One of the most popular questions I get goes something like this: "I'm really good at making investments and want to become a personal financial planner. How do I get started?"
The real answer in most cases is that you don't have to do much of anything except decide you're a financial planner and hang out your shingle. With some exceptions, most states and the federal government don't set any standards for what a financial planner must know before he sets out to help others get their fiscal houses in order.
However, if you opt for accreditation, you'll need to take classes and pass an exam. It's up to you where you take your classes and exam. Some entrants into the field go directly to large employers such as Edward Jones or American Express, where they receive training and go on to take one of the exams offered by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.
Others seek a degree from one of approximately 285 colleges and universities that offer preparation for the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards' Certified Financial Planner exam. Those who get the CFP designation, which requires three years of qualifying full-time work experience, promise to follow a set of ethics and meet continuing-education requirements. In addition, you might decide you want to be a Chartered Financial Consultant. You can earn this credential by enrolling in a program offered by The American College in Pennsylvania.
Some fee-only financial planners belong to the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors. There are also those who earn commissions by selling financial services and are typically called financial advisors.
The Fastest Road
The quickest route into the field is to sign on with a financial services company. One example is investment firm Edward Jones, which hires both recent college graduates and mid-career professionals looking for a change. Chris Gilkison, general partner for sales hiring and market analysis at Edward Jones, notes that all of the company's successful applicants share a demonstrated commitment to intense training and a long-term business plan. All new unlicensed hires go through a four-month program and then more training after they pass the exam.
Recipe for Success
There are many opportunities for rejection along the way to becoming a financial planner, but those who are likely to succeed in this field love both sales and investment planning.
"They have to like the business they're in, and part of that is sitting down and putting together a diversified portfolio to solve the customer's needs," says Gilkison. "You have to be energized by that. But if portfolio modeling is the only thing you're interested in, you're probably not going to be successful at this, because you have to be able to establish rapport to have enough customers to succeed."