How to become a certified financial planner

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These terms and conditions govern your use of the Find a CFP® Professional Search feature (“Find a CFP® Professional”) on Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc.’s (“CFP Board”) Let’s Make a Plan websit­­e (www.LetsMakeAPlan.org). Before using Find a CFP® Professional, you must read and agree to be bound by these terms and conditions and CFP Board’s Terms of Use, which also apply to your use of Find a CFP® Professional.

Find a CFP® Professional is compiled and published by CFP Board as a reference source about CFP® professionals in the United States. It does not include all CFP® professionals — only those who chose to be included. It may be used only by (i) members of the public to locate CFP® professionals and obtain information about them, and (ii) individual CFP® professionals or their staff to view their own listings or those of colleagues. CFP Board reserves the right to block your use of this search tool indefinitely should CFP Board determine, in its sole discretion, that you are using it for a different purpose. Except as expressly provided herein, neither Find a CFP® Professional nor any of its data, listings, or other constituent elements may be modified, downloaded, republished, sold, licensed, duplicated, “scraped,” or otherwise exploited, in whole or in part. CFP Board expressly prohibits use of this information by individuals or business organizations to offer products or services to CFP® professionals.

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CFP Board verifies that the individuals accessible through Find a CFP® Professional currently hold CFP® certification. We provide information about any individual who has been disciplined publicly by CFP Board or who made a bankruptcy disclosure to CFP Board that is scheduled to remain on CFP Board’s website pursuant to the CFP Board Bankruptcy Disclosure Procedures that were in effect until June 30, 2020.

CFP Board also provides links to other websites that may provide other information about CFP® professionals: the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s (FINRA) BrokerCheck website (for professionals who are subject to FINRA’s oversight); the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) Investment Adviser Public Disclosure website (for those who are subject to the SEC’s oversight); the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency’s (OCC) Enforcement Actions website (for those individuals who are subject to OCC oversight); and the websites for the North American Securities Administrators Association and the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, which provide contact information for state securities regulators and state insurance departments. CFP Board is not responsible for the accuracy, reliability, or completeness of the information on these websites. Under no circumstances shall CFP Board be held responsible or liable, directly or indirectly, for any loss or damage caused or alleged to have been caused to a user in connection with the use of or reliance on any content, goods, or services available on any such external websites.

All other information disclosed through Find a CFP® Professional regarding a specific CFP® professional has been provided by the CFP® professional and has not been verified by CFP Board. CFP Board is not responsible for the accuracy, reliability, or completeness of the information that a CFP® professional has provided. For example, CFP Board has not verified that the CFP® professional focuses his or her practice in the specific area the CFP® professional has designated. It is your responsibility to ask the CFP® professional about his or her experience.

Other than as expressly set forth in these terms, CFP Board makes no representations or warranties of any nature, express or implied, with respect to the information obtained through Find A CFP® Professional, including the accuracy or completeness of such information. The material included in or available through Find A CFP® Professional is for informational purposes only. Find a CFP® Professional is provided on an “AS IS” basis. Your reliance upon information contained through Find a CFP® Professional is done solely at your own risk. CFP Board does not warrant or guarantee the work of any CFP® professional. You assume full responsibility for any interactions you have with a CFP® professional you contact.

Inclusion of a CFP® professional in this search feature is not and does not imply a CFP Board referral, endorsement, or recommendation, nor does the omission of any CFP® professional indicate CFP Board disapproval. You should interview and evaluate several financial professionals to find the one who is right for you. You will want to select a competent, qualified professional with whom you feel comfortable and who suits your financial planning needs. For sample questions to ask when interviewing a financial advisor, visit www.LetsMakeAPlan.org.

