The growth in PCS
Not so long ago, PCS was considered a small, unimportant aspect of investment banking. PCS guys were essentially brokers, always bothering other departments for leads and not as sophisticated as their counterparts in corporate finance or institutional sales and trading. Times have changed, however. Today, spurred by the tremendous stock market wealth that has been created over the past few years, PCS is a rapidly growing part of virtually every investment bank. While in the past, many banks essentially had no PCS division, or simply hired a few star retail brokers to be PCS representatives, Wall Street is recruiting heavily on MBA campuses today, scouring to find good talent for PCS.
Getting in the door
It takes an MBA these days, or a stellar record as a retail broker to become a private client sales representative. Even firms such as Merrill Lynch, which historically promoted retail brokers to the PCS role, are moving more and more toward hiring only those with business degrees from top schools and proven selling credentials, rather than proven brokers. PCS is also evolving into an entirely different business from traditional retail brokerage.
Whereas retail brokers make money on commissions generated through trades, PCS reps are increasingly charging clients just as money managers do - as a percentage of assets under management. A typical fee might be 1 percent per year of total assets under management. This fee obviously increases as the value of the assets increases, thereby motivating the PCS worker to generate solid returns on the portfolio. This move to fee-based management is designed to take away the incentive of a salesperson to churn or trade an account just for the sake of the commissions. One should note, however, that the trend to charge a fee instead of commissions is just that - a trend. Many Wall Street PCS reps still work on a commission basis.
The associate position
Once in the door, as a PCS associate, extensive training begins. The PCS associate must be well versed in all areas of the market and able to understand a wide variety of investing strategies. While a corporate bond salesperson has to know only corporate bonds, a PCS rep must be able to discuss the big picture of the market, equities, bonds, and even a slew of derivative products. Thus, training is said to be intensive in PCS, with many weeks of classroom learning.
Once training is complete, a new PCS associate often works to find his way onto a team, which pairs PCS beginners with one or two experienced PCS reps. (Teams are the latest craze on Wall Street.) The process of matching a new associate onto a team is driven largely by personality and fit. Once paired with an older rep or two, the associate works to understand the process of finding new clients and managing a portfolio of assets.
Generally speaking, PCS hires are given two years to build a book, or establish a reasonable level of business for the firm. While salaries for PCS associates out of business school matches those of other Wall Street hires ($80,000 plus a $25,000 bonus in the first six months), they quickly are shifted to a straight commission basis.
Pay beyond the associate level
After a successful client list has been established, the sky is the limit in terms of pay. The best of the best PCS pros can earn well over a $1 million a year. The bottom-of-the-barrel PCS reps, however, may take home a mere $200,000 or so. The average number is somewhere around $500,000 for a PCS pro working for a Wall Street firm. Insiders say it takes an average of five or six years to reach that level, however. Still, there are exceptions. One insider at Goldman Sachs reports that a PCS representative with that firm reached $3.4 million in compensation only five years out of business school.
The private client services (PCS) job can be exhilarating, exhausting and frustrating - all at once. As a PCS representative, your job is to bring in individual accounts with at least $2 to $3 million in assets. This involves incessantly pounding the pavement and reading the tape (market news) to find clients, followed by advising them on how to manage their wealth. PCS is a highly entrepreneurial environment. Building the book is all that matters, and managers don't care how a PCS representative spends his or her time, whether this be on the road, in the office, or at parties - the goal is to bring in the cash. Culture-wise, therefore, one typically finds a spirited entrepreneurial group of people, working their own hours and talking on the phone for the better part of the day. It is not uncommon for PCS pros to leave the office early on Fridays with a golf bag slung over one shoulder for a game with existing clients or with a few bigshots with money to invest (read: potential clients).