Last Updated Mar 23, 2010 5:35 PM EDT

The business of managing other people’s money has
taken a beating since the implosion of Lehman Brothers and near death of other
Wall Street institutions. Many gun-shy investors have pulled their savings from
the big firms, which are href="">battling
to keep their wealthiest customers. As a group, the major firms lost an
estimated $189 billion in assets in 2009, according to research firm Cerulli
Associates—a trend that’s expected to continue.

That’s been the story on Wall Street. Elsewhere in
the country, it’s played out a quite differently.

Just ask Barbara Leonard, a financial advisor at
Houston-based Siska Group, where business has been booming. Siska’s
assets under management grew 28 percent last year and are expected to gain
another 50 percent in 2010. “Clients are beginning to peek out of
their hole and look around for change, either in the way their assets are managed,
getting a second opinion, or by finding a new advisor,” says Leonard. £

Translation: Independent financial planners are sitting on a
huge career opportunity.

With the Baby Boomers on the verge of retirement and still
wary of Wall Street, many are turning to smaller shops for the kind of
attention usually only reserved for the super wealthy. “While
brokers have been going independent for years, 2009 will likely be looked back
on as a watershed year for the movement,” says Michael Durbin,
president of Fidelity Institutional Wealth Services. Fidelity and Charles
Schwab, which both provide consulting and trading services for independent
shops, say they helped a record number of broker teams start independent
businesses in 2009. The upshot:£ Independent financial advisory firms
gained an estimated $50 billion in assets last year and are still£ growing,
according to Cerulli Associates. Says Leonard, “I’m not
even close to slowing down.”

Leonard, who’s 64, didn’t get into
advising until she was in her late 50s, after stints teaching elementary
school, running a softball park and breeding standard poodles. In 2003, she
joined Siska, which was then strictly an accounting firm. Within a year, she
had her Series 7, and Series 63 and 66 licenses, allowing her to give financial
advice as a registered representative. She started managing just $5,000. Today,
she handles $10 million.

Most of her customers are about her age. Baby Boomers, the
generation with the most time logged in the working world and the most savings
in the bank, were the hardest hit from the financial crisis and its aftermath.
Even so, they still have plenty of money, and that’s creating
opportunities for wealth managers, financial advisors, and asset managers of
all stripes. Employment in the field is projected to grow about 29 percent
through 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

And while Leonard and her ilk are grabbing customers fast,
Wall Street is adapting, with many firms — including Bank of America’s
Merrill Lynch unit and Morgan Stanley —building up their wealth
management businesses. That, of course, only creates even more career
opportunities for the finance professional on the move.

More in The Coming Boom series:

The Upside of an Aging Population — Plenty of Great Jobs

Smart Grid: Where Green Tech Is Serious About Hiring

Skilled, Well-Educated Workers Wanted (and Not Just the Science Geeks)