Degree Fields
State Portals
Industry Options
Precollege Ideas
Academic DegreesCareer Planning
University Choice
Diversity & WomenCornerstone News
Site Search / A -Z

Bookmark and Share


Securities, Commodities, and other Investments

Industry Overview
The securities, commodities, and other investments industry comprises a diverse group of companies and organizations that manage the issuance, purchase, and sale of financial instruments. These instruments—often called securities—are contracts which give their owner the right to an asset or the right to buy or sell an asset in the future. Companies sell these financial instruments to raise money from investors to finance new business operations or to improve or expand existing ones. Investors purchase these instruments with the goal of earning money by earning dividends, interest, executing the agreement, or selling the security at a higher price.

Another type of security is called a derivative. There are two basic types of derivatives: options and futures. An investor who holds an option has a contractual right to purchase or sell an asset at a set price on a specified date, but is not required to do so. A futures contract is an agreement to purchase or sell an asset at a set price and date with no option to decline. For example, commodities such as corn, wheat, and pork bellies are often bought and sold in this way and are among the best-known derivatives. Other goods sold on the derivatives market include foreign currencies, precious metals, oil and natural gas, and electricity. Buyers purchase derivatives with the hope that the price of the asset involved will be higher than the agreed price when the contract matures.

Mutual funds and exchange traded funds (ETFs) are also common investments. In both cases, the issuing firm owns a large portfolio of other securities which, on average, are expected to increase in value. In the case of mutual funds, this portfolio is typically managed by a team of financial analysts who determine which stocks to buy and sell; however, some mutual funds are not actively managed and are instead designed to track a benchmark index, such as the Standard and Poor's 500 or Dow Jones Industrial Average. ETFs, which also are made up of baskets of stocks, are almost always designed to replicate a stock index. ETFs can be traded like stocks, unlike mutual funds. Because both of these types of securities require management, the companies who issue them charge a fee. Investors are willing to pay this fee because mutual funds and ETFs have a lower level of risk than other securities.

Besides selling securities, segments of the securities industry also sell advisory services. Investment banks, for example, help companies to plan stock or bond issues and sell them to investors. Securities and commodities exchanges, on the other hand, provide forums for buyers and sellers to trade securities. Private banks and investment advisories help individual investors to determine how to invest their money.

Industry Organization
The securities industry is organized by the types of products and services they produce. Investment banks help corporations to finance their operations by underwriting—or purchasing and reselling—new stock and bond issues. They also provide advisory services to companies who are issuing securities or undergoing a merger or acquisition. The typical investment bank has several departments, each of which specializes in a specific part of the process. Corporate finance specializes in structuring stock and bond issues. They are often involved in initial public offerings (IPOs) of the stock of companies that are selling to the public for the first time. Mergers and acquisitions departments help companies plan and manage the purchase of other companies. Sales and trading departments work together to sell underwritten securities to investors. Research and quantitative analytics departments specialize in studying company financial reports to help the bank and its customers make informed decisions about stock purchases.

Securities and commodities exchanges offer a central location where buyers and sellers of securities meet to trade securities and commodities. All of the major exchanges have largely been computerized, but the trading floors are still very active. While a small number of workers at the exchanges are actually employed by the exchanges themselves, most of the people who work there are actually employed by other firms. These include investment banking and brokerage firms, as well as specialist firms that manage the sale of securities for listed companies.

Brokerage firms trade securities for those who cannot directly trade on exchanges. Investors place their buy and sell orders by telephone, online, or through a broker. Since most brokerage firms are fairly large, many orders are filled by other buyers and sellers who use the same brokerage. If the stock or commodity is sold on an exchange, the firm may send the order electronically to the company's floor broker at the exchange. The floor broker then posts the order and executes the trade by finding a seller or buyer who offers the best price for the client. Alternatively, the broker can access an electronic market that lists the prices for which dealers in that particular security are willing to buy or sell it. If the broker finds an acceptable price, then a purchase or sale is made. Firms can also buy and sell securities and commodities on electronic communications networks (ECNs), which are powerful computer systems that automatically list, match, and execute trades, eliminating the floor broker.

Brokerage firms are usually classified as full-service or discount. Investors who do not have time to research investments on their own will likely rely on full-service brokers to help them construct investment portfolios, manage their investments, and make recommendations regarding which investments to buy. Full-service brokers have access to a wide range of reports and analyses developed by financial analysts who research companies and recommend investments to people with different financial needs. People who prefer to select their own investments often use discount or online brokerages and pay lower fees and commission charges. Discount firms, also known as wire houses, usually do not offer advice about specific securities, although they often provide access to reports. Most brokerage firms now have call centers staffed with both licensed sales agents and customer service representatives who take orders and answer questions at all hours of the day.

