Owen has the type of specialized, high-paid sales job in the finance industry which many recent graduates would love to have, which made me very keen indeed to interview him.
Owen’s interview is a masterclass on what you might need to get this sort of job, the truth of the changing financial industry, and how to use your natural competitiveness to really enjoy your industry.
You can read Owen’s full biography here
Jamie: First of all, Owen, what have you found most fulfilling about your career thus far?
Owen: I think so far the most fulfilling part of it is that I have utilized the things I learned in college via an Economics Degree, in a sales job in mutual funds and financial markets. I did not really know that I was going to use my degree. I knew I was interviewing at a mutual fund shop, and then I would be talking about markets and funds daily, but I did not really understand the extent to which my education at college would actually benefit me in this job, and moving forward.
I think that has probably been the most fulfilling part – that I did not go to college for no reason, just to drink and party and roll out of bed every now and then and go to class. It’s turning out that the education I received is helping quite a lot with my professional life.
Jamie: Is selling or mutual funds and financial instruments something where you would strongly recommend studying economics or a similar course?
Owen: I think it depends on what part of the market because there is a spectrum in terms of the level of sophistication of people that you can sell these things to. At our firm we sell the whole spectrum – you’ve got the institutional market with the most sophisticated investors in the world, who are buying funds, and then on the other end of it you have intermediaries like Edward Jones Financial Advisory here in the United States.
I am tilted more to the first side of the spectrum; the institutional side of the spectrum. I do not think it is 100% necessary to study economics, because depending on the shop, they should have a pretty good training program for you where you can get the CFA and get additional designations. The CFA for like sales is almost just like a little cherry on top; you are not really putting a lot of that stuff to work if you are in sales, but you still need a level of understanding of things. I was fortunate enough that I was taking monetary policy classes, and banking classes, and macroeconomics, and those are the classes where you learn the language of financial markets; what a Central Bank does, and what they actually do to markets, and all of those more idiosyncratic things which at their core are not that complicated, but is just a different language.
Jamie: It’s a competitive and attractive world for a lot of people to go into, right?
Jamie: So then if you want to get into that world, you need to plan and start pretty early?
I think it is probably fair to say that like if you look at career trajectories of people in my role, or similar roles, they are pretty much lifers in the industry, especially if you find success – maybe they did something funky for a couple of years right out of school, but that is even fewer and further between now at this point because of how specialized everyone is getting in college.
Again it depends on whether are you running the money, or whether you are you selling the strategies of the people that are running the money – so there is a little bit of a spectrum. If we are talking sales. I would say the most important characteristics, even if you’re selling mutual funds, are general good salesperson characteristics, such being gregarious, being outgoing, not being scared of failure, capturing people’s attention, being able present things – a lot of that is not really like specific to financial markets. Still, if you can marry the two, that is where you will find the most success.
Jamie: What are the best things about working in sophisticated financial sales?
Owen: I am a little bit of an economics nerd, and like financial markets; I picked that up in college, and I really do enjoy that aspect of it, so I think that helps. Because I am pretty passionate about the things that I am talking about, people are like, “How the hell did you like to speak so adamantly and passionately about short-term corporate bonds?”
Then I like the competitive nature of it. I enjoyed up like sports growing upright, and that is your classic salesperson thing anyway, right, those who played sports and have a competitive as the urge to work as a team. I like being competitive and trying to win, not only against colleagues but also competitors, and I also do like I can have conversations with friends and loved ones about what to do with their money on the side. I like they come to me for that, and I can give them really sound advice.
Perhaps down the line, I will do that for a living on my own, and not have to work for “the man,” but that is also very fulfilling, and I have enjoyed it because I have such a good understanding of the industry and how it all works now that I can help people like that. We are helping people reach their financial goals and retire and live well. If you believe in the products that you are selling and they accomplish those things, that is pretty cool.
Jamie: What is the worst thing about being in this particular industry for sales?
Owen: I would say it is even though it is getting much better and I even though I work for one of the most old-school firms, it is somewhat antiquated and stuffy and patriarchal and bureaucratic and political within firms. I know every company has those aspects, especially with any big corporation, but you have to put the dark suit, white shirt, striped tie -we are selling mutual funds, on top of it all – it does get a little nauseating, and but that is changing rapidly.
I do feel like there are some fat cats at the top of some of the firms in the industry – not all the firms are private but then like if you have been in the industry for 25, 30 years you are getting ready to retire, and you have done well, you do not really have a reason to give a shit about anything anymore. I think there is still a little bit of that. It is funny that a lot of stereotypes are true. I am definitely not blue-blooded, white shoe kind of guy. I can play the part when I need to but not something that I love. I mean it is really hard selling to some of these people that are not salespeople in the industry because some of our reps sell to financial advisors. Financial advisors at their core are salespeople, here in the States.
In general, I do not sell to salespeople, I sell mostly to analysts that are more analytical and in the weeds so to speak. It can be frustrating at times but at the same time when you do break through it is all the more rewarding. It is an extremely competitive industry and the competition is constantly vying for the attention of the people that I am.
Jamie: How do you adapt your sales style to sell to those more analytic people?
Owen: There are a couple of trains of thought like you have we have our truly investments focused people that are best for getting in the weeds on markets and strategies with analysts.
That being said, ultimately their primary focus is not sales and selling, you want them to talk to analysts like that, but and then there is one train of thought that as a salesperson you need to tee it up, you need close it out, you need to direct it, and you can’t just let that happen on its own. What is the proper prep everyone should be aligned, and how do you facilitate that? That is one train of thought, but the other train of thought is, what level can you get yourself to that you can intelligently participate in the conversation, in the discussion to get it to go where you wanted it to go? Which will be a better path and paint a better story, and have a better chance of generating the sale? I lie in that second category; I would rather know more and be able to participate more and prove that I know my stuff too because it builds credibility for you.
