Compensation in Financial Services

Compensation in financial services can be very attractive.
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Within the financial services industry, especially in Wall Street firms, compensation packages tend to be much more generous than in other sectors of the economy. There can be great year-to-year variability, since annual bonuses linked to company profits tend to be a significant part of total compensation.


For bonus-eligible positions, regular salary often is called base pay. The frequency of pay tends to be monthly rather than biweekly at higher levels of management, usually starting at vice president. Annual salary adjustments are typical.


Policies on annual bonuses vary from employer to employer, but some general observations can be made. At Wall Street firms, bonuses are a more significant part of total pay for more employees than at banks and insurance companies, which represent the other end of the spectrum. As you move up the management ladder anywhere in the industry, more of your pay will come in the form of the bonus. The bonus pool for your division or department will be driven by a combination of its profits and those of the company. Bonus pools rarely are purely formulaic; instead, executives exercise great discretion in setting them.

Note that changes in the number of employees who will participate in a given pool (as the headcount fluctuates in a division or department) typically will not have an impact on the size of that pool. That is potentially bad news if headcount is growing in your area. Finally, the eventual distribution of a pool to the employees participating therein tends to be a highly discretionary process.


For positions paid on commission, there normally is no salary or base pay. However, inexperienced employees in these jobs frequently receive something called a draw that superficially mimics a regular, fixed paycheck. The difference is that a draw eventually must be offset by commissions earned; that is, a draw is effectively an advance payment of commissions.


Unlike bonuses, commissions are indeed formulaic. Employees who receive commissions (notably financial advisors) tend to be in sales positions. Revenues generated by their clients, as well as other key metrics (such as the value of their clients' accounts), drive the compensation formulas. Pay typically is on a monthly basis for commissioned jobs.