The smart money is on a job in sales

28 January 2011

London, 20 May 2010

Daily Mail
By Linda Whitney

As the economy starts improving so will the career prospects in financial services sales. ‘Six months ago, there was little demand, but this year the market has taken off’, says Richard Townsend of Independents Appointments, which specialises in financial services recruitment.

Roles in demand include independent financial advisers (IFA’s), business development managers for start-up fund management companies and, in insurance sales, new business account executives and account executives to follow-up existing business.

For experienced staff, financial services sales success is about your potential customer base and the levels of business you write.

‘An IFA with 1,000 clients and a high level of billings will be attractive to companies’, says Mr. Townsend.

Financial services is one area of sales where industry recognised qualifications are not just useful – for many jobs financial services regulation makes them essential.

The best qualification for IFA’s is the Diploma in Financial Planning (DFP).  Without it, by 2012 you will be able to work only for companies selling a limited range of products, which could restrict career options.

If you are in financial services sales and do not have the DFP, consider studying for it or transferring to a big independent financial advisory firm.

Many are recruiting less qualified IFA’s with a view to training them and thus acquiring their clients.  In some cases, the plan is for them to return to the marketing working on behalf of the bigger companies.

People with previous sales experience might be able to transfer into financial services sales.  For instance, Secure Health, part of Axa PPP, is looking for experienced sales agents to sell private medical insurance and a range of other products face to face.

‘You do not need any financial services qualification because we provide a five-day residential training course in our products’, says Barry Duce, director of Secure Health.

Packages include salaried positions, commission guarantees and commission-only.  You earn more if you generate your own leads, though the company can supply them.

It can be hard to get into the financial sales industry, but there are ways to do it.

Graduates could get into a training scheme at a financial services company which usually involves working in several parts of the business: make it clear that you’re interested in sales.

Friends Provident, which employs 365 sales staff, looks for a 2:1 degree, but this is not always essential.  Just as important is the ability to work in a team and on your own, and on ongoing, confident personality.

‘We want people with passion, resourcefulness and an appetite to learn’, says Paul Walsh of CUNA Mutual, which employs 25 financial sales professionals.

It specialises in selling insurance products such as mortgage payment protection insurance to other mutuals such as credit unions and building societies.

Make sure you research your companies approach.

‘Our number one requirement is that applicants understand we are a mutual rather than a limited company and reflect that in their application’, says Mr. Walsh.

Previous internships at financial service companies and experience of working to targets will also help.

Admin skills gained in other sectors might help you transfer into a financial services company in a sales admin role.

Once in, you can familiarise yourself with the company’s products and customers – which is essential if you are looking to get into the sales team.

Another route is through customer services roles, where you may be working in a call centre answering customer queries about financial products.

This means you will get training in the product range and dealing with customers – skills that financial services sales recruiters look for.  The financial services company Standard Life, for instance, looks for people with experience in financial call centres when they are recruiting sales staff.

The market average for experienced IFA’s is £30,000 to £40,000 basic, but typically employers expect you to meet a ‘validation level’ of two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half times your basic before they start paying a bonus.

So, on a basic of £30,000 with a validation level of three-and-a-half, you start earning bonuses when your sales reach £105,000.

Bonuses are typically tiered at 20 per cent up to sales of £150,000 and 30 per cent of sales of £150,000 to £200,000.

This looks hard to achieve, but many IFA’s deal with wealthy individuals or corporates.

In insurance sales, basic pay for account executives ranges from £20,000 to £60,000: for business development managers, pay is between £27,000 and £70,000.

These are basics and usually you have to meet targets or validation levels to start earning bonuses on top.

‘I like the challenge of a fast-paced and competitive environment’, says Karen O’Rourke, 26, Marketing Manager at CUNA Mutual, which sells insurance products to mutual organisations such as building societies. 

 After gaining a diploma in marketing, she got into financial services sales with Royal Bank of Scotland, where she supported more than 100 asset sales managers.

‘It is about building up long-term relationships rather than short term profit’, she says. ‘I’m developing sales campaigns tailored to the needs of our business partners and sales team.’

Her advice to anyone looking for a career in financial services sales? ‘It is a competitive industry, so get as much experience in finance as you can and get to know how your company works’.