Remember the spring of your senior year of college? There was the scramble of career fairs and interviews, the pressure to write resumes while juggling the usual crush of exams, and all your parents’ friends asking if you’d found a job yet. And there were a zillion questions swirling in your head: What kind of job should you look for? What companies should you interview with? How could you improve your chances for a successful career? What should you expect during your first year on the job? How would you know the right offer when it came along?
Right about now, a crop of 22-year-old financial planning majors across the country are standing in the middle of their dorm rooms, surrounded by a sea of cover letters, job postings, and pizza boxes, scratching their heads over these very questions. To get answers, we could have asked industry graybeards to hand down pearls of wisdom from their leather-backed chairs. But we decided we’d get a more accurate perspective by asking young planners who successfully joined the field only a few years ago themselves–planners like 25-year-old James Manjane of Chicago, 24-year-old Kathryn Kurre of Columbia, Maryland, and Raj Choksi, 30, of Atlanta.
If you’re young or simply new to the profession, the following profiles should answer some of the career questions that have been keeping you awake at night. If you’re an experienced planner aiming to hire a fresh-faced grad (or wondering if you should), these stories will help you understand what today’s young planners are looking for in an employer and how they might successfully fit into your firm’s future. And even if you’re not looking to hire, read on: These profiles cast a light on the changing nature of your own profession, and you’d do well to pay heed. These young planners are young and sometimes idealistic, but they’re also smart and tech-savvy, and they hold college degrees in financial planning–degrees that didn’t even exist when many of the industry’s pioneers got their start. They’re not sidling in from another field and struggling with transition; they knew by the time they graduated that they wanted to be a financial planners, and they’ve jumped in with both feet.
And yet each of the three has chosen a different path in the pursuit of a successful financial planning career: One founded his own firm, another works for a mid-sized RIA, and another works at a trust bank with 8,000 employees.
JAMES MANJANE, The Trust Company Approach
James Manjane was three years into an electrical engineering degree at Texas Tech University before he discovered that ohms and amps weren’t much fun after all. “I liked numbers, but I also wanted to work with people, and you don’t do that very much in engineering,” he says. He lost almost a year’s worth of credits by changing majors, but by the time he graduated in December 2000, he knew he’d made the right choice.
Thanks to the Texas Tech program’s internship requirements, Manjane stepped off the stage at commencement not only with a diploma, but also with hands-on experience at two separate financial services firms, Northern Trust of Chicago and CFP & S of Lubbock, Texas. The internships gave him an edge over other job applicants at many firms, but particularly at Northern Trust, since the firm’s employees had already had an opportunity to see him in action during his internship. The Chicago firm hired Manjane immediately after graduation in 2000, and he’s been there since.
Besides the obvious foot-in-the-door factor, the 25-year-old Manjane says he benefited from his internships because they allowed him to dip a toe in different kinds of financial services work before plunging into a long-term position. “Internships allow you to weed out what you think you’ll like doing from what you’ll actually like doing,” he says. “When I came up here for my internship, working on the corporate and institutional side sounded like a great idea, but when I came and saw what was actually involved, I found out it wasn’t something I would have wanted to do for more than those few months.” Realizing this, he made contacts in other departments at Northern Trust. When he returned as a full-time employee, he joined the private banking department instead, and about six months ago transferred to the financial planning department.
The short-term nature of internships lends itself to experimentation, so try out all different kinds of firms while you’re still in school, says Manjane. He has certainly taken his own advice, since his two internship providers differed in size by 7,993 employees. “Once you get out of school and take a job, now you’re away from your professors and contacts, and it’s very difficult to switch,” he says. “At school, you might have four, five, six companies come to interview you right on campus. Once you’re out, you don’t have that luxury anymore.”
Manjane says he finally settled on a large firm over a small firm because Northern Trust “offered such a broad base of products, and I figured I would gain a broader understanding of financial planning because of it.” Still, he notes, a smaller firm with fewer resources might offer other advantages, such as the opportunity to wear many hats and take on more responsibilities earlier.