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Your guide to career, curriculum and certification education

Updated on December 3, 2020 | Discover Accounting Writers

  • Home 
  • Top 14 Best Accounting Certifications 
  • License and Certifications for Certified Financial Planners 
  • Why Become a Certified Financial Planner?
  • What is a Financial Planner?
  • What Does a Financial Planner Do?
  • Requirements to Become a Certified Financial Planner
  • How is the Certified Financial Planner Exam Scored?
  • Study Resources and Preparation for the Certified Financial Planning for the Exam
  • Career & Salary

Why Become a Certified Financial Planner?

After the Great Recession of 2008, people began to worry that they didn’t know how to manage their money. By earning your degree as a financial advisor or planner, you’ll gain the knowledge and skills you need to assist people who want to better manage their money and investments.

Not everyone knows how to take care of the money they have or how to make it work for them on a long-term basis. Once you complete the educational requirement and initial certification, you will have that knowledge. Your education in college will be thorough and challenging. After you graduate and begin working, the next step will be preparing to take your certification exam to become a CFP professional.

And, once you have your certificate hanging on the wall in your office, you’ll be able to counsel your clients, figure out what assets they have, and develop a comprehensive and workable financial plan that allows you to give them the guidance they need in order to reach their financial goals.

What is a Financial Planner?

This specialist is a certified professional financial advisor who gives clients planning advice that work for their goals. If this is your career goal, you may also go through your clients’ financial situations and develop suggestions on how they can make them better. You may suggest planning for education funding for their children or you may help potential clients plan for retirement. You can also engage in income tax planning for those with complex tax issues, employee benefits planning, advise on financial investments, and provide other pertinent financial services, market portfolio management, and investment advice to individuals.

What Does a Financial Planner Do?

When clients come to you as a financial advisor, you’ll interview them extensively to find out what their current financial picture looks like. You’ll learn about their current needs so you can help them to clean up any outstanding debts and talk to them about their future financial and retirement plans; do they want to retire sooner rather than later? Once they have retired, do your clients know what they want to do? Will they travel, stay at home and enjoy their lives, or even start a new business? This can be a long process in terms of time spent but is necessary to give you the chance to give them the big picture view on their future from a financial professional.

If you decide to specialize in one area (some work specifically as investment advisors giving only investment advice), you’ll focus on just one aspect of your clients’ finances. Some financial advisors work on simplifying potential client’s tax picture, or you may become familiar with their investments and begin to guide them so that they experience fewer losses.

Digging a little deeper, you’ll determine their risk tolerance or how strong their finances are against risks. If you help them to find the investments that they should be making, they can make their investments grow by putting their savings into bonds, stocks, and other annuities you identify for them. Don’t forget about asset allocation, estate planning, or tax planning either, which are all options.

Requirements to Become a Certified Financial Planner

Degree Necessary

Before you take your CFP exam, much less begin working as one, you’ll need to hold a bachelor’s level of education as the minimum education requirement. The Certified Financial Planner Board standards specify that this degree can be in any discipline, though it should be from an accredited university or college. No matter how high your level of education, even if you complete a master’s of business administration, if it doesn’t meet this last requirement, you may not be allowed to sit for the certification examination.

You also have to complete an education program that has been registered by the CFP Board. After studying for the comprehensive exam, you should be able to easily pass the test. You’ll also need to show that you have relevant work experience as a financial analyst or providing financial advice to an individual and pass the candidate fitness standards of CFP – this includes ethics standards including a code of ethics and code of conduct that all CFP professionals choose to agree to before they receive initial certification.

Subject Focus

Your CFP study guide and the exam both focus on what you need to know as a financial advisor. CFP exam topics focus primarily on critical thinking and problem-solving. Thus, you aren’t going to see true-false questions. The company that gives this exam wants its students to know and understand how to be personal financial advisors inside and out.

Each question on the exam concerns at least one of the Board’s Principal Knowledge Topics (of which there are eight). Topic areas include investment planning, education planning, general financial planning, professional conduct and regulation, retirement savings/income planning, estate planning, risk management/insurance planning, and tax planning.

