The financial planning profession has grown exponentially in the past few decades, and the Subprime Meltdown of 2008 substantially increased public awareness of the need for sound financial advice. Many planners and firms are responding to this trend with increased mobility, online support and other forms of technological assistance. These innovations have allowed a small but growing number of financial planners to carve out a new niche in their profession by working from home, either part or full time.
Although this trend is growing in many other areas such as the travel industry, it has been slower to take hold in the financial community because most clients require a level of personalized service and advice that has traditionally been available only through face-to-face contact. But technology has reached the point where planners can work effectively with clients online and provide advice and information via phone, IM and video chat. The number of websites that allow clients with relatively simple financial situations to enter their information and receive personalized recommendations and advice is growing rapidly along with the array of products and services that these sites provide.
A New Opportunity for Planners
Planners who choose to work for firms that offer online advice will most likely still have to spend at least some time in an office, but in many cases this arrangement will allow them to avoid the daily nine to five grind. Anyone who has the proper licensure and credentials just needs a computer and a space to work at home in order to conduct business. Some planners will meet clients in person by appointment for an introductory meeting and then communicate with them via phone or online from then on, while other planners work exclusively from home and may never see the majority of their clients in person, depending upon their firm's policy.
Some planners may also be able to meet with clients directly in their (the planners') homes if they have the means to create a separate office and meeting area at their residence. Of course, working from home has always been an option to some extent, but in times past this generally required a regular commute to a central office to deliver paperwork and accomplish other tasks; while this is still sometimes necessary, new data-sharing technology such as Dropbox has made it much easier to transmit and share documentation electronically.
Companies with Online Options
Many websites that offer online planning either allow or require their clients to upload most or all of their financial accounts and information into a sophisticated proprietary planning or budgeting program that allows the planner to see the client's entire financial picture at a glance. This level of technological transparency greatly reduces the amount of time that planners traditionally had to spend gathering and entering their clients' financial information. Clients who provide all of their information properly through this channel can often receive immediate feedback from the planner on certain topics. Some of the websites that offer these services include:
Begun in 2009 by Alexa Von Tobel, this site caters to a female clientele and boasts its planners' ability to empathize with clients while they learn how to break bad financial habits and form new ones. One of its chief goals is to simply provide a user-friendly platform from which women can start to take control of their finances. Customers can use the site's My Money Center platform to view all of their finances at a glance. Those who sign up get a free initial consultation with a Certified Financial Planner® Practitioner as well as a monthly newsletter. Learnvest provides personalized, unbiased advice for a fee and does not offer money management services of any kind.
Personal Capital (www.personalcapital.com)
Bill Harris launched this website in 2011 in an effort to provide effective money management for clients with $100,000 to $2,000,000 to invest. Personal Capital provides a turbo-charged indexing investment program and assigns a personal advisor to communicate directly with each client. Clients can also link all of their financial accounts together on the online financial dashboard. Time Magazine rewarded the company for its effort to integrate financial planning into a digital platform by naming the site one of the 50 best websites in 2012. A basic membership is free and personalized advice and money management are priced very competitively.
This site is dedicated to offering comprehensive, convenient and affordable financial planning services to the middle class. It strives to align its clients' finances with their life goals using a philosophy they call Full Life Financial Management. The free membership includes an initial financial assessment plus access to the online learning center. Premium memberships provide premium articles and learning tools and 90-day Fitness Track programs. Clients who opt to pay for personalized advice automatically receive a free Premium membership as well.
Compensation and Benefits
Planners who work for companies like NestWise and Learnvest are usually paid either by the client or receive a salary. And while most planners are still expected to market themselves in their sphere of contacts, substantial leads are typically provided on a regular basis. But the benefits of this niche go beyond dollars and cents; some sites offer 24/7 access to a financial planner, which could be an attractive option for those who enjoy working nights. As with other work-at-home jobs, this alternative could also appeal to planners with young children. Mothers who left their financial careers to care for young children may be much more able to fit this type of arrangement into their schedules than a traditional adviser position, and this option will most likely pay considerably more than most other work-from-home alternatives.
The Bottom Line
Now may be a good time to begin exploring the possibility of working as a planner from your home. This fledgling niche in the industry is likely to mushroom in the next few years, as several of the sites that use offsite advisors have plans for substantial expansion. For more information on working as a financial advisor from home, visit the websites listed above or contact the Financial Planning Association.