Investment advisory firms are also included in this industry. Like full-service brokerages, these firms provide advice to their investors on how to best manage their investments. However, they also provide advice on other matters, such as life insurance, estate planning and tax preparation. In exchange, advisors act as brokers and receive fees and commissions for investments and insurance purchases. They may also charge fees for consultations.

Portfolio management firms, such as mutual funds, hedge funds, and private banks manage a pool of money for investors in exchange for fees. This frees individual investors from having to manage their own portfolios and puts their money in the hands of experienced professionals. In a mutual fund, this pool of money comes from investors who purchase shares of the mutual fund. Hedge funds are similar, although their shares are only available to certain experienced investors—called accredited investors—as they are considered very risky. In private banks, the pool of money comes from a wealthy individual. Portfolio management companies have teams of financial analysts who determine which securities should be bought and sold.

Recent Developments
The securities, commodities, and other investments industry has been strongly affected by the financial crisis and recession that began in December 2007. As U.S. housing prices began to decline in 2006, home refinancing became more difficult. Simultaneously, a growing number of adjustable rate mortgages began to reset at higher rates, which made it difficult for homeowners to pay their new, higher monthly mortgage payment. These two factors lead to a dramatic rise in mortgage delinquencies and foreclosures, which resulted in mounting losses for financial firms that invested in or owned mortgage backed securities. Some firms suffered larger losses than others because they made riskier mortgage loans or owned mortgages concentrated in areas of the country with the largest housing price declines. As a result, some firms became insolvent, and many others were forced to consolidate with other stronger banks.

Employment
The securities, commodities, and other investments industry employed 858,100 wage and salary workers in 2008. With their extensive networks of retail sales representatives located in branch offices throughout the country, the large nationally known brokerage companies have the greatest share of jobs in the industry where they operate the majority of establishments. Most, 76 percent, of the establishments in the industry employ fewer than 5 workers. However, many of the industry's jobs are in the headquarters of major firms. About 1 in 4 workers in the securities industry is located in the New York metropolitan area.

Working Environment 
Long working hours, including evenings and weekends, are common in the securities industry. About 1 in 5 employees worked 50 or more hours per week in 2008. Even when not working, professionals in the industry must keep abreast of events that may affect the markets in which they specialize. Opportunities for part-time work are limited—only about 8 percent worked part time, compared to 16 percent of workers in all industries combined.

Hours vary greatly among the different parts of the industry. Investment banks, for instance, are known for requiring extremely long hours from their entry-level workers. Portfolio management companies also require long hours for their workers. In contrast, workers in many brokerages work standard 40 hour workweeks or less. Workers in jobs that are closely attached to the market do most of their work while the major exchanges are open between 9:30 am and 4 pm, but this is changing as after hours and international trading are becoming more important.

Work environment. Most workers in the securities industry enjoy comfortable office environments. Investment banks are known for their exceptionally long hours and the stressful work environment. They are often under great pressure to meet deadlines and generate new business. This is often balanced, however, by large salaries. Some jobs require extensive travel, especially in corporate finance and mergers and acquisitions departments. Most investment banks strongly emphasize teamwork, and as such they often promote socialization among staff members. Because customer relationships are so important, investment bankers often get to take their clients to exclusive restaurants, sporting events, and other privileged places.

Brokerage jobs vary greatly depending on the type of brokerage. Those working in full-service brokerages tend to have comfortable office environments where they meet with clients and make sales calls. They may travel for training, conventions, or to meet with important clients.

During the day, sales agents spend most of their time on the phone soliciting business or with customers. Sales agents at brokerage and mutual fund companies increasingly work in call centers, opening accounts for individuals, entering trades, and providing advice over the phone on different investment products. This is almost exclusively true in discount brokerages. Although many simply respond to inquiries and do not actively solicit customers, others may be required to contact potential clients. Call centers also employ customer service representatives, who answer questions for current clients about their accounts and make any needed changes or transfers. All workers in call centers must maintain a professional and courteous attitude and work well under pressure. Many call centers operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and employees may be required to work evenings and weekends.

Traders, whether on the floor of an investment bank, brokerage firm, or at the exchanges, work in very loud, frenetic, and stressful environments. They not only take orders from clients and try to get the best price for them, but also must constantly keep an eye on market activity and stay in touch with other traders and brokers to know what prices are being offered. Trading jobs are very stressful because a mistake could potentially cost the firm or the client thousands or even millions of dollars.