You’ll also be tested on several tasks including client-planner relationships, working within professional/regulatory standards, gathering the information you need to help your client, developing recommendations, analyzing/evaluating your client’s current financial situation, discussing your recommendations, and carrying out and monitoring your recommendations.

Exams

You have some flexibility on exam dates for the CFP exam; it’s offered three times each year, in March, July, and November. By signing up as early as you can, you may receive an early bird special. Otherwise, if you wait to register later in the year, your exam fee will be higher.

If you have an idea of when you’ll be done studying for your exam, you should be able to register even before you finish. The CFP Board has to have proof of your coursework completion by the education verification deadline so you can sit for your exam. The exam is given on site at a testing center and is not available in an online format.

The exam itself contains 170 questions. These are multiple choice questions but that doesn’t mean they won’t require significant thought before you give your answer. On top of that, the exam is broken up into two 3-hour sessions, taken in one day, which would be a grueling time frame for any test.

AICP Certification brings value to your career, the organization you work for, and the communities you serve. Do you want to demonstrate your expertise, show your commitment to professional ethics, distinguish yourself in the job market, and keep your planning skills in tip-top shape? Good news! Getting AICP-certified is simpler and more flexible than ever.

We’re rolling out a new, enhanced platform for the AICP certification process. To ensure a smooth experience for applicants, the winter application window will open January 5.
See updated deadlines for the May 2021 certification cycle

Take These Steps to AICP Certification

How to become a certified financial planner

GET EDUCATED and GAIN EXPERIENCE

AICP applicants must meet specific criteria for education and experience when applying for certification. Check out the AICP eligibility requirements and find out if your experience qualifies.

Students and New Graduates of PAB Programs

The AICP Candidate Pilot Program is an alternate path to certification that allows you to take the AICP Certification Exam before earning professional planning experience.

APPLY FOR CERTIFICATION

The AICP Certification Application verifies your education and experience. Apply for certification to begin your path to AICP.

First, submit an application to verify that you have met the education and experience requirements.

Once your application has been approved, you must successfully complete two components for certification. These two steps may be completed in any order:

SUBMIT YOUR PLANNING EXPERIENCE ESSAYS and Take the Exam

If your AICP application is approved, you can submit your planning experience essays that demonstrate your professional planning experience and test your knowledge on the AICP Certification Exam. Both steps must be successfully completed before you can become AICP, but you may complete them in any order that works for you.

See APA’s five-step approach to exam preparation and links to resources to help you succeed.

Maximize Your AICP Certification

Congrats! You’re a part of an elite group of planners who are leading the profession. Learn how to leverage your certification.

May 2021 AICP Certification Cycle

Opportunities to take the exam with Prometric are in accordance with all local, state and federal regulations — please check their website for the most up to date information.

May 2021 AICP Certification Cycle Dates

Application Dates

Application Window Opens January 5, 2021, 9:00 a.m. CT
Application Deadline for Those Intending to Submit Essays January 19, 2021, 3:00 p.m. CT
Final Application Deadline April 2, 2021, 3:00 p.m. CT

Exam Dates

Exam Registration Opens January 19, 2021, 9:00 a.m. CT
Exam Registration & Transfer Deadline April 30, 2021, 3:00 p.m. CT
Testing Window May 1 – May 25, 2021

Essay Dates

Expedited Essay Review Window Opens February 9, 2021, 9:00 a.m. CT
Expedited Essay Review Window Closes February 16, 2021, 3:00 p.m. CT
Regular Essay Window Opens February 16, 2021, 3:00 p.m. CT
Regular Essay Window Closes February 23, 2021, 3:00 p.m. CT

May 2021 AICP Certification Cycle Fees*

Application Fee $70
Planning Experience Essay Fee $220
Expedited Essay Review $290
AICP Exam Registration Fee $220
AICP Exam Transfer Fee $100
Planning Experience Essay Appeal Fee $100

*All fees are non-refundable

November 2021 AICP Certification Cycle

Opportunities to take the exam with Prometric are in accordance with all local, state and federal regulations — please check their website for the most up to date information.

