Here are all of the comments RR heard from Salomon Smith Barney brokers.
"Even though there’s serious problems at the branch level, I think this is still best place to work. … Our image is low because of the bad publicity we got from the Jesse Jackson thing [not hiring enough minorities] and the sex lawsuits."
"The best thing about Smith Barney is that managers don’t pressure you; they allow you to define your own business."
"I’m a producing assistant manager, so I see both sides. All things considered, this is an excellent firm. The CAP (Capital Accumulation Plan) plan has been good to us. The reason I came here 14 years ago was because this firm wasn’t going to force you into a box with certain products. Or have daily or weekly quotas, like other firms do. I appreciate that. Our strength and thrust in fee-based programs are strong, like the AssetOne and Guided Portfolio Management, which is so flexible. Basically, we put the client first."
"The best thing about Smith Barney is that it has made a good commitment to where the business is going--more fee-based instead of transactional. There’s also a big directive toward online services. They’re looking ahead. That’s the future of the business--getting away from transactional."
"Autonomy is true, best place to deliver advice, firm knows that. No problems. Could improve in insurance/estate planning area."
"Operationally it runs smoothly. The company does a good job of letting brokers be brokers. If it wasn’t a great place to work, I wouldn’t be here."
"Love it here, been here 28 years. Great company. Only bad thing is they waste a lot of money. Branches make money and send it to New York to spend on stuff we don’t need."
"SSB does a terrific job of everything--computers, research, payouts. Great Vision and planning. My major criticism is bad selection of service providers--clients know news before me. Firm hasn’t moved in the right direction of pulling real-time info [together]. We also have relationships with preferred vendors related to mutual funds, like Putnam and AIM. They can push product, but second-tier funds need permission. We can’t do other funds. [We have] tiers one, two and three status. Threes are not even allowed in, but tier ones can walk in and sell."
"Best thing is freedom. Any business we want to pursue we can as long as we maintain ethical standards. [But] not enough emphasis on support to us in the branches from New York."
"Allows brokers entrepreneurial spirit; freedom with no proprietary products, no pressure to sell, they encourage you to implement your own business plan. They don’t do a good job of weeding out bad people and don’t do a good job of hiring sales assistants."
"Online initiative is being done very well. Strategy part of research, not research itself, is done very well."
"We’re full-service--I can give you anything, soup to nuts. CDs, bonds you name it, IPOs, more deals, fixed income. We’re a bit chintzy but that’s Sandy Weill. It’s a long process to get things done around here--they watch their pennies."
(Payout) "No firm’s payout is perfect."
(Quotas) "For a beginning broker it’s a little steep but for the more established brokers, we pretty much set our own quotas."
(Research) "As a whole the analysts are pretty good but occasionally you have an individual who relocates, or is fired and suddenly you’re without any coverage."
(Strategic focus) "The firm’s focus is primarily geared towards meeting the needs of the affluent investor which is fine with me."
(Image) "Our image is not as good as it should be. I don’t think the public is aware of our firm as they are of a Merrill Lynch, for example. Because of a lack of advertising a lot of people out there really don’t know enough about us." (Overall) "The sales support here is very good. The firm also makes a big point of encouraging brokers to participate and support community causes. What I don’t like is the red tape and bureaucracy that’s mostly due to compliance."
(Fixed-income) "Could be more competitive."
(Research) "Our research department is good. Some of our analysts are frequently quoted in the press."
(Branch manager) "He’s an egomaniac!"
(Overall) "We have a great reputation, especially now with Citigroup behind us."
(Research) "I gave it a failing grade of 3 because it doesn’t meet my needs. It’s too much of a cheerleading mentality. They’re reluctant to put a hold or sell on anything."
(Strategic focus) "We’re technology driven, moving way ahead of the pack in client communications."
(Image) "Could be better. There’s a lot of confusion. People wonder if we’re Citigroup, Travelers or Smith Barney. The average guy on the Street most likely doesn’t realize that we’re owned by the largest company out there. We need to get the word out."
(Quality/quantity SA) "They’re not trained well enough. As we move from doing things a certain way into a more technological way, you find that many get caught up with the changes immediately or continue to struggle to try to catch up with all the new techniques. The ratio of assistants to production is also way off."
(Overall) "I like the freedom here to run my business my own way. I can structure my day anyway I want to. Now if we could only begin to rebuild our identity."
(Research) "They have their share of good ideas and bad ones."
(Strategic focus) "It’s going just fine and I’m very happy with the direction we’re taking."
