Securities, Commodities, and Financial Services Sales Agents

Career, Salary and Education Information

What Securities, Commodities, and Financial Services Sales Agents Do[About this section] [To Top]

Securities, commodities, and financial services sales agents connect buyers and sellers in financial markets. They sell securities to individuals, advise companies in search of investors, and conduct trades.

Duties of Securities, Commodities, and Financial Services Sales Agents

Securities, commodities, and financial services sales agents typically do the following:

  • Contact prospective clients to present information and explain available services
  • Offer advice on the purchase or sale of particular securities
  • Buy and sell securities, such as stocks and bonds
  • Buy and sell commodities, such as corn, oil, and gold
  • Monitor financial markets and the performance of individual securities
  • Analyze company finances to provide recommendations for public offerings, mergers, and acquisitions
  • Evaluate cost and revenue of agreements

Securities, commodities, and financial services sales agents deal with a wide range of products and clients. Agents spend much of the day interacting with people, whether selling stock to an individual or discussing the status of a merger deal with a company executive. The work is usually stressful because agents deal with large amounts of money and have time constraints.

A security or commodity can be traded in two ways: electronically or in an auction-style setting on the floor of an exchange market. Markets such as the National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotation system (NASDAQ) use vast computer networks rather than human traders to match buyers and sellers. Others, such as the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), rely on floor brokers to complete transactions.

The following are examples of types of securities, commodities, and financial services sales agents:

Brokers sell securities and commodities directly to individual clients. They advise people on appropriate investments based on the client’s needs and financial ability. The people they advise may have very different levels of expertise in financial matters.

Finding clients is a large part of a broker’s job. They must create their own client base by calling from a list of potential clients. Some agents network by joining social groups, and others may rely on referrals from satisfied clients.

Investment bankers connect businesses that need money to finance their operations or expansion plans with investors who are interested in providing that funding. This process is called underwriting, and it is the main function of investment banks. The banks first sell their advisory services to help companies issue new stocks or bonds, and then the banks sell the issued securities to investors.

Some of the most important services that investment bankers provide are initial public offerings (IPOs), and mergers and acquisitions. An IPO is the process by which a company becomes open for public investment by issuing its first stock. Investment bankers must estimate how much the company is worth and ensure that it meets the legal requirements to become publicly traded.

Investment bankers also connect companies in mergers (when two companies join together) and acquisitions (when one company buys another). Investment bankers provide advice throughout the process to ensure that the transaction goes smoothly.

Investment banking sales agents and traders carry out buy-and-sell orders for stocks, bonds, and commodities from clients and make trades on behalf of the firm itself. Investment banks primarily employ these workers, although some work for commercial banks, hedge funds, and private equity groups. Because markets fluctuate so much, trading is a split-second decisionmaking process. Slight changes in the price of a trade can greatly affect its profitability, making the trader’s decision extremely important.

Floor brokers work directly on the floor—a large room where trading is done—of a securities or commodities exchange. After a trader places an order for a security, floor brokers negotiate the price, make the sale, and forward the purchase price to the trader.

Financial services sales agents consult on a wide variety of banking, securities, insurance, and related services to individuals and businesses, often catering the services to meet the client’s financial needs. They contact potential clients to explain their services, which may include the handling of checking accounts, loans, certificates of deposit, individual retirement accounts, credit cards, and estate and retirement planning.

Work Environment for Securities, Commodities, and Financial Services Sales Agents[About this section] [To Top]

Securities, commodities, and financial services sales agents held about 341,500 jobs in 2014. The industries that employed the most securities, commodities, and financial services sales agents were as follows:

Securities and commodity contracts intermediation and brokerage 35%
Depository credit intermediation 32
Other financial investment activities 11
Nondepository credit intermediation 5
Management of companies and enterprises 4

Most securities, commodities, and financial services sales agents work many hours under stressful conditions. The pace of work is fast, and managers are usually demanding of their workers, because both commissions and advancements are tied to sales.

Investment bankers travel extensively because they frequently work with companies in other countries.

Because computers can conduct trades faster than people can, electronic trading is quickly replacing verbal auction-style trades on exchange floors. The environment of the stock exchange is changing as a result, with more traders carrying out orders behind a desk and fewer working on the exchange floor.