While it might have been tempting to stake everything on his internship brownie points and interview only with Northern Trust for a full-time position, Manjane interviewed with firms across the country. He made a conscious effort to search out firms that worked with different clienteles that appealed to him. “You should pick groups that you could see yourself working with for a long time, or that you could bring a certain perspective to–like if your family owned a small business, you could be an asset to a firm that works with small business owners,” he says. Interestingly, Manjane also suggests interviewing with companies that compete with each other. When Manjane was interviewing with Northern Trust, he was also in conversations with State Street Bank. “It’s not that you want to pit one against another,” he says, “but I think if they’re both in the same local market, it can work to your advantage.”
Once a new position is secured, begin trolling for a mentor, he adds. You don’t have to do a nationwide search; in fact, the likeliest mentors are people right under the same roof at your new firm. In Manjane’s case, it was a seasoned veteran of the private banking industry who seemed interested in helping the young man gain new experience. Once he gained his mentor’s trust, he was allowed to meet directly with clients and even take the lead on certain cases–an unusual amount of responsibility for a new hire in the private banking department. “Find someone who is seasoned in the industry and latch on to them and learn as much as you can from them, even if they’re not working directly with you in your department,” advises Manjane. “That person can teach you a lot, and can also be your biggest fan.”
Because he receives a straight salary, Manjane doesn’t have to worry about the roller-coaster income stream that many new planners struggle with. As he moves up in the department, he’ll continue to receive a base salary, but will become eligible for bonuses based on the fee revenue generated by his clients.
While working in private banking, Manjane had no trouble with clients’ raising eyebrows about his youth. “In banking, you don’t really get ‘Jeez, this guy’s young!’ because you’re the one that’s underwriting the loan they want. They’re asking you for something,” he says. Now that he’s in financial planning, however, “they have the money and you’re trying to tell them what to do with it,” he says, so it’s possible they might be more inclined to object to his age. He can’t say for sure, though, because he hasn’t had the opportunity to meet with clients yet.
Fearful that clients will react negatively to a youthful planner, Northern Trust’s financial planning department (the department Manjane transferred into six months ago) keeps neophyte planners behind the scenes for some time before coming face-to-face with a client–and if there were one thing Manjane could change about his current job, it would be this. At present, Manjane spends most of his time generating financial plans and researching mutual funds and stocks, and no date has yet been set for his first meeting with a financial planning client. “Client contact is something I really have my eye on,” he says. “Because once you know how to generate plans, you know how to generate plans. It’s coming up with solutions and working with people that’s the exciting part–and that’s the part that I haven’t had the opportunity to do yet.”
Manjane says that some of his peers at other firms face similar frustration at having to wait for face-to-face client contact although they feel they’re ready. Part of the problem, he suggests, may be that industry veterans don’t realize what’s being taught in financial planning college degree programs, and thus underestimate what young planners already know by the time they show up for their first day of work. “When [the older planners] were starting out, there weren’t specific degrees to teach you financial planning, so I think they feel like you have to go through this long process before you can be in front of clients,” he says. “And I don’t necessarily think that’s accurate.”
KATHRYN KURRE, The Mid-Sized RIA Option
Kathryn Kurre is the kind of person you have nightmares about meeting at your college reunion. In the two years since she graduated from Virginia Tech, she has landed a job in her chosen field, passed her CFP certification exam, joined a rowing team, and run not one, but two, marathons. She’s well-spoken and polished; unfortunately, she’s also friendly and down-to-earth, so her old classmates can’t even have the satisfaction of disliking her.
Like Manjane, the 24-year-old Kurre (pronounce “curry”) started her college career aiming to become something other than a financial planner: She wanted to be a veterinarian. At the end of her sophomore year as a biology major, however, an advisor gave a speech to one of her classes about financial planning. “I thought, ‘Hey, that really sounds like something I’d like to do,’” she says, “‘since I’d get to work with people but also be in the business field as well.’”