(Hiring/recruiting) "I think the upfront money being paid to bring people in is at the expense of those who are already here. I’m not pleased with what I see in that area."
(Sales support) "Considering the size of the firm I think they’re doing an outstanding job."
(Overall) "Having been at other firms I know this place works for me. They leave us alone to run our business and work with our clients in a way that works best for us and the clients. Research could be a little better, but frankly I don’t think it’s all that much better anywhere else."
(Benefits) "Our compensation package is as good as it gets. My concern is that they’re going to start taking the perks away over time because, economically, they won’t be able to keep doing that forever."
(Research) "It’s good, not great, but overall pretty good. We certainly could be better but we’re doing OK especially when you consider the investment banking influence."
(Strategic focus) "They really believe in managed money which is what I do, so it’s fine with me."
(Account statements) "I’ve seen what other firms have and I think ours is the best on the Street."
(Quote/info) "We have new computers in place and they’re great."
(Overall) "As a managed money practitioner, I’m definitely in the right place, although I would like to see more sales support."
(Research) "Sometimes the analysts get on a bandwagon on a particular theme and it’s not always the best way to go."
(Overall) "I’m very happy here. My focus is on fee business and they make it very easy for me to run my business the way I see fit. They offer a lot of services to our clients and clients seem happy. I would like to see an improved research department as well as additional sales support and more focus on better training for the sales support people."
(Research) "It’s pretty poor. [Analysts] come and go. High turnover, not enough consistency."
(Strategic focus) "They’re expanding into the global markets very nicely and the [company’s] stock has done very well, so I’m in full support of the direction this firm is taking."
(Ethics) "Could be better but then, there’s always some weakness in the brokerage industry where there’s money involved."
(Image) "Could be improved. Like most firms our advertising needs a little punch here and there."
(Training) "Great. We have a lot of off site meetings."
(Account statements) "Not always on time."
(Overall) "Our compensation package is terrific. I have a lot of confidence in the firm. Of course they could use better sales support. We don’t have enough support coverage unless you’re at a certain level of production."
(Sales quotas) "I set my own."
(Research) "According to the The Wall Street Journal, which lists performance results, we’re consistently in the lower percentile. That tells me something’s wrong here."
(Quote/info) "Just upgraded our system so it’s much better."
(Overall) "The emphasis on wrap fee, managed accounts, works fine for me since I’ve spent most of my career managing money for a fee. The customer support system here is excellent. I just wish our research department could perform better."
(Research) "Our research department is really made for the institutions. They could care less about us and what we need. It’s all money, money, money influencing research."
(Overall) "We’re pretty big and to some people that’s good, to others that’s not so good. Being big means things tend to move too slowly."
(Research) "I think our research is the best in the business. I specialize in managed accounts and what they offer is very good."
(Quality/quantity SA) "Most of the ones here are not very experienced, some are fairly new. They’re not bringing them in fast enough and many don’t stay so there is never enough."
(Overall) "I stay because the research is good for what I do, our technology, which has improved dramatically, is now outstanding. Of course they need to address the sales support side--it is our weakest area."
"I think it’s the best situated of any of the financial firms bar none. It’s a very decent, non-threatening place to work. There’s freedom of ideas. Overall it’s very good."
"It’s a great firm. I’ve worked at PaineWebber, Prudential and Salomon Smith Barney. I like Salomon Smith Barney the best."
"It would be nice to have better research and some more support staff."
"I’ve been in the business since 1968, and I’ve worked for a lot of different firms. This is the best job I’ve ever had. The maturity and expertise of a branch manager can make your life hell or heaven. My branch manager is mature and mentally healthy. … The firm is coming back from a terrible lawsuit a few years ago. They are making a special effort to hire women and help them succeed."
"Our CEO Sandy Weill is gold. I feel good about the direction he’s taking the firm. I particularly like the firm’s CAP plan, which allows us to put 25% of our salary into Citigroup stock at a 25% discount."
"Top guy Sandy Weill has great leadership, great vision. He really cares about growing the wealth of the firm’s employees, shareholders and clients. I think he’ll go down in history as one of the greatest CEOs of all time. He does a good job in finding new companies to buy worldwide."
"Salomon and Citigroup have created a powerhouse where a client can access everything they want in terms of financial services. It’s like a Wal-Mart of financial services, only high-quality."
"I’ve been here for five years. When a recruiter calls about moving to another firm, I don’t care how big the check is; I’m not going anywhere because I know this is a superior firm. Sandy Weill surrounds himself with very sharp people."
