It's A Horrible Time For Wall Street Traders, But One Mid-Size Firm Is Trying To Be A Life Boat

It’s tough on Wall Street right now, especially for the men and women who’ve built their careers in the bond market. Trading volumes and volatility are very low, and heads are already rolling.

But there are some safe places to land. Mid-sized firms, less encumbered by post-financial crisis regulation are taking this opportunity to take on the big banks in specific sectors where they see weakness.

That’s why Oppenheimer has been snapping up bond traders, salespeople and researchers left and right.

“As money center banks continue to have conflicts, we continue to benefit across the firm,” said Rob Lowenthal, a senior managing director and head of fixed income for Oppenheimer. “We have no plans of how big we want to get but, we can continue growing.”

This is what that growth has looked like so far; Trading desks in London, New York City, Tel Aviv and Hong Kong; a quintupling of revenue from the fixed income sector; high net worth, middle market, and tier one institutional clients; and (this is key) monthly “transparent” pay.

And of course on Wall Street “transparent” means competitive enough to make it worth a top employee’s while.

Right now, word is that — if the pay is right — a research role in this sector could get you a base salary of $US125,000-$150,000 with a nice bonus upside. A research sales or sales trader could see a $US200,000 base plus a bonus and stock options.

Not that anyone on Wall Street likes to talk specifics about things like that.

“Those at large banks don’t necessarily know how they’re going to get paid and it usually only happens once a year,” said Lowenthal. “Our model is strictly commission based… paid out monthly, and paid in cash — not in stock. The frequency and the form of the payment makes for a very transparent compensation discussion.”

And so the bond vets have gone over — from MetLife, from Fitch, from Jefferies, and from Citigroup to name a few. They picked up a bunch of taxable fixed income hired from Merrill Lynch, too. Hires tend to come from referrals.

In other words, it seems like if you’re on the life raft, you can pull some of your best colleagues up with you.

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