If you are interested in becoming a professional advisor, the bad news is that there is no school that provides financial advisor training .
But don’t be discouraged. I’ve noticed about successful professionals that may surprise you:
1. Don’t start off in this as a side job. It is full time work. You need 100% focus .
2. Knowledge is very important – but other skills are far more important.
3. You can start your training without spending a dime.
This subject really requires more than one post, but let’s just start off with the basics of what goes into financial advisor training.
1. Before you get started, be clear on why you want to be in this business.
Do you love helping people? Do you already understand how money works? Do you find that others are naturally drawn to you for financial advice? These are all great indicators that you are headed in the right direction.
If, on the other hand, you simply want to make more money and see this career as a way to do that, I suggest you reconsider. Oh sure…you can do really well in this industry. But if all you want is to make lots of money for yourself, you’ll probably fail. Clients are smart. They’ll see right through you. If you want to know how to make a business successful, focus on your clients. This is an industry built on trust and respect. If you lose either, you might as well go home. Done. Game over. Insert quarter.
Don’t do all the work to try to build a business with greed as your foundation. It will crumble. I’ve seen plenty of people who are much smarter than I am fail for that reason alone.
Get it? If you are just trying to make a buck…this job ain’t for you.
2. Decide how you want to work.
If you love buying and selling stocks and you’re good at it – become a stock broker. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. You’ll work on commissions (probably) and start off at one of the major stock brokerage firms.
If you prefer to help people make smart decisions about their finances and talk about their overall financial situation, you’ll want to become a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ Professional eventually. It takes a while to actually complete this course of study, so you might as well start sooner rather than later.
This training, while providing a good foundation, is not sufficient. You’ll need more – but I’ll get to that. Also, don’t wait to launch your career until you become a CFP. You can start immediately and work on the CFP certification on the side. People don’t only choose a financial planner based on them having the certificate.
3. Background You’ll Need
Money concepts should come easily to you. One way to get this ability is to launch your own very small business. Being self-employed is the best classroom you could find.
When I was 16, I started painting address numbers on curbs for a company that paid me $2 for every curb I painted. I had to do the selling and the painting and I also paid for the paint. After two days I realized that I had all the risk and was doing all the work, so I quit. I went out and bought my own stencils and launched my first business. I bought my first car with the money I earned painting address numbers on curbs. I also learned invaluable lessons about the value of a dollar and how to run a business.
What can you do on your own? It doesn’t matter how small the business is…just do something on your own. It’s a great way to learn.
You can also acquire this skill by working for a small company. It doesn’t matter what company it is or what they do. Just get in with a small company that will give you the opportunity to work really hard and advance. You want to get as close to the owner as possible. You want to see how she thinks. How she makes decisions. What she values. This will help you understand how your clients think (even if they aren’t small business owners) and it will also help you run your business later on.
Get as much work experience as you can. This will be much more valuable than anything you learn in school or how much money you make in the short run. Trust me on this one.
4. Education and Licenses
In a perfect world, you’ll have a bachelor’s degree in business with an emphasis in accounting or finance. You could also have a degree in economics. If you are smart and money concepts come easily to you, you’ll do just fine with any degree…but either way you must have excellent communication skills.
Could you be a financial advisor without a 4 year degree? I suppose. But very few firms will hire you and fewer clients will trust you with their life savings if you haven’t demonstrated the ability and commitment to get your undergraduate degree. If that describes you, there are other jobs you can get without going to college. They are out there. Don’t worry.
But while we’re on the subject of education, I need to tell you that formal education (even the advanced certification programs) are, for the most part, admission tickets and little else. Your background and experience are going to be much more valuable to you as you advance your career. You need the formal education just to get in to the game.
As long as you are in school, get as much writing and public speaking experience as possible. Take as many business writing courses as you can. Join groups and clubs that give you the opportunity to practice and improve your written and oral communication skills. This is the very best advice I can give you.
As far as licenses are concerned, it depends on which direction you go in. If you decide to become a stockbroker, you’ll eventually need to get a securities license and pass an exam known as the Series 7. This allows you to buy and sell stocks and mutual funds for commissions. In my day, you had to get a broker/dealer to “sponsor” you before you could take the test.
That being the case, if you decide to become a stock jockey, don’t sweat it. The firm that hires you will set you up with study materials and exam dates. It’s not a big deal.
If you become a financial advisor, you’ll still need to pass some exams if you want to sell financial products. The Series 6 allows you to sell mutual funds. If you also want to sell insurance, you’ll need an insurance license, which is offered by the state you live in. You have to study and pass some tests, but don’t worry about that either. Your firm will arrange these for you.
You could also become a Registered Investment Advisor. It’s a completely different career path. They don’t work on commissions at all. I’ll cover that in a different post.