A growing number of securities sales agents, employed mostly by discount or online brokerage firms, work in call-center environments. In these centers, hundreds of agents spend much of the day on the telephone taking orders from clients or offering help and information on their accounts.

Because most of the major investment banks are in New York City, employment of securities, commodities, and financial services sales agents is concentrated in that metropolitan area.

Securities, Commodities, and Financial Services Sales Agent Work Schedules

Securities, commodities, and financial services sales agents usually work full time and more than 1 in 3 worked more than 40 hours per week in 2014. In addition, they may work evenings and weekends because many of their clients work during the day. Call centers often operate 24 hours a day, requiring agents to work in shifts.

How to Become a Securities, Commodities, or Financial Services Sales Agent[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Securities, Commodities, and Financial Services Sales Agents near you!

A bachelor’s degree is required for entry-level jobs, and a master’s degree in business administration (MBA) is useful for advancement.

Securities, Commodities, and Financial Services Sales Agent Education

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’s degree in 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.

Securities, Commodities, and Financial Services Sales Agent Training

Most employers provide intensive on-the-job training, teaching employees the specifics of the job, 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, commodities, and financial services sales agents must keep up with new products and services and other developments. They attend conferences and training seminars regularly.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

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 or 4 years of related work experience and must pass three exams, which require several hundred hours of independent study. Applicants also must have an international passport. 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.

Advancement for Securities, Commodities, and Financial Services Sales Agents

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 bring in new workers.

Important Qualities for Securities, Commodities, and Financial Services Sales Agents

Analytical skills. To judge the profitability of potential deals, securities, commodities, and financial services sales agents must have strong analytical skills. This includes computer programming skills which they use to analyze financial products.

Customer-service skills. Securities, commodities, and financial services sales agents must be persuasive and make clients feel comfortable with the agent’s recommendations.

Decisionmaking 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. Securities, commodities, and financial services sales agents need to be familiar with mathematical tools, including investment formulas.

Securities, Commodities, and Financial Services Sales Agent Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for securities, commodities, and financial services sales agents was $71,550 in May 2015. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $32,680, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $187,200.

In May 2015, the median annual wages for securities, commodities, and financial services sales agents in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Securities and commodity contracts intermediation and brokerage $109,330
Other financial investment activities 97,740
Management of companies and enterprises 82,710
Nondepository credit intermediation 61,030
Depository credit intermediation 43,910

Many securities and commodities brokers earn a commission based on the monetary value of the products they sell. Most firms pay brokers a minimum salary in addition to commissions.

Trainee brokers usually earn a salary until they develop a client base. The salary gradually decreases in favor of commissions as the broker gains clients.

Investment bankers in corporate finance and mergers and acquisitions generally earn a base salary with the opportunity to earn a substantial bonus. At higher levels, bonuses far exceed base salary.

Securities, commodities, and financial services sales agents usually work full time and more than 1 in 3 worked more than 40 hours per week in 2014. In addition, they may work evenings and weekends because many of their clients work during the day. Call centers often operate 24 hours a day, requiring agents to work in shifts.

Job Outlook for Securities, Commodities, and Financial Services Sales Agents[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of securities, commodities, and financial services sales agents is projected to grow 10 percent from 2014 to 2024, faster than the average for all occupations.

Services that investment bankers provide, such as helping with initial public offerings and mergers and acquisitions, will continue to be in demand as the economy grows. The United States remains an international financial center, meaning that the economic growth of countries around the world will contribute to employment growth in the American financial industry.

However, the financial services industry has experienced some consolidation in recent years, which has slowed employment growth for these workers. In addition, automated trading systems have reduced demand for securities traders.

Financial regulation, including restrictions on proprietary trading, have created a shift of employment among traders from investment banks to hedge funds; however, this shift should not affect overall employment growth for the occupation.

Securities, Commodities, and Financial Services Sales Agents Job Prospects

The high pay associated with securities, commodities, and financial services sales agents draws many more applicants than there are openings. Therefore, competition for jobs is intense.

Certification and a graduate degree, such as a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) certification and a master’s degree in business administration (MBA), can improve an applicant’s prospects. For entry-level jobs, having an excellent grade-point average (GPA) in college is important.

Employment projections data for Securities, Commodities, and Financial Services Sales Agents, 2014-24
Occupational Title Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24
Percent Numeric
Securities, commodities, and financial services sales agents 341,500 374,000 10 32,500


*Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Used by permission.

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