Personal financial advisors work in professional office environments. Most work between 40 and 50 hours per week, but many accommodate clients by visiting them at their homes in the evenings or on weekends. Office and administrative support workers usually work a 40-hour week, but overtime may sometimes be necessary.

Portfolio management companies, like investment banks, are often very high-stress, high-pressure places to work. As with most parts of the securities industry, timing is critical and opportunities can be missed quickly. Compensation and job security are usually tied directly to performance.

Industry Forecast
The securities, commodities, and other investments industry should experience average employment growth between 2008 and 2018, but competition for jobs in the industry will be quite keen.

Wage and salary employment in the securities, commodities, and other investments industry is projected to rise 12 percent from 2008 to 2018, compared to the 11 percent increase across all industries. Employment growth will be driven by increasing levels of investment in securities and commodities in the global marketplace, as well as the growing need for investment advice. However, projected growth rates are expected to be more moderate than in the past due to the financial crisis.

Over the projection decade, the baby boom generation will move from their peak saving years to their first years of retirement. This may continue to boost the stock and bond markets, as well as mutual funds and investment advisory as retirees look for reliable investments.

Another factor contributing to projected employment growth is the globalization of securities and commodities markets—the extension of traditional exchange and trading boundaries into new markets in foreign countries. Recent developments, from the rapid growth of Asian economies to the merger of the New York Stock Exchange and Euronext, will continue to make Americans more eager to invest abroad and, at the same time, encourage investors in other nations to purchase U.S. securities.

Online trading will grow and reduce the need for direct contact with actual brokers, but the number of investment advisors is, nevertheless, expected to increase as many people remain willing to pay for the guidance that a full-service representative can offer. Employment of personal financial advisors is also expected to increase rapidly. As the complexity of financial planning grows, individuals will continue to look to experts to help them manage their money.

Financial analyst positions are also expected to grow rapidly. Globalization and the growth of developing countries will provide a multitude of investment opportunities, and financial analysts with knowledge of foreign accounting standards and economies will be needed to examine these investments. Furthermore, the growth of mutual funds, hedge funds, and other large-scale investments will continue to create jobs in this occupation.

Advances in telecommunications and computer technology will continue to shape the industry as companies look for faster and more secure ways to perform tasks. Computer software engineers and network systems and data communications analysts will continue to have important roles in this industry as trading and the recordkeeping that supports trading become more automated.

Tempering growth in the securities, commodities, and other investments industry, however, will be the substantial stock market losses of 2008. Financial compliance is a rising concern for companies, as various scandals have impacted the industry over the past several years, resulting in large scale losses for many companies and individual investors—some who may never return to investing. While the merger of NASD with NYSE Regulation creating FINRA should provide some relief for companies, the amount of oversight from both private regulators and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) continues to increase. This may lead to greater employment of financial compliance specialists, while investment bankers, top executives, and sales representatives are not expected keep pace with industry growth. Many office and administrative support occupations also are expected to grow more slowly than the overall industry because firms will continue to reduce costs and become more efficient through automation.

Furthermore, the financial crisis may result in more retirement savings being managed by the retirees themselves because most companies have moved from defined benefit plans—such as traditional pensions—to defined contribution plans—such as 401(k) programs and Roth IRAs, plans that often do not require professional advice.

Despite projected employment growth in the securities industry, keen competition is expected for most jobs, largely reflecting the recent financial crisis in which many firms incurred massive losses, were forced to consolidate, or in a few cases, became insolvent. Jobs in the upper echelons of the industry, such as investment banking and fund managing, that have extremely high earnings will particularly be difficult to enter. Jobs in exchanges also will be difficult to obtain as the number of applicants is expected to greatly exceed the relatively few positions available. Positions at regional securities firms and brokerages may be somewhat more accessible.

Prospects will be best for graduates from 4-year degree programs from nationally recognized universities and colleges. Companies value a background in accounting, finance, and economics. Successful completion of a recognized internship program may also be very helpful to beginners. Earning a Master's of Business Administration degree or one of the professional certifications recognized in the industry have become increasingly important assets for both job opportunities and advancement.

Related Degree Fields

Professional Associations/Other Resources

Note: Some resources in this section are provided by the US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.
 


Science
Technology
Engineering
Mathematics
Computing
Healthcare


Students
Counselors
Teachers
Parents
Graduates

      AboutContactsCopyrightMedia SupportSubscriptions