If there is a silver lining in the economic crisis that has harmed the financial services industry in recent months, it is that banks are looking far more attractive to a variety of advisers.

Though this is good news for managers looking to beef up their programs with top talent, it may not be so good for bank reps looking to change jobs. In this market, competition for bank adviser jobs has become that much tougher.

As the industry consolidates, many more bank and wire house brokers are on the move, especially those dislocated by big mergers.

According to BrokerHunter.com, an Atlanta financial services job listing company, domestic openings for advisers listed on the site have remained level since September, at about 2,000. But hits to the site from advisers looking for new jobs have tripled during the same period, to 84,275. "There are a ton more people looking," said Steve Testerman, the president and founder of BrokerHunter.com. He can track who is looking because site users must subscribe.

Though there no doubt are a lot more than 2,000 jobs available that are not listed on this site, many more people are looking now, including scores of wholesalers and account managers jettisoned by beleaguered product manufacturers. This means that job openings are awash in applicants.

"We'd normally interview three or four advisers for an opening at a bank, but the last one attracted 15 advisers, all extremely qualified, all vying for that one position," said Jay McAnelly, executive vice president of IPI, a third-party marketer in San Antonio.

Bank recruiters usually target lower-tier wire house brokers because they have been through aggressive training programs, but have hit a ceiling at less than $500,000 in production. These recruits can also be more desirable than bank reps because they are much more likely to bring clients with them.

And more of those wire house reps are now interested in working at banks. Roseanne Roberts, a principal at the R.M. Roberts & Associates recruiting firm in Santa Fe, N.M., typically only works with community banks and credit unions. She says she has never been busier: "I've been getting calls from banks that are expanding, and I'm also getting calls from wire house advisers, which is unusual. But they're now looking for jobs at banks."

The attraction between wire house reps and banks is fraught with problems, and this bodes well for bank reps looking for work. Banks don't want the stereotypical wire house stock-jockey.

Banks and third-party marketers are perpetually searching for talent. For example, PNC Financial Services Group Inc., which has 440 advisers, is looking to hire 250 more in the next two years to work in the branches it bought with National City Corp., a bank that had relied on a platform-style program.

John Rhett, the chairman of SunTrust Investment Services, said he prefers bank reps to wire house brokers. The unit of the Atlanta banking company SunTrust Banks Inc. has 571 advisers now, 61 more than last year and is still hiring. Most of these advisers are investment consultants working the retail side. He wants a few more advisers but said the retail side is where the money is right now. To get the 30 or 40 more net advisers he wants, he said, he will be hiring 80 to 100 and keeping the best.

McAnelly, the San Antonio third-party marketer, said geography comes into play — a bank's sweet spot for production in the Northeast is normally $350,000 to $500,000 in metropolitan areas but is $180,000 to $280,000 in the Southeast. Generally speaking, though, program managers want someone producing a minimum of about $250,000.

And though an adviser must fit the bank, the bank must also be fit the adviser. This involves pay. Signing bonuses exist at banks, but their use is sparse. Howard Diamond, managing director of the recruiting firm Diamond Consultants in Chester, N.J., said the former Wachovia Corp.'s investment services group, which sold investments through the branches, paid 100% trailing 12 months' production to advisers that produced more than a million dollars.

Some small banks, such as First Northern Bank in Folsom, Calif., have experimented with up-front bonuses to lure advisers. But "most banks aren't paying anything substantial, if at all," he said.

Still, advisers can haggle with potential employers over nonmonetary benefits. Diamond suggests bargaining for the largest possible territory, a key element in ensuring a bank-based adviser's potential to grow. Roberts, the recruiter in Santa Fe, said a territory of $150 million, measured by retail deposits in the branches a rep covers, should give an adviser sufficient opportunity to do well, whereas a $50 million territory would leave an adviser "wondering why he's eking out an income." Advisers who accept a smaller territory because they're bringing over a big book of existing business should demand a higher payout, she said.

The real winner in all this movement is the bank brokerage industry. Financial droughts tend to weed out the weakest players, who cannot pay the bills on what they're producing. At the same time, banks should take advantage and gorge themselves on talent while so many mid-tier advisers are on the loose.

"There has never been as much opportunity as there is right now to hire the best brokers in the business," McAnelly said. "That means it's also the best time to cut the dead wood from your program while the talent pool is so deep."

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