What Is the Career Path for a Financial Planner?

Financial planning is a career that offers significant earnings potential and excellent prospects for job growth. The median pay for a personal financial advisor in 2019 was $87,850. More than 271,000 people were employed as financial planners in 2018, a figure expected to rise 7% annually through 2028.

Financial planning is a fairly new niche in the field of investment professionals. Up until a few decades ago, you were more likely to receive financial advice from a stockbroker, banker or insurance salesperson. Today, financial planners help clients piece together all parts of the financial puzzle.

Key Takeaways

  • Financial planners work closely with clients to help them build an investment portfolio to secure a comfortable future financially.
  • Most financial planners have a bachelor's degree in a finance-related field or a humanities degree that emphasizes interpersonal skills.
  • Many financial planners also attain Certified Financial Planner (CFP) or Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) accreditation.

Requirements to Become a Financial Planner

A bachelor's degree in a finance-related field is a typical starting point, but some firms also hire graduates in the humanities such as psychology majors. A financial planner requires the ability to build trust with clients, explain complex financial products in lay terms, and obtain client buy-in for a plan of action. Interpersonal skills are often considered more important than detailed knowledge of mutual funds and trading strategies.

A Master of Business Administration (MBA) might help a financial planner climb the corporate ladder toward a management position. Occasionally, you might see doctorates in finance-related fields among managers, but MBA holders are the most common.

Annual wages top six figures for financial planners working in New York, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Certification

Many financial planners obtain accreditation. The gold standards are the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) and Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA).  For accountants, a similar accreditation is the Certified Public Accountant (CPA).

To obtain CFP certification, candidates must hold a bachelor's degree and complete courses on financial planning through a CFP Board Registered program. They must also complete 6,000 hours of professional experience related to financial planning, or 4,000 hours of apprenticeship experience that meets additional requirements. The exam itself is a 170-question test administered over two, 3-hour sessions.

Candidates must also prove themselves to be a worthy fiduciary capable of serving client interests at all times. All applicants must agree to a detailed background check before the CFP is awarded.

The CFA is often considered a tougher accreditation to obtain than the CFP. It requires four years of experience and the completion of three grueling exams. Either certification significantly improves your employment prospects.

There is also the Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC) certification. This program does not require a bachelor's degree, but it is recommended. Candidates must complete eight courses in subjects such as insurance planning, income taxation, planning for retirement and estate planning.

Licensing

While financial planning does not technically require licensing, some financial planners elect to obtain licenses such as the Series 6, Series 7 or Series 63 from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). This enables them to sell stocks, bonds, mutual funds, insurance and whatever else the client may need. These licenses may require membership in self-regulatory organizations.

Career Path

Since all of the major certification bodies require a few years of industry experience, most financial planners start out in junior positions working part- or full-time while completing their studies.

After obtaining certification, the financial planner can take clients without supervision. Salaries vary by region, with financial planners in New York, District of Columbia, Illinois, Connecticut and Massachusetts among the highest paid. Most financial planners also receive annual bonuses and/or profit-sharing that can easily be in the five-figure range.

$87,850

The median annual wage for personal financial advisors in 2019.

Many financial planners are content to remain in their roles, moving to higher net worth clients and higher compensation levels. A senior financial planner at a large firm can earn a six-figure base salary with a matching annual bonus with a relatively low-stress work situation.

Some financial planners prefer to become self-employed after completing their certifications. Since the cost of doing business is basically the price of a small office space, many find the earnings potential higher than regular employment at a finance firm. The key to independence and self-employment is to build a network of contacts and a stable client base.