You can make decent money as a stockbroker. And as entertaining as the movies "Wall Street" and "Boiler Room" are, you don't have to engage in all sorts of nefarious activities to be successful.
The median pay for stockbrokers and other sales agents who sell securities, commodities and other financial services was $63,780 in 2017, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
That's a good cut above the median pay for all workers in the U.S., which stands at $50,620.
And if you are ambitious and driven, you have the chance to make far more than that. The top 10% of the field pulls down a median pay of $208,000, which, to state the obvious, means the top 5% makes more than this.
In a story that spans both Hollywood and real life, Chris Gardner is an example of the success some brokers can achieve. Worth tens of millions of dollars today, Gardner rose from homelessness on the streets of San Francisco to running his own Chicago brokerage after winning a trainee position at Dean Witter Reynolds. Until he was able to earn a decent living, Gardner lived in a homeless shelter with his toddler son, something he was careful to make sure his colleagues didn't know about.
Gardner's life story can be seen in the 2006 hit movie starring Will Smith, "The Pursuit of Happyness."
How to Become a Stockbroker
Here's what it takes to get started as a stockbroker and the best places and companies in which to practice your profession.
Get your credentials
First off, you'll need a bachelor's degree, and a major in finance probably doesn't hurt. A summer internship is a good place to try and get a foot in the door - eventually you will need to get hired by a brokerage or other firm registered with FINRA (Financial Industry Regulator Authority) which, in turn, will agree to sponsor you for the state licensing exams you'll need to pass to become a broker.
You'll need to at least get your Series 63 license, which deals with basic ethics and related issues, as well as your Series 7, which allows you to sell stocks and other securities except for futures and commodities.
Work really, really hard
Not everybody is cut out to be a stockbroker. No, you don't have to be recklessly ambitious like Bud Fox, the junior stockbroker in "Wall Street," who crosses all sorts of legal and ethical boundaries as the protégé of Gekko, a ruthless corporate raider modeled after Carl Icahn, Ivan Boesky and J. Tomilson Hill. But you do have to have a gift for gab, a knack for sales and relentless determination to court and recruit customers and build a book of business. That can mean lots of work in the evenings and on the weekends, either meeting with clients or cold calling and organizing events to recruit new ones.
One in three people in commodities, securities and financial services sales work more than 40 hours a week, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The first five or ten years can be the toughest for new stockbrokers as they build up a portfolio of customers with assets to invest. That can mean coming to the office hours before the market opens and staying three to four hours each night cold calling prospective customers or putting on seminars and other marketing events. Summing up, the life of a stockbroker is far from a 9-5 gig where you take home the same paycheck, week after week, with the occasional raise. How much you make hinges on your hustle and the commissions you generate.
Pick the right sector
Brokers who work directly for firms that focus on the sale of securities, commodities contracts and "other financial investments and related activities" earn a median salary of $96,550, according to BLS. About 43% of stockbrokers work for these firms. Working as a stockbroker for a bank or other lender, where another 43% of brokers work, is a bit less remunerative, with a median pay of $47,260.
Metro Markets with Top Stockbroker Salaries
New York, and specifically Wall Street, is the best major metro market for stockbrokers looking to make the most money possible. While specific numbers for New York City aren't reported to BLS, New York tops the list of states with the best median pay for brokers, at $162,550. The New York metro market, which includes chunks of Connecticut and New Jersey, also has the highest concentration of brokers and other financial services sales agents, at 59,110, or 8.83 per thousand, according to BLS.
You'd never guess whose No. 2 on the pay list, though: Muscle Shoals, Alabama, which has two music studios that have produced a series of hit records since the 1960s. Thirty brokers and other financial sales people work in Muscle Shoals and other small towns in the area, making median pay of $141,210. The wealthy New York suburbs around Stamford, Conn., are No. 3 on the pay list, at $141,070, and fairly high up in terms of the number of brokers and other financial sales people (4,180).
Other surprises: Oklahoma City's 740 brokers and financial sales folks pull down median pay of $121,400, while in Jacksonville's 2,740-member contingent makes $118,520.
Top states for broker, financial services sales:
New York ($162,550)
Rhode Island ($130,040)
Outlook for Stockbroker Jobs
There were 375,700 brokers and other financial services sales people gainfully employed in the U.S. in 2016. That number is slated to grow by 6%, to 398,000, by 2026, a bit slower than the 7% BLS has projected for all occupations. Automation is expected to be drag on job growth in the sector.
That said, stockbrokers can still earn decent money in a job that, for the very ambitious, can be a springboard to even great things. Among those who got their start on Wall Street as a stockbroker is TheStreet's very own Jim Cramer. Cramer worked for three years at Goldman Sachs in the mid-1980s before leaving to start his own hedge fund, later launching TheStreet in 1996.
Happy stock picking!