5. Your First Job
There is a narrow list of companies that hire rookies, but don’t get discouraged.
Insurance companies and the major stock brokerage firms will take you, but be advised – they’ll probably want you to make a list of 100 people you know and then tell you to go sell something (anything) to them.
Many banks and credit unions hire financial advisors with little or no experience. That’s exactly what happened to me. I certainly recommend talking with the banks about opportunities.
If you do go this route, be patient because things have changed since I was a rookie:
1. They may force you to work your way up. In fact, they may start you as a teller then move you to new accounts before allowing you to work as a financial advisor. If your bank works this way, plan on spending a year (at least) before working as a financial advisor.
2. The second problem is that many banks like you to sell junky annuities.
Mutual funds and other long-term investments subject clients to risk. Bank clients don’t usually like risk. They are used to having little or no risk in fact. That’s why the banks sell annuities. Fixed annuities don’t have market risk and they pay fat commissions to the bank. A win-win for the bank but a lose-lose for your clients. If your would-be employer asks you to sell annuities to clients, I’d look for another employer. As you may already know, I think annuities stink and I can’t think of many people who should buy an annuity.
In summary, be clear on why you want to get into this business and have a clear direction in mind. That will help decide what training you need. You can get much of the background you need by simply working in a small business. The formal education you need is the least important element. You’ll learn most of what you’ll need by simply getting in there and doing it. Your first job will require lots of sacrifice and hard work, but over the long run it will be worth it. At least that’s what I’ve found to be the case.
If you are a financial advisor, what other tips would you add?
When I first discovered your site, I was discouraged. I was an ex mortgage Account Executive who was mourning the death of my career. I loved my job dearly…and I loved my company even more. That company had an outstanding training program which taught me about mortgage lending. Through underwriting loans, I learned how to analyze financial statements. I absolutely loved working in finance.
Since I’ve visited your site last, I’ve finished up my degree. Problem is: it is a Creative Writing degree. You see, I had so many units in my old major that I didn’t want to start all over and spend four years in school working on my undergrad. So, I went to a great online school that accepted all of my units. Within a year, I was done. Now I have a degree that while I feel it is better than no degree at all, I am still ashamed of. I don’t think I will be given an opportunity to work in Finance with a Creative Writing degree. I’m wondering now if I should have bitten the bullet and started all over as a business (or business related) major. Currently, I am taking business foundation courses and I love them; however, I am really taking them because I am trying to hide my Creative Writing degree. I have decided to work on my MS in Finance. I am desperately seeking a way to show employers that I cannot just write, but I can count too! Also these courses feel like home to me; I enjoy them immensely.
Do I stand a chance of being taken seriously with a MS in Finance?
Neal Frankle, CFP ® says
You have nothing to lose. And you’ll succeed if you are determined. I am 100% sure of this! Let me know how it goes!
Hunter Hayden says
I’ve read about five articles from your blog. I am 22, fresh out of college and living at home with my parents with no bills and no debt. My father is a financial planner with 25 years of experience and I’ve grown up looking over his shoulder and helping out in the home office. We plan on working together for the next 10-15 years then he would like to retire and hand the business over to me. He mostly works with teachers and state employees in the bay area and has about 60-70 million under management. He has built his business around some of the same core values as you. He puts the clients above himself and has learned most of his financial management skills from managing his own finances. I trust my father more than any man I know and feel very grateful to have such an opportunity to learn from him and be able to help people plan for their future. I learned the basics of the tax code from working at H&R Block this past tax season and I have a degree in Advertising. My dad recommends I go for the insurance license, series 7, then CFP.
What would you be thinking if you were in my shoes?
Why do you hate annuities? My dad sells a ton of them and thinks they are great.
Neal Frankle says
Thanks and I am happy you have such a wonderful role model.
If I were you I would take public speaking courses and read everything I could find on finance from reputable people.
I dislike annuities because I don’t think they are a good long-term investment. Thanks and wishing you all the best!
Thank you for the article. It does sound very similar to what I have read about Merrill. I work for a large bank and am currently a vault teller. I do extremely well in sales and am regularly top for our region. The career path I would have to follow would be to be a platform associate (account opening/maintenance) for 3 years.
Is there another way I could pursue a career as a financial advisor that you know of?
Neal Frankle says
In your shoes, I’d go interview at other banks who are more forward thinking.
I am considering a career in financial advising. I just graduated with my bachelor’s degree. Is pursuing a career with Merrill Lynch or Edward Jones a wise decision?
Neal Frankle says
They might be a good fit. But I suggest you read this first about how to find financial planning jobs.
Thank you so much for laying this out Neal! I’m in the midst of interviewing for an FA position with Edward Jones as a rookie and this really helped! Thank you again, Wen
Neal Frankle says
Awesome! Good luck Wen! Let me know how it goes.