"Employees are encouraged to own stock in the company, and we go further than other firms. We have more programs; it makes us feel we’re part of the growth of the company. Also, cross-selling between Citibank and Travelers, the mortgages, insurance, etc., we’re in the forefront with that concept. We used to do financial planning in a more fragmented way. We’d do retirement planning or education planning. Now it’s coming together into one single package."
"I’m a happy camper!"
"[The firm is doing well] professional training, developing relationships with clients, ongoing training."
"The benefits are good for long-term brokers, they encourage brokers to stay a long period of time and can enhance their net worth through attractive stock ownership programs. I think the firm is on the right track."
"This is a good firm. In most firms, the research is sloppy. I worked at Merrill, have been in the business 23 years. There are very few good analysts out there. Jack Grubman is probably better than most. I think Abby Joseph Cohen is realistic but I only see what’s printed in the media. Bob Farrell is still around and is good on long-term views."
"A move to diversity has been imposed on us. People of color or females get a second chance if they flunk level one training. ... Sales assistants’ pay is pretty low for the complexity of their jobs. Brokers are supposed to make it up. We just keep cascading lower in terms of quality. We train them and they go to Merrill or Paine Webber. It’s a tight market; anybody who is hirable is working."
"They’ve merged the different companies into one behemoth, and we’ve seen some amazing things such as how well they work together. We now have more services and more expertise as opposed to information. ... The firm is incredibly supportive of managed money, that is, individually managed portfolios. Ninety percent of my book is in managed money after just two years in production. Also, in technology, the firm is always upgrading technology. They’re always trying to improve it. We’re trying to be leaders and we were first with wrap accounts 10 years ago. We called it the VIP program. We were among the first with online trading for our clients. As a broker, I can choose how to set my business up. As a client, you can choose how much research or advice you want."
(Benefits) "SSB is very understanding about people needing to take time off [sometimes paid] for a number of reasons. The retirement plan is lacking. The firm only contributes $200 toward the 401(k) plan."
(Quality/quantity SA) "I am lucky to have a terrific SA now. I had an SA who literally did nothing before. SAs are not paid a lot of money [base of about $25,000] and the more senior FCs are expected to pitch in with compensation. What this means for the SAs who aren’t as ethical as others, or who don’t want to work as hard, is that they’ll work only for that [senior] person and not the junior person they’re also assigned to. This is not all the firm’s fault. They should pay SAs more money, but I also think even if they did, it’s a tight labor market and it would still be hard to get good people. I’m sharing an SA with four other brokers. I know they’re making some effort to hire more people."
(Sales support) "Good sales mentoring in my branch, good marketing materials, sometimes takes longer than I’d like to get the stuff delivered, and the ordering process can be cumbersome [brokers pay all seminar advertising and mailing costs]."
(Sales ideas) "Sales ideas are good, as far as they go. Excellent internal seminars on estate planning for high-net-worth individuals and how to market to wealthy individuals, but not a lot of ‘how to find’ these wealthy individuals."
(Training) "My branch is good about paying for training, and the branch holds two, one-hour training meetings every week for brokers with less than three years at the branch, covering everything from sales to capital markets."
(Operations) "If you call people with questions about products, they’re great. But I routinely [once a month] get messages back from New York saying they don’t have an IRA form that I know I sent in and have a copy of. Our New York operations office leaves a lot to be desired."
(Account statements) "Our account statements are thorough, I think too thorough, although I have never had a client call me and say they didn’t understand any of the statement. The clients think they’re fine."
(Overall) "In general, larger branches like mine (150 brokers) should have a full-time computer and HR person. Those duties are handled by SAs and assistant managers, and it’s hard to get information from New York about things, and it takes forever to get your computer questions resolved and get answers about benefit information. You don’t need that kind of assistance every day, but when you need it, it’s a real hassle."
"The guys leading SSB are the best in the business, so as a stockholder, it’s been a great ride since the Travelers thing. I’m from the old Smith Barney and I can’t say anything bad about the way they’ve done things."
"I love this firm, they do a lot right, and one of the things that I’ve been impressed with is that they have told us ‘Do what’s right for the client,’ and we never get pressured to do anything other than that."
"The firm does most things very well, but they don’t pay SAs enough and we don’t have enough of them."
"We’ve made some great strides in online accessibility for clients. That’s the biggest improvement I’ve seen over the past 12 months."