Mutual fund companies are having a harder and harder time finding qualified wholesalers to pitch their products to bank brokerages as demand for these salespeople grows.

"If you want to find someone experienced, it's hard to get them to move" to your firm, said Michael Forstl, who heads bank sales for John Nuveen & Co.

These days it takes as long as three months to land the right wholesaler, said Mr. Forstl, who recently hired two. Two years ago a wholesaler could typically be hired in one month, he said.

In the current climate, fund companies are increasingly wooing wholesalers with stock options, signing bonuses, and guaranteed incomes for the first year of employment, executives and recruiters say.

Paul Werlin, a recruiter for Human Capital Resources in Clearwater, Fla., said he is looking to fill 20 wholesaler spots around the nation.

"The (bank) channel has grown tremendously," he said. "There are more sales reps so you need more wholesalers to cover the reps."

On top of that, more and more companies are selling mutual funds through banks, including recent entrants such as Met Life, New York Life, and Goldman, Sachs & Co.

Other distribution channels are growing too, including those at financial planners and independent broker dealers, increasing demand for wholesalers.

Industry experts say that base salaries have not risen in recent years, though the bull market has inflated commissions.

The Mark McGwires of the fund wholesaling business-those who put up the biggest sales numbers-can earn $1 million a year or more in salary and commissions.

But even an average wholesaler at a midsize fund firm can earn from $175,000 to $225,000, Mr. Werlin said.

Faced with such a small pool of candidates, fund companies that once looked to hire talent from competitors are increasingly looking elsewhere.

OppenheimerFunds recently searched for three months for a wholesaler for its newly created upstate New York region, and nearly landed a seasoned veteran, said Maryann Bruce, who is in charge of bank distribution.

But the person decided to stay with his firm, and Oppenheimer promoted an internal wholesaler, she said.

Fidelity Investments recently hired a sales manager away from Michigan National Corp., a bank in Farmington Hills, Mich.

Other fund companies say they too are looking to sales managers, or even top-producing sales representatives at banks who are familiar with their products.

Increasingly, fund firms are promoting internal wholesalers-the people who provide telephone support to brokers and to wholesalers in the field.

William Gillen, head of bank sales for Eaton Vance Corp., said he looks to promote internal wholesalers. He said he is talking with a couple of candidates at bank brokerages and recently hired a wholesaler previously with GT Global, which merged this year into AIM Management Group.

"The whole acquisition environment can create some opportunities if you are looking for good people," he said.

For the many fund firms that want to build sales quickly, hiring a proven star wholesaler with lots of established relationships at banks remains the industry's version of a home run.

"There are a lot of fund firms trying to buy market share," Nuveen's Mr. Forstl said.

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