Working as a financial planner, also called a personal financial advisor, provides an opportunity to work directly with clients and businesses to navigate the foundational principles of personal finance.

Financial planners advise their clients on how to achieve their financial objectives. Some financial planners provide comprehensive planning services without offering recommendations, while others offer both planning and transactional services.

Financial planners often work in a larger investment or insurance company, but there are some who operate independently. Regardless of the service structure or environment in which they work, all financial planners have a similar job description.

Key Takeaways

  • A financial planner, or financial advisor, works directly with clients and businesses in order to help them navigate the world of personal finance.
  • Financial planners assist their clients in achieving their financial goals, from saving to investing to retirement planning.
  • Financial planners typically work for large investment or insurance companies but can also operate individually outside of a corporation.
  • The education requirement to become a financial planner is not stringent. Typically, a bachelor's degree is enough; however, an MBA and further certifications help in landing jobs.
  • Financial planners do need to complete licensing exams depending on their area of focus, such as Series 7 and Series 66.

Job Description

Financial planners work with individuals, families, and businesses to help these clients understand their financial circumstances and how to reach their short-term and long-term financial objectives.

The clients provide relevant financial information during an initial interview, answering questions about their total annual income, debt obligations, monthly expenses not related to debt, current investment holdings, savings account balances, tax liabilities, and insurance plans. Financial planners analyze this information and present realistic, meaningful recommendations based on their clients' financial situations and goals.

Financial planners discuss many personal finance topics with their clients, including debt management, savings objectives and strategies, and personal and family budgeting. They also discuss investment strategies, estate planning considerations, protection planning through insurance, and retirement accumulation and distribution tactics.

Financial planners may provide tax efficiency information, but they do not typically deal with tax returns. A financial planner working with a business or an institutional client may analyze and provide guidance on topics such as cash flow, projected revenue, debt management, or employee benefits. Each of these aspects plays a role in an individual's or business's overall financial well-being, so financial planners may have a substantial impact on a client's financial future.

Prospecting, which is the process of finding new clients, is a substantial part of a financial planner's job. It often involves networking with other established professionals, such as Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) or estate planning attorneys. Financial planners can also attend and make connections at social or charitable events. The prospecting process ensures financial planners cultivate relationships with their clients, thereby keeping their retention rates high.

Education and Training

The financial planning career path does not require any formal higher education, but a bachelor's degree is recommended. A graduate-level degree such as a master's of business administration (MBA) with a focus on finance or marketing may prove beneficial to an individual who wants to establish a financial planning firm. However, an advanced degree is not required for success.

Financial planners must also hold certain licenses to provide advice and implement specific securities- or insurance-related transactions. Securities licenses often include the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) Series 7, which tests knowledge of the securities industry and certain investment-related transactions, including the sale of variable annuities, options, government securities, municipal bonds, and corporate securities.

A FINRA Series 66 license may also be required, which is the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) exam. Each FINRA license has continuing education requirements to maintain good standing with the regulatory body.

Additional certifications may help advance a financial planning career. For example, the financial industry and prospective clients hold the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) designation in high regard. A bachelor's degree, an intense six-hour exam, and continuing education are required to earn a CFP designation.

Skills

Successful financial planners quickly build strong relationships with their clients. Establishing connections with others is necessary for both the networking and client retention aspects of the career. Similarly, clients have to trust that their financial planner has their best interests in mind.

Financial planners thrive when they have a deep knowledge of and passion for personal finance. Several factors play a part in creating and implementing a financial plan, and a financial planner must be well-versed in financial topics. Additionally, financial planners must be able to meaningfully interpret their clients' financial data. The most successful financial planners can analyze and retain a substantial amount of information.

Salary

Financial planners in the United States earn an average base salary of approximately $67,775, according to Glassdoor, as of July 2021. However, most of a financial planner's annual income comes from a combination of fee-based planning services and product commissions, such as the sale of investment securities, annuities, life or disability insurance, and mutual funds or exchange-traded funds (ETFs). According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2020 (the most recent data available), the total compensation for a financial planner ranged from roughly $44,100 to more than $208,000.

The median annual wage for a personal financial advisor in 2020 was $89,330.

A financial planner who works for a larger investment firm or insurance company may earn a lower commission payout than one who runs their own firm. However, the benefits of profit-sharing plans, health insurance subsidies, and education reimbursement can offset the lower commission payout over time.

The Bottom Line

Financial planners help individuals to reach their financial objectives, including saving, investing, and retirement planning, which can be a rewarding career. To become a financial planner, an individual needs to demonstrate knowledge of the industry and personal finance, and demonstrate social skills.

The education requirements to becoming a financial planner are not high, having a bachelor's degree will suffice, while higher degrees and certifications help in building a stronger career.

Depending on the region a financial planner works in and the type of company, the salary can vary widely; however, in most cases, being a financial planner can be a lucrative career.