated median total salary for a sales assistant in the Midwest was highest at $36,500, for Northeast $35,000, for Southeast $34,500 and $31,900 in the West.

The survey uncovers the prevalence of bonus pay. More than four in five respondents received some money beyond their salary in 1999. The estimated median bonus was $3,800. However, 25% received bonuses of $10,000 or more. Only 17% didn't receive any bonus.

Bonuses are most often tied to the broker's production, with an average of 2% of the production awarded to the sales assistant. Bonuses are also commonly granted at the discretion of the broker, firm or branch manager.

Bonus checks are most frequently issued monthly, at 45%, compared with 28% who receive them annually and 12% who receive them quarterly. Another 15% are on some other schedule.

Service-Oriented Workloads The majority of respondents (at 59%) describe their job responsibilities as "client service," which includes tasks such as answering simple questions, helping with paperwork and communicating with clients.

At 42%, fewer sales assistants say they are charged with "client management," performing duties such as taking trade orders, advising clients on investments or developing investment strategies. About 7% consider their duties secretarial.

Naturally, those who are Series 7 registered or report longer tenures in the industry are more likely to report client management as their duties.

Thankfully, serving clients and brokers is what most assistants enjoy. About two-thirds of respondents mention the clients, brokers and co-workers as the best part of their job. Another 18% like the challenges and problem solving, and 11% thrive on the variety in their day.

All this adds up to sales assistants who are generally satisfied. When asked to what level they would ultimately like to advance in their career, the largest number (30%) say they are happy where they are. Another 14% would like to become a junior broker and 13% would like to be a broker. Nine percent aspire to get registered and 9% want the role of office manager. Only 7% plan to leave the brokerage field.

There's diversity in the number of bosses sales assistants have, but most assistants report strong, respectful relationships.

Nearly half (42%) of the respondents work for more than one individual broker. The average is 2.5 brokers. However, almost one-third work for a single broker. The remaining 22% serve a team of brokers and 4% report some other arrangement.

Regardless of the number of brokers they serve, two-thirds of sales assistants report that their strategic contributions are welcome. One in five sales assistants says she is integral in developing her brokers' goals and strategies. And almost half (42%) provide some input into goals and strategies.

Another 27% are not involved in developing strategic directions but are aware of them. Only 10% report they don't know what their brokers' goals are or didn't answer the question.

The vast majority of respondents indicate autonomy in their working relationships. A full 84% say their brokers trust them to complete their work without close supervision and allow them to take the initiative. At 11%, far fewer assistants report that they are managed closely. Another 5% say their brokers lack confidence in them, micromanage them or didn't answer.

What can you give your sales assistant to recognize her efforts at work?

Whatever you do, make it green. Survey results show that cash bonuses are the most common token of appreciation as well as the most desired. More than half receive bonuses currently, but 72% would like money as recognition.

The second most popular form of recognition is paid time off yet few assistants are granted it. Only 16% receive paid time off, but almost half would enjoy that. Paid time off is more popular than the free meals or gifts that almost 40% receive now.

And although only 19% receive written thank you notes, one-quarter would appreciate them.

Take a look at the most common forms of recognition and the most desired.

Even though survey respondents seem generally satisfied with their jobs, they do have their list of pet peeves. Many grumble about being overworked and underappreciated.

When asked point-blank if they feel overworked, 37% replied yes. Yet it isn't the number of hours worked that affects whether they feel harried, but the number of bosses and experience level. Of those who serve four or more brokers, almost half feel overworked. It's a feeling shared by nearly half of those in the industry 10 years or more.

Sales assistants frequently grouse about the administrative portion of their job, such as filing or other menial tasks. Other common complaints are about the stressful work environment, lack of recognition, low pay, office politics and rude clients.

The written comments from sales assistants also reveal that many continue to face disrespectful brokers and firms. One respondent says, "I don't like being called a `gal' and having to kowtow to baby brokers with a know-it-all attitude." Another says that in her office, it's "brokers versus assistants." A third is rankled by "the firm's view that my view is not as important as the FC's."

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