Registered Representative magazine's second annual Sales Assistant Study surveyed 329 sales assistant subscribers (and assistants of broker-subscribers) in July and August to uncover key information about these vital support staffers.

Like the typical RR reader, most of the assistants (62%) work at a wirehouse or large regional firm. They don't make as much as brokers, of course — the typical survey respondent brought home about $36,800 a year in salary and bonus last year (up by about $2,000 from 1999). And unlike the broker population, the vast majority (86%) are women.

Most have a Series 7 license. Around two-thirds work for two or three brokers. Half of sales assistants perform basic client-service responsibilities, while 27% go beyond that and actually handle trades and give some advice. About one-third are content to remain in their current role, while a quarter of them want to become a broker or junior broker.

Demographics

A typical assistant is a 38-year-old female. Twenty percent are between 25 and 29 years old, 31% are in their 30s, a quarter are 40-something, and 16% are 50 or older.

Forty percent have been a sales assistant for two to five years, 20% have logged six to 10 years in the industry, and 25% have more than 10 years experience. Newer assistants (less than two years) make up 15% of the population.

Sales assistants who responded to the survey seem stable in their jobs. This year's study asked about the number of separate jobs they've had: 43% of respondents are still at the one and only job they've had in the industry, 23% are in their second job and 9% their third.

Respondents from the Midwest make up 29% of the survey, followed by the West (28%), Southeast (25%) and Northeast (17%).

Advanced Skills and Knowledge

The survey data show that as assistants gain experience, they are more apt to get licensed.

Overall, 71% of respondents are Series 7 registered. But 82% of sales assistants with six to 10 years experience are registered versus just 42% of those with less than two years under their belts.

Assistants new to the industry have a higher level of formal education. Of sales assistants on the job for less than two years, 40% have a bachelor's degree. Of assistants on the job more than 10 years, 31% have a bachelor's.

The Bottom Line

The estimated median salary last year for all respondents was $30,100, not including bonus money. Sales assistants earn more as they gain experience and become licensed.

For example, assistants with more than 10 years experience earned a base salary of $35,000 plus a bonus of $10,600; those with less than two years earned $25,900 (plus a $600 bonus).

Those with a Series 7 license earned about $6,000 more in 2000 than those without it. The estimated median salary for registered assistants was $31,900 versus $25,900 for nonregistered respondents. The differences in bonuses are even greater — the estimated median bonus registered assistants got last year was $5,900 versus $1,400 for those without the Series 7.

Eighty-six percent of respondents received bonuses last year (12% said they did not receive any bonus, 2% did not answer). Twenty-four percent received bonuses of $10,000 or more.

The salaries (estimated medians) of assistants in the Northeast were highest at $33,500, followed by the Southeast ($30,000), West ($29,500), and Midwest ($29,100). For unknown reasons, bonus levels were lowest in the Northeast ($3,200) and highest in the Southeast ($6,300).

Most bonuses are tied to brokers' production and/or discretion. An estimated average (mean) of 1.8% of production was awarded to sales assistant respondents. Forty-eight percent say bonuses are based, at least in part, on their brokers' production, with another 39% saying broker discretion played a part. Branch manager discretion influenced bonuses for 21% of respondents. Bonus checks are issued monthly to 48% of assistants, quarterly to 13% and annually to 24%. And 11% of respondents answered “other.”

Service Comes First

Just over half (51%) of respondents describe their job function as “client service” — answering questions, paperwork, communications. That compares to 27% of sales assistants who say they do “client management” — taking orders, advising clients, developing strategies.

Good news for assistants: Only 1% say their duties are secretarial, which is not the kind of work most say they want to do (see “Gripes and Grunt Work,” Page 72). Nearly all (94%) of Series 7 registered assistants perform client management functions. Those with longer tenures are also more likely to include client management among their responsibilities: 34% of those with six to 10 years in the business perform client management functions, while just 22% with less than two years do the same.

Satisfaction Levels

All in all, sales assistants are generally satisfied with their jobs. When asked to what level they would like to advance in their careers, the largest chunk (31%) say they're happy right where they are, 13% have aspirations to become a broker, another 13% would like to be junior brokers and 12% aspire to become registered.

Six percent of respondents want to join a team — slightly more than those who plan to leave the industry. One-tenth gave various write-in answers, some of which indicated uncertainty about future plans.

Work, Relationships and Contributions

The sales assistants who responded to the RR survey typically work closely with their brokers and perform at a high skill level.

Almost one-third (32%) work for a single rep and another 23% work for a team.

The largest group (40%) work for more than one rep. Of these, 36% work for two reps, 26% work for three, 19% work with four and 16% indicated they work for five or more producers.

Thirty-eight percent report they provide some input into their reps' goals and strategies, and 20% say they are an integral part of that process.

One-third are aware of their brokers' goals and strategies but are not involved in the planning process. Nine percent are not aware of or involved in the process.

Regardless of assistants' strategic involvement, they report their reps generally trust them to get the job done. The vast majority (82%) of sales assistants say their brokers trust them to complete work without close supervision. Only nine respondents (3% of the sample) said their reps micromanage.

The typical assistant puts in 40 hours a week. Some 30% work 41 to 45 hours weekly. Overwork is a perceived problem for 26% of respondents, while 69% say they do not feel overworked.

Tokens of Appreciation

When it comes to receiving recognition, cash is king. Cash bonuses got the most votes from respondents as a desirable form of recognition: 76% would like cash, but only 57% receive such appreciation. Sales assistants would also appreciate paid time off as a reward (49% agreed), but only 18% say they get it.

Other tokens of recognition getting favorable mention are gift certificates, thank you notes and event tickets.

Here are sales assistants' desired rewards versus the most common forms of recognition they receive.

Estimated Median Salary and Bonuses, 2000

2000 Total Compensation
(estimated median)

2000 Bonus
(estimated median)

All respondents $36,800 $4,200

Time in industry:

More than 10 years

$48,900

$10,600

6 to 10 years

$38,900

$5,800

2 to 5 years

$33,900

$3,100

Less than 2 years

$26,500

$600

Primary job responsibility:

Client Management
(taking trade orders, advising clients on investments, developing investment strategies)

$40,200

$6,800

Client Service
(answering simple questions, helping with paperwork, communicating with clients)

$34,000

$2,700

Licenses:

Have Series 7

$39,200

$5,900

Do not have Series 7

$28,500

$1,400

Number of brokers served:

One

$35,400

$5,800

2 or 3

$38,600

$4,800

4 or more

$33,900

$2,500

Type of firm:

Wirehouse

$38,200

$4,900

Regional brokerage

$36,600

$4,700

Region:

Midwest

$34,300

$3,300

Northeast

$37,100

$3,200

Southeast

$37,800

$6,300

West

$37,400

$4,500

Methodology: A survey was mailed to 1,500 sales assistants in July 2001. Six hundred surveys went to sales assistants who subscribe directly to Registered Representative, and 900 were addressed “To the Sales Assistant of” an RR broker subscriber. During July and August, a total of 329 usable surveys were received for a response rate of 22%. Data collection and analysis was conducted by Primedia Corporate Planning and Research in Chicago.