Join investment clubs and follow the stock market closely. Participate in investment clubs, competitions, and activities during high school and college to develop your stock-picking skills. The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania offers the Knowledge@Wharton High School Investment Competition, a free, global, online investment simulation for high school students and teachers. According to the Wharton Web site, “students learn about teamwork, communication, risk, diversification, company analysis, industry analysis, and investing.” Visit https://kwhs.wharton.upenn.edu/competitions/investment-competitions to learn more.
Any sales experience can provide you with a general background for work in financial services. You might be able to find summer employment in a brokerage house. A visit to a local investment office, the New York Stock Exchange, or one of the commodities exchanges located in other major cities will provide a valuable opportunity to observe how transactions are handled and what is required of people in the field. You might even get a chance to arrange an information interview with a broker.
The most important part of a broker's job is finding customers and building a client base. Beginning brokers spend much of their time searching for customers, relying heavily on telephone solicitation such as "cold calls"—calling people with whom they have never had any contact. Brokers also find customers through business and social contacts or they might be given a list of likely prospects from their brokerage firm.
When financial services brokers open accounts for new customers, they first record all the personal information that is required to allow the customer to trade securities through the brokerage firm. Depending on a customer's knowledge of the market, the broker may explain the meaning of stock market terms and trading practices and offer financial counseling. Then the broker helps the customer to devise an individual financial portfolio, including securities, life insurance, corporate and municipal bonds, mutual funds, certificates of deposit, annuities, and other investments. The broker must determine the customer's investment goals—such as whether the customer wants long-term, steady growth or a quick turnaround of stocks for short-term gains—and then offers advice on investments accordingly. Once an investment strategy has been developed, brokers execute buy and sell orders for their customers by relaying the information electronically to the floor of the stock exchange, where the order is put into effect by the broker's floor representative. Securities traders also buy and sell securities, but usually as a representative of a private firm.
Brokers obtain information from the research department of the brokerage firm on the activities and projected growth of any company that is currently offering stock or plans to offer stock in the near future. The actual or perceived strength of a company is a major factor in a stock-purchase decision. Brokers must be prepared to answer questions on the technical aspects of stock market operations and also be informed on current economic conditions. They are expected to have the market knowledge to anticipate certain trends and to counsel customers accordingly in terms of their particular stock holdings.
Some financial services brokers specialize in areas such as institutional accounts, bond issues, or mutual funds. Whatever their area of specialization, financial services brokers must keep abreast of all significant political and economic conditions that might effect financial markets, maintain very accurate records for all transactions, and continually solicit new customers.