I never trust a CFP before because I don’t trust the products they recommend to a customer. 80% fund managers’ performance can’t beat s&p500 index. There are even less choices in Canada. But, I do believe customers need such service which can help them to avoid hitting the bump. In the last ten years, I believe less CFPs were successful because of the turmoil market. So many times, I noticed that those CFPS sitting in the bank branches can’t answer or don’t understand what my question is.
Financial Samurai says
Good round up and excellent thoughts on the subject Neal.
Seems like it takes a long time to develop the business!
Joe L says
In response to OdysseusToday
There really isn’t a CFP program that is “stronger or better” than another. The strength of the program is gauged by the success of the individuals that pass the exam (two days of hell in my opinion) vs. name recognition i.e. an MBA program. The designation is what carries the weight not the program you used to prepare for the exam.
YOUR success or failure will hinge on you choosing a program that is right for your way of learning. I used a self-study course because it matched my work schedule at this point. I also used a review course to prepare for the exam. Fortunately, I was successful in the first attempt. However, I know others who used classroom study or online courses to prepare themselves for the exam. I have seen successes and failures with each method.
John McCarthy says
This is a very interesting article and very on-point for me. I’ve been considering a jump from the corporate tax field to a fee only financial planning position. I have a Bachelors in Accounting and a CPA license, but I’m unsure how to leverage these to make the move to a CFP.
I found it very educational, but I am still left with a few questions:
1. Is there CFP programs out there that are seen as “stronger” or “better” than others?
2. Is this a viable field for part-time / Weekend work?
3. How did you start courting clients?
4. Is there liability involved in giving financial advice without any sort of certification or degree? (teaching a budget class to high school students for example)
5. Are you in the market for a student(someone to do some grunt work for you in exchange for education/advice?)?
I added you to my e-mail blog roll and look forward to following your post.
Have a great night!
DIY Investor says
I would add that you have to love learning because the rules are complex and the products are always changing. It’s not a 9 to 5 type of job where you just go home and go about your business. Instead, you are typically wrestling with some problem in your head, trying to figure out the best solution for a client’s problem. You are constantly reading to keep up with new developements.
Kristin - San Francisco Financial Planner says
As you stated, it’s a tough topic to cover in 1,000 words but you did a really nice job giving the lay of the land.
My decision to be a fee-only financial planner stemmed from my desire to help people take a comprehensive and holistic look at how their finances can help them achieve their goals. Frankly, if you are successful at sales and/or managing money you will have higher earning potential than the fee-only route. However, I have tremendous satisfaction in helping my clients identify what they want to do in life in helping them figure out how they can achieve those goals.
Nunzio Bruno says
Loved the video too by the way!!
Could you possibly share the video that your referencing – assuming it’s financial planning oriented? Thanks! =)
Any tidbits from your view for someone new that’s trying to get started on the same route to become a fee-only financial planner? Also, how did you determine your fee?
Nunzio Bruno says
Nice job laying it out Neal! My 5 years have nothing on your 25 but I think you def covered all the bases. Another note is that there are graduate programs out there if you’re looking for more education and have the resources to do it. I have my Master’s of Science in Financial Planning from Bentley University and the program qualifies you for the education requirement for the CFP exam. Just another route.
To Kristin: I loved your response and your approach. I’m with you in trying to take a holistic approach and get the same satisfaction out of it 🙂 Way to go!!
Neal@Wealth Pilgrim says
I think many of us here are in the same boat. We really enjoy helping people. That comes through and helps everyone involved. I’m really glad both Nunzio and Kristin are in this profession…
Evolution Of Wealth says
You didn’t mention the need for the series 66 to become a RIA. I would definitely recommend anyone looking to get in the business to get the 7 & 66 to start. A slight bit more work up front but a lot less hassle later. Some companies have you do the 6 & 63 which is basically the minimum to get working and then have you go back and do the 7 & 65 and you end up taking twice as many tests.
In regards to education, there are a few colleges now that allow you to take the series 7 before you graduate. It’s actually a college course. Also the American College is a great place to look for more advanced education in the financial services realm. They have various certifications and letters to go after your name depending on your career path.
Thanks for sharing your experience and giving us a track to follow! This and your post a few weeks ago have really got me thinking about a solid plan. Everything about being a CFP sounds amazing to me, I have been reluctant to start because I didn’t know exactly how or where. I’m guessing I’d start low and have to build my way up, but a year or two to reach one of my most important goals sounds like nothing.
Financial Samurai says
Thanks Neal. Sounds like there’s two main things: 1) To have good interpersonal skills, and 2) To understand financial goals and products to get one there.
Sounds like a fun job to me!