A bachelor’s degree is required for entry-level jobs, and a Master of Business Administration (MBA) is useful for advancement.
Securities, commodities, and financial services sales agents generally must have a bachelor’s degree to get an entry-level job. Studies in business, finance, accounting, or economics are important, especially for larger firms. Many firms hire summer interns before their last year of college, and those who are most successful are offered full-time jobs after they graduate.
Numerous agents eventually get a Master of Business Administration (MBA), which is often a requirement for high-level positions in the securities industry. Because the MBA exposes students to real-world business practices, it can be a major asset for jobseekers. Employers often reward MBA holders with higher-level positions, better compensation, and large signing bonuses.
Most employers provide intensive on-the-job training, teaching employees the specifics of the firm, such as the products and services offered. Trainees in large firms may receive technical instruction in securities analysis and selling strategies. Firms often rotate their trainees among various departments to give them a broad understanding of the securities business.
Securities and commodities sales agents must keep up with new products and services and other developments. They regularly attend conferences and training seminars.
Brokers and investment bankers must register as representatives of their firm with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). To obtain the license, potential agents must pass a series of exams.
Many other licenses are available, each of which gives the holder the right to sell different investment products and services. Traders and some other sales representatives also need licenses, although these vary by firm and specialization. Financial services sales agents may need to be licensed, especially if they sell securities or insurance. Most firms offer training to help their employees pass the licensing exams.
Agents who are registered with FINRA must attend continuing education classes to keep their licenses. Courses consist of computer-based training on legal requirements or new financial products or services.
Although not always required, certification enhances professional standing and is recommended by employers. Brokers, investment bankers, and financial services sales agents can earn the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) certification, sponsored by the CFA Institute. To qualify for this certification, applicants need a bachelor’s degree and 4 years of related work experience and must pass three exams, which require several hundred hours of self-study. Exams cover subjects in accounting, economics, securities analysis, financial markets and instruments, corporate finance, asset valuation, and portfolio management. Applicants can take the exams while they are getting the required work experience.
Securities, commodities, and financial services sales agents usually advance to senior positions in a firm by accumulating a greater number of accounts. Although beginners often service the accounts of individual investors, they may eventually service large institutional accounts, such as those of banks and retirement funds.
After taking a series of tests, some brokers become portfolio managers and have greater authority to make investment decisions regarding an account. For more information on portfolio managers, see the profile on financial analysts.
Some experienced sales agents become branch office managers and supervise other sales agents while continuing to provide services for their own clients. A few agents advance to top management positions or become partners in their firms.
Many investment banks use an “up or out” policy, in which entry-level investment bankers are either promoted or terminated after 2 or 3 years. Investment banks use this policy to ensure that entry-level positions are not occupied long term, allowing the bank to steadily bring in new workers.
Customer-service skills. Securities, commodities, and financial services sales agents must be persuasive and make clients feel comfortable with the agent’s recommendations.
Decision-making skills. Investment banking traders must make split-second decisions with large sums of money at stake.
Detail oriented. Investment bankers must pay close attention to the details of initial public offerings and mergers and acquisitions because small changes can have large consequences.
Initiative. Securities, commodities, and financial services sales agents must create their own client base by making “cold” sales calls to people to whom they have not been referred and to people not expecting the call.
Math skills. To judge the profitability of potential deals, financial services sales agents must have strong math skills.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition