Adding it up: Financial services hiring is increasing across North Texas

Scott Nishimura

It’s not hard to find companies hiring in financial services industries in North Texas. Population growth, volatile and confusing markets, and savers’ concerns about whether they’re socking away enough for retirement are among factors that are helping push hiring forward for firms that deal in investments. The area’s strong business base, including in oil and gas, is helping push hiring in accounting. The economy’s upswing has boosted business valuations and divorce among some firms’ principals, driving a surge in the valuation business for the Fort Worth accounting firm Whitley Penn.

“One hundred percent of the accountants with a five-year degree and a 3.2 get hired,” Larry Autrey, the firm’s managing director, says. Whitley Penn, which built a four-story headquarters on Summit Avenue and West Seventh Street near downtown in 2007, has grown to 127 people in Fort Worth from 40 in that time, Autrey says. Today, he’s packing employees in. The firm has 120 employees in Dallas. Autrey says he wants to get 190 each in both offices. “I would think in three years, we’ll be full,” he says. In the Fort Worth building, he’s creating more office space by taking in part of the first floor and losing a third-floor training room. In the near-term, he said he expects to hire 50 graduates out of college, with entry salaries at about $55,000. He also has openings for six to eight experienced staff, an oil and gas tax manager in Fort Worth, audit managers, and the expert witness and business valuation staff. The firm’s position between the industry’s largest firms and smaller local ones suits Whitley Penn, Autrey said. “Most of us came out of the big international firms,” he said of the firm’s principals. “We’ve got the resources of the international firms without the cost structure.”

Services to public companies, oil and gas, and business valuations segments are growing, Autrey said. The labor pool is strong, but so is demand, and the firm extends its reach to schools in Texas and Oklahoma to find recruits, Autrey said. The local oil and gas industry represents a strong retention challenge, he said. But Whitley Penn’s regular appearances on “best places to work” lists help, he said. The firm owns a site adjacent to its Summit building that it could develop, but Autrey says the firm would have to lease part of the building out, and rents aren’t strong enough to justify new construction – yet. He says the firm thought about pursuing the nearby Chesapeake Energy office tower when it was for sale, but decided against it, because of the estimated cost of refitting the fancy offices into something more befitting accountants. “I’m going to pack this one in,” he says of the Summit building. “Hopefully, in the meantime, rents will come up.” At Edward Jones Investments in Fort Worth, Jake Richter, an 8-year financial adviser and volunteer recruiter, makes regular appearances to tout the firm’s hiring posture. In Tarrant County today, the firm has 100 financial advisers, Richter said. “We’d like to see that triple by 2020,” he said. Why the interest? Edward Jones research, he said, has identified more than $200 billion in liquid investable assets in Tarrant County. “A large percentage of people are sitting on the sidelines,” he said. A good number may have changed jobs, he said. “Nobody’s helping them look after” their money. The firm looks for candidates with three years’ work experience and a “track record of improving their circumstances,” Richter said. For people it recruits, it pays for licensing and costs of setting them up in business and puts them on a three-year track with a salary that gradually reduces.

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By tradition, veteran advisers transfer some of their new accounts to new advisers who have reached certain qualifications, but the firm is seeking to formalize that, Richter said. “Once new FAs reach certain qualifications, our goal [in Fort Worth] is to not have any advisers start out at nothing,” he said. Fidelity Investments, whose regional campus is in Westlake, has about 300 positions open for hiring today, Tom Herrick, senior vice president, workplace investing and Fidelity’s Texas regional co-leader, said in an interview. Fidelity has 5,700 employees in the region today, up from 5,400 in August last year and 4,800 the year before, Herrick said. Financial services professionals who work with individual clients and technology professionals are the big concentrations of hiring, Herrick said.

The financial services professional jobs are largely entry level. Fidelity looks for recruits who want to learn markets, the economy and financial concepts and “have a real burning desire to get to know customers,” Herrick said. Salary is $35,000-$40,000 to start, with a 7 percent 401(k) match and profit sharing match of up to 10 percent. Herrick attributes growth in the segment to clients’ confusion over the markets, how much to save and what to do with money they’re inheriting. And the ongoing decommissioning of pension plans continues to drive employers to seek the advice of financial services on what they can do with their benefits plans, he said. “Fidelity is a very trusted brand,” he said.