It's almost exactly four years since the financial crisis began to erupt. On March 21, 2007, the Dow Jones Industrial Average stood at 12,278.73, as the first indications that the subprime mortgage market might crater had surfaced. On March 21, 2011, the Dow closed at 12,039.10, a mere difference of 1.95%.

And, as markets come back, nearly half of the nation's mutual fund executives say they are satisfied with the pay they are earning.

In the first annual Money Management Executive Compensation Survey, 40% of executives, managers and operations leaders polled said they are satisfied with the salary and bonus they are earning, while 6% said they are very satisfied.

By contrast, 17% indicated they were not very satisfied and 5% not satisfied at all.

The survey, conducted for Money Management Executive in February and March by Lodestar Research of Princeton, N.J., aggregated responses from 171 different executives at North American fund firms.

The average size of the firm was 2,239 employees; half the companies had more than $50 billion under management; and one-fourth of respondents were either chief executives, presidents, other C-level executives or board members.

 

UP AND UP

Both salaries and bonuses are increasing, four years after the outset of the crisis.

The average salary of the managers and executives surveyed by Money Management Executive in 2011 is $151,900. That is up 5.4% from the average of $144,100 the respondents reported for 2010.

That indicates that pay increases are picking up speed. Over the three years from 2007 to 2010, salaries increased only 9.9%, according to the respondents. The average pay in 2007: $131,100.

Bonuses are gaining steam, topping the 2007 level , at this point.

For 2011, the executives and managers surveyed indicate they expect their bonuses to work out to 44.0% of the size of their base salary.

That is 2.1 percentage points higher than the 41.9% of base salaries in 2007 that the respondents said they received.

And it is 5.2 percentage points higher than the 38.8% of their base salaries that the fund managers and executives said they received in 2010.

Which leads to the kinds of satisfaction reported, broadly and specifically by the respondents, who were not required to provide their identities for publication by Money Management Executive.

"I believe my compensation is fairly reflective of the value I provide to my company and the effort that I put into my job," said one satisfied executive. But the proof that satisfaction may be up simply because the entire financial services industry has been through the wringer in the past four years was perhaps best summarized by one respondent who indicated satisfaction with total compensation earned even though "sometimes pay is withheld."

 

LOW IS HIGH

Notably, the most satisfied group were those individuals on the lower end of the ranks of the fund firms surveyed.

More than half-52%-of the managerial and staff respondents said they were either satisfied (49%) or very satisfied (3%).

By contrast, only 46% of senior vice president, executive vice president, vice president and equivalent titles were satisfied (38%) or very satisfied (8%).

And least satisfied? Those in the C-suite or on a board of directors. Forty-four percent were either satisfied (35%) or very satisfied (9%).

This is unusual, in part, because of the wide gap in compensation between managerial and staff respondents and the executive and board-level respondents.

Base pay for managerial and staff workers averaged $80,500. On average, they expected bonuses of about 24.6% of their base pay, or $19,800.

By comparison, the C-suite and director respondents reported base salaries on average of $181,700 and an expected bonus of 37.5% of their base pay, or $68,137.

The biggest earners? Those who expected the biggest bonuses, which included the sales executives that rank as senior vice presidents or similar titles. They expected base pay on average of $184,400-and bonuses of 63% of that, or $116,172.

The level of satisfaction of some respondents indicated that expectations had been lowered by the tough financial times experienced by fund firms and the financial industry as a whole.

"I believe I am worth considerably more," said one respondent. "However, with the economic conditions, I consider myself fortunate to have a job."

 

HALF FULL

But sometimes, the lack of satisfaction depends on how you look at the water in the glass. One respondent who was "not very satisfied" indicated that compensation was "too low" because not enough of it was "performance based," while another in the same category said pay was "too low" because too much of it was "skewed toward the incentive side."

The most dissatisfied executives felt that their compensation scheme did not match their roles-or that the economy simply made it tough for small companies to compete with rivals of greater size.

The "secular depression of the financial industry has created extreme hardship on small firms to compete with large established firms that can check off all the boxes in due diligence,'' when vying for talent, said one executive.

The responses came from companies evenly spread along the size spectrum. Seventeen percent of respondents worked, for instance, for firms with $501 billion or more under management, while 22% worked for firms with under $500 million under management. About 18% worked for firms with between $6 billion and $50 billion under management, while 21% worked for firms with $101 billion to $300 billion under management.

High-level respondents were a large portion of the survey, with 27% or 39 of the 146 respondents classifying themselves as executive management. About 20% or 29 of the respondents were in sales, another 12% or 17 in marketing, and the rest spread among customer service, technology, compliance and functions such as product development or fund accounting.

On average, the respondents had worked for their present firms for 7.9 years and in the money management business for 13.7 years. Thirty-three percent had master's degrees and 7% had doctorates.

 

ALLOWING FOR PERKS

The biggest perk?

Vacation. Eighty percent, or 102 of the 128 respondents who indicated the benefits they received, said they got four or more weeks of vacation.

Also ranking high, at 79%, was a company matching contribution to a 401(k) retirement plan.

After that, the most widely received benefit was some form of profit-sharing, given to 37% of respondents. In an age of more and more defined contribution plans, instead of defined benefit plans, though, 29% or 37 of the respondents said they were in line to receive a pension.

Only 12% said they were allowed to travel in the first-class cabin for their companies, when moving about for business. And only 9% said they were entitled to no-deductible health insurance.

And only one respondent reported having a private jet allowance.

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