Career Advice: Financial Planner or Wealth Manager

If you're looking for a lucrative career, you may want to consider going into the financial services industry. You can find a variety of opportunities here—one that fits your skill set and future goals. It's a very rewarding sector to work in, whether you're looking for financial compensation or if you just love helping people.

Two paths you may want to consider are as a financial planner or as a wealth manager. Both have basic similarities, but there are definite distinctions between the two. Keep reading to find out more about these two careers and whether one of them may be right for you.

Key Takeaways

  • Financial planners primarily assist people with lifestyle planning.
  • Wealth managers primarily offer services for high-net-worth individuals and ultra-high-net-worth individuals.
  • An education in finance or other related discipline is required for both careers, while designations and credentials can help boost your reputation.
  • Becoming a financial planner or wealth manager requires interpersonal, math, and analytical skills.

Financial Planner vs. Wealth Manager: An Overview

The definition of financial advice is extremely broad. The type of advice given, along with the products offered and the types of clients served, determine whether you are considered a financial planner or wealth manager. Financial planning and wealth management represent subsets of financial advising.

Financial planners primarily assist with lifestyle planning. This includes budgeting, cash flow planning, and saving for college and retirement. Though a financial planner's client list may span the income gamut, most are middle-class people who have a strong need to make their money go as far as it can.

Wealth managers, by contrast, provide services needed primarily by high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs) and ultra-high-net-worth individuals (UHNWIs), such as capital gains planning, estate planning, and risk management.

A key difference between financial planners and wealth managers is that wealth managers manage literal wealth, while financial planners manage the finances of everyday clients who want to get ahead.

Both careers attract bright young finance professionals from top colleges and universities, and each career has advantages and disadvantages. For example, financial planning jobs are more abundant, but wealth management jobs typically pay more. Financial planning firms are more likely to take a chance on a recent graduate with no experience, but wealth management firms tend to offer better hours and come with less stress.


Most successful financial planners and wealth managers possess at least a bachelor's degree. But earning one from a top-ranked school, such as the University of Chicago or one of the Ivy Leagues, provides an advantage over the competition.

Beyond that, individual firms within each industry set educational requirements for potential hires rather than state or federal licensing boards. Some wealth managers are licensed attorneys or certified public accountants (CPA), though neither are requirements for the profession. Fewer financial planners have these designations, but they never hurt.

Aspiring financial planners will want to get a certified financial planner (CFP) designation. This requires passing a comprehensive exam that covers specialties in financial planning such as real estate, portfolio management, and tax planning. A CFP designation is a huge asset on your resume, and if you go into business for yourself, clients love to see it.

Wealth managers can also pursue several designations to beef up their resumes and convey confidence and expertise to clients. Perhaps the most prestigious is the chartered wealth manager (CWM) designation. Before trying for this designation, you must have five years of verifiable experience in the industry.

Skills Needed

Although you may consider becoming a financial planner or wealth manager because of your math skills or a knack for the markets, your sales ability is much more important to your success. As a rookie, it is doubtful your employer will hand you clients to work with—particularly the kind of high-net-worth clients that make people wealthy in these professions. So your first order of business as a financial planner or wealth manager is to pound the pavement and build up the names in your Rolodex.

If you are not sociable, a natural people person, and an insatiable networker, the odds are stacked against you. Being good with people is the single most important skill for almost anyone under the broad umbrella of financial advising.

Apart from sales ability, you must love the markets and enjoy keeping up with them around the clock—no matter which path you choose. Finance is more fast-paced than ever, and clients demand financial planners and wealth managers who are high-energy and stay ahead of the curve.

If you choose wealth management, having a strong natural market of HNWIs, while not a necessity, certainly makes life easier during the early years of your career. Finding HNWI clients is tough—getting them to trust you with their vast wealth when they don't know you and you lack experience is even tougher. Wealth management can prove more lucrative than financial planning for candidates with strong connections.

Starting Salary

Salary is somewhat of a misnomer, given the majority of income from either career comes in the form of commissions. Firms typically offer small base salaries to get you through the early months of building your book of business. In exchange, you are expected to hit sales targets. If you are unable to do so, your employer is not likely to pay you to warm a seat for long.

The average annual income for wealth managers was roughly $99,000, according to Glassdoor. For financial planners, the average is $71,000. However, a huge gamut of data comprises these averages, and—depending on performance—your income could be much higher or much lower.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary in the financial advising field—which includes financial planning and wealth management—was $94,170 in 2021. The top 10% in this field earned more than $208,000, while the people in the bottom 10% earned less than $47,570.

Job Outlook

There were 330,300 jobs in 2021 in the financial advising field, according to the BLS. But that number is expected to grow in the 10-year period between 2021 and 2031 by 15%, which is much faster than the average growth projected for other professions.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that demand for financial advising jobs will increase between 2021 and 2031 because of an aging population and longer lifespans.

The subcategory of financial planning tends to track closely with the trend for financial advising as a whole. Wealth management, by contrast, enjoys explosive growth when the economy booms, but it contracts more than financial advising as a whole during down economies.

Work-Life Balance

You can expect some long hours working as a financial planner or wealth manager. Young financial planners, in particular, spend a lot of time on client acquisition during the early years of their careers. The sales aspect of the job alone could exceed 40 hours per week.

Aside from that, you still must service your clients and track the market. Wealth managers also must devote time to building a book of business. Because they manage so much money per client, however, it takes a smaller client base to become successful. On average, a wealth manager enjoys a better work-life balance than a financial planner.

The Bottom Line

Both careers require the same skill set. Remember, you must be able to sell, you must love the markets, and it helps to be good with numbers. If you have a robust natural market of HNWIs, you may want to lean toward wealth management, as you will have an advantage few young professionals enjoy, and wealth management provides the best opportunity to exploit it and become successful quickly.

If your natural market is not so robust, financial planning is a much easier field to break into. If you persevere through the difficult early years and build a substantial book of business, you can enjoy a successful career.

Article Sources
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  1. Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards. "The Certification Process."

  2. Global Academy of Finance & Management. "Chartered Wealth Manager."

  3. Glassdoor. "Wealth Manager Salaries."

  4. Glassdoor. "Financial Planner Salaries."

  5. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Personal Financial Advisors, Pay."

  6. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Personal Financial Advisors."

  7. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Personal Financial Advisors, Job Outlook.”

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