About five years ago, the complaint was common: "I've got my diploma-a degree in personal financial planning-but I can't find meaningful work in the financial services industry. Owners of independent firms won't let me interact with clients, and the wirehouses just stick me in a room with a telephone."

Now there are signs of change (among independents, anyway). New jobs have emerged that are more to the liking of these young, would-be advisors, and even more important is that attitudes have changed within the ownership class. Veteran firm owners have been told repeatedly by practice management consultants that their people are their most important assets, people whose care and feeding is essential to everyone's growth. And they've been told that the success of their firms will coincide with the success of the individuals who make it up-from the principals on down to the lowliest paraplanner and administrator.

Yet, not all is hunky-dory; it's merely improved. Young graduates still sometimes ask for more money than advisory firm veterans are willing to pay, and owners still have their newest entrants doing menial work-at least part of the time.

So to see how far apart these two groups really are, I conducted an experiment. With the help of Deena Katz, a principal at Evensky & Katz of Coral Gables, Fla., and an associate professor at Texas Tech University, I paired three soon-to-graduate Texas Tech financial planning students with three veteran firm owners to see how far apart they would be in a silent negotiating process. The three students were each shown the Web site of these prominent advisory firms to learn about their owners, personnel and client services, and the students were then asked to chart their own ideal career paths were each to go to work for his or her appointed firm. The business owners were then shown the résumés of their selected students and directed to design career paths for those individuals within their companies. Salary offers and expectations were part of the deal.

Here's what we learned.

Alex Carracedo is fairly typical as one of today's young university-trained advisors. At 23, he's attained his bachelor's degree in business administration and finance (from Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas), he's interned in a few planning shops, and he'll soon graduate from Texas Tech University in Lubbock with a Master of Science degree in personal financial planning. The firm we assigned to Carracedo was John Henry McDonald's Austin Asset Management in the Texas capital.

"I knew of the firm before," says Carracedo, "and had been very impressed with it. I met Eric [Hehman, Austin's CEO,] at one of the Austin FPA's annual career days, and wouldn't mind having him as a mentor."

Hehman is young himself. In fact, ten to 15 years ago he was just Carracedo: an aspiring planner, new to the industry, who was trying to identify the right firm to work for and get his start in. Carracedo noted how encouraging it is to see younger planners enjoying high-level responsibilities within advisory firms.

How would Carracedo see himself progressing in a firm like McDonald's? "I'd see myself having a paraplanner role first ... getting exposure to the entire firm." Does that mean he expects to interact with clients from the start? Says Carracedo, "Many students want that interaction immediately, but realistically I can see that Mr. McDonald has worked hard to build his firm and probably doesn't want to expose his clients to someone in my position right away. I would expect to have some kind of interaction with clients after three to four years."

As a paraplanner, Carracedo sees himself working in the back office and assisting teams with client support. "After four to five years, I would see being a financial planner, working with some clients and maybe bringing in some clients. At the seven-to-eight year point, I would want to know if I'm en route to being a partner or having an ownership stake ... after I've proven myself."

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