Investment firms enjoyed a banner year in 2014, successfully retaining their top sales and marketing executives, but this year will severely challenge those trying to attract new talent, according to a white paper released Thursday by the Kathy Freeman Co.

The national retained executive search firm’s Sixth Annual Executive Survey of investment industry sales and marketing leaders found that 82% of respondents stayed with their firm in 2014.

Indeed, fewer executives changed jobs last year than at any time since 2009.

According to the survey, respondents stayed with their current firm because they were able to make a positive contribution and their compensation remained attractive.

Still, 58% said they would consider a new opportunity in 2015.

The paper said this was good news for firms that could present attractive opportunities with strong offers, and problematic for smaller ones that wanted to grow but had limited resources.

The paper recommended that firms lock in top performers through compensation plans offering long-term rewards, and that they demonstrably acknowledge these employees’ contributions.

The Kathy Freeman survey was conducted in the fourth quarter among currently employed executives with an established career in a senior sales, marketing or client-facing capacity with financial services.

“This year will be a very challenging recruiting year, particularly in light of the continued talent shortage in 2014,” Kathy Freeman Godfrey said in a statement.

“In 2015, the recruiting advantage may finally swing back to the larger firms that have the resources to offer the bigger jobs at more compelling compensation levels.”

Sellers’ Market

The survey found that 60% of respondents had enjoyed increased compensation in the past year, while compensation had remained the same for 30%.

The paper said employers should be prepared to pay a lot to attract new executive talent, as most potential recruits would require a double-digit hike in compensation along with some form of equity.

The recourse for smaller firms is to be creative by articulating the importance of the position to both the firm’s success and the individual’s career.

Sixty-three percent of respondents said equity had become a more important priority to their total compensation package today than it was five years ago.

Candidates want to benefit from their firm’s increasing value, given the rise of financial markets, the paper noted.

It said equity should be part of any compensation package whenever this was possible. Alternatively, a profit-sharing plan could demonstrate a firm’s willingness to share the upside of its business.

According to the paper, respondents showed a robust confidence in the marketplace. Seventy-six percent said the job market was “slightly” or “much” better in 2014 than in 2013.

Further, 82% expected their firm to hire more executives in 2015, and 85% rated their firm’s ability to attract talent as “good” or “very good.”

As to the biggest challenges to finding talent, 24% said their firm was not paying enough, and another 24% said that not enough strong talent was available.

The paper recommended that firms not invest much time in candidates before establishing early in the interview process the individual’s compensation expectations and whether that lined up with the firm’s budget.

The paper said 2014 data had confirmed the importance of leadership. Respondents expected their leaders to lead more effectively, and indicated there was much room for improvement.

“If your business plan includes hiring, your offer must meet higher expectations this year,” Freeman said.

“Executives want it all — more responsibility, career growth, a synergistic cultural fit and highly competitive compensation. Without a complete package, they probably won’t make a move this year.”