Jamie: That means you have to do a lot of prep and work hard to be at that level?
Owen: Yes, right I mean reading, and “staying up on the markets” as we call it; being intellectually curious and never losing that. You always want to maintain that and be learning more and more and more.
Jamie: Would you recommend sales to any person coming out of college, or what criteria would you recommend they look for in themselves?
Owen: I think sales is definitely not for everyone. At 22 or 23, some people’s personalities are better fitted for it than others. I am not saying you cannot change that, but it is hard for me to say that anyone should get a sales job, and learn on the fly, and figure it out. Maybe you should do a little bit more critical thinking and assessment about what would be like the best place to focus your efforts and your skills.
For me, luck definitely played a role. The old CEO and Managing Partner in my firm, she retired in 2018, and she was at Gettysburg College Grad, so they happened to recruit on campus. I did a campus interview and moved along in the process and am still here five years later after graduating, but I think like for any young salesperson, you should be trying to find an organization that values the young talent that they bring in and wants to train and will not give you too much to eat all at once; that will bring you along and teach you what it takes. There is absolutely no chance at 22, right after graduating, after travelling for a month, I would have been able to do what I am doing now. There is just no way that the five years that it took to get to this point could have happened otherwise, and I think that is a testament a lot to the organization – the company you work for and the people that you work for – are they setting you up to grow?
Jamie: Would you recommend a salesperson find a business where they are almost giving themselves a competitive advantage, and both by having been there and learning in that industry?
Owen: I think so. I am a little odd, in that I am 27 and I have only worked for one company since I graduated college like that is that is definitely not commonplace nowadays, but I think the people that
10 years down the line if I have a Rolodex, and I have the technical expertise and a track record, you can take your pick of places you want to go work in this industry and that only happens over time.
Jamie: Tell me about that Rolodex – how have you built it?
I am good at getting pointed at something and going after it. In my particular part of the market, I pretty much know everyone to some extent; leveraging existing relationships my firm and colleagues had, the profiles in our CRM, and linkedin/other ditial tools helped with a lot of the connecting of the dots and helped bolster the network. If the people that are buying mutual funds for banks in the USA are in your Rolodex and you have a relationship with those people, those relationships don’t just disappear because you have moved on into a different role or to a different firm or vice versa and your relationship makes changes.
Creating durable relationships is first and foremost about having high emotional intelligence, being empathetic and connecting on a human level. When relationships go beyond just being transactional and business-related, they last longer and are more mutually beneficial.
Jamie: How else can you get into such a competitive industry?
Owen: I do not think there is a lot of ways in. At our firm, we have this one role that if you are grad, you get hired into it. It is not like an analyst, it is a little different; you are an internal salesperson, you work with external salespeople, and it is the “farm” of talent for the firm. A lot of people get hired right after school and start in the summer, but there are plenty of people that are one or two years into their career, and they end up in that part of the organization. It would definitely be working against you if you did not have immediate prior sales experience. I have seen people come from all different kinds of sales jobs by industry, not only the finance industry.
Jamie: So maybe you should worry about your second job rather than your first?
Yes. I do not think you can wait too long, but I would agree that if you want to get into financial sales and you have sales experience, and you do not have any, even if that is the exact industry that you want it that is probably fine for a few years.
Jamie: What is the biggest piece of advice you would give to aspiring salespeople?
Owen: You have got to be fearless. You cannot get in your own head too much. You have got to just keep moving, and if you fail, you got to keep moving and try again; I think that is probably the most important thing. You just cannot be scared to put yourself out there and meet people and ask questions and do things you have never done before because that is what is going to distinguish you and that is how you are going to learn.
If you are working for a bigger organization, find like executive sponsor as soon as possible. Get some people that are senior and have influence, get them invested in your career.
I think it is super important because that is who ends up giving you opportunities. It’s a little bit of pecking order, in corporates, so right away you have got to get people signed on and want them willing to help you out.
Jamie: Any advice on how to get those execs invested in you as soon as possible?
Owen: I was lucky that I was putting a couple of situations delivering presentations interviewing for roles within the company that certain people liked. They liked what they saw, and they wanted me a part of whatever it was that they are doing. I am not very good at disingenuously attaching myself to people that are higher up just for the sake of doing so, but there is an element of that that I know I have to get better at. Some people are really good at doing that; just finding that little thing about someone that you can be your window of opportunity to begin a relationship with them, whether it is the CEO of the company or middle-level manager – those are the little things you have to be looking for.
Jamie: If you had your career to this point again, what would you do differently?
Owen: I would be less apprehensive in putting myself out there in front of senior partners of the firm or executives. I would be less apprehensive and less so thinking that their time is too important. Networking internally; I would have liked to have started that more deliberately and earlier.
Jamie: Can you tell me about a time when you did not make a sale, and it was really painful, but you learned something?
Owen: One of my medium-size clients, they were already doing business with them, but I need to cross-sell them, to prove that we were making progress with the relationship. It was three years in the making to finally get them to finally say, “Okay, we will start buying this fund,” and that was an amazing feeling it happened awesomely – my boss was silently on a call I was doing with them, and they happened to announce it on that call that they were going ahead and turning on access to another fund of ours.
For a long time, I felt like I was getting lied to by the guy because it was a lot of “No we are going to do it, we are going do it, we are going to do it.” Almost to the point where I was like, “Screw this; I am done wasting my time with that, I need to spend it elsewhere.” A three-year sales cycle is pretty ridiculous, but what was rewarding – so that is a little bit more of a positive one actually.