If you’re considering a career in financial planning, earning your CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ certification gets you on the path to a rewarding career in a rapidly growing field. The CFP® mark after your name signals to clients and employers that you’re a knowledgable partner who is committed to putting your clients’ interests first.

Benefits of Becoming a CFP® Professional

Here are a few reasons why earning your CFP® certification is well worth the investment.

of CFP® professionals say they are satisfied with their decision to pursue CFP® certification.

of CFP® professionals say that certification has had a positive impact on their career satisfaction.

of CFP® professionals believe certification gives them more credibility in the eyes of their clients.

Tips for Career Changers

Most people change careers at least 3 times in their lifetime. Here are some ways you can position yourself for success along your path to becoming a CFP® professional.

  1. Know what transferable skills you have to offer your future employer. In the case of financial planning, there are several key skills that you’ve probably developed at previous jobs, including communication/interpersonal, analytical, relationship management, marketing and project management.
  2. Become a “superfan” of the field. Learn all about the financial planning profession by subscribing to industry publications, joining professional associations and attending conferences/social events.
  3. Network with professionals in the field. Informational interviews are a great way to learn about the field and build your list of contacts. Who knows – you may even find a mentor or a new connection that leads to a job.
  4. Have a solid job search strategy and be flexible. A well thought-out plan for job searching will minimize frustration and increase your chances of landing interviews. Initially, it’s important to focus on the areas that offer more jobs in your field, and also be creative and flexible in your search.

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.

How to become a certified financial planner

Are your friends and family often coming to you for help with their finances? You may have the makings of a Certified Financial Planner (CFP). With financial planner training, you could be on the way to a rewarding and fulfilling career.

Helping others to arrange their finances is hugely rewarding, and is in great demand. Your advice can change peoples’ lives for the better, and prevent them from resorting to cash loans and other short term alternatives. Here’s what’s involved in being a CFP.

Why be a Certified Financial Planner?

The CFP is a suitable qualification for those already working in financial planning and is a goal in itself. Achieving a qualification such as the CFP adds greater credibility to you and your financial advisory business. CFP gives consumers the confidence that they can trust you and your financial planning advice.

With the right financial planning, more people can take control of and improve their quality of life. As a Certified Financial Planner, you could be their hero!

What do you need to be a Certified Financial Planner?

First, you need to be committed to helping others through better financial planning. An interest in financial products and how they can help is a good start. You will learn a lot more of the essential skills and knowledge as you progress in your financial planning career.

If you are already working in financial planning, then CFP status will be easier to achieve than if you are starting from scratch. Obtaining Certified Financial Planner status is not easy and takes time. It is a highly regarded professional qualification. As such, entry requirements are suitably high, exams rigorous, and ethics indispensable.

How to get Certified Financial Planner status

The Financial Planning Standards Board develops and operates certification for financial planners. This is with the aim of developing professional standards for the industry around the world.

“The CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER credential is the most desired and respected global certification for those seeking to show their commitment to competent and ethical financial planning practice” – The FPSB

The CFP is not separate financial planner training but certification to show you have met the requirements in four areas. Education, experience, ethics, and examination.

Education

To achieve CFP status, you will need to obtain the Diploma in Financial Planning, which is provided by the CISI.

To qualify as a student for the Diploma in Financial Planning, you must hold a current RDR compliant qualification. This is a qualification recognised by the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). You will also need a current and valid SPS. More information on SPS and what it means is here. To obtain an SPS, you must be classed as a Retail Investment Adviser by the FCA.

Generally, you should hold a university degree in a relevant subject. Business and finance, economics, and business accounting are good examples. Particularly before you start your career as a financial planner.

In the UK, you can find degree courses accredited by the FCA. One course which could be worth investigating is run by The University of Northampton.

Experience

You will need to have FPSB approved work experience in financial planning of at least one year (supervised). Or, three years (unsupervised).

Working in a financial advisory company under someone who is a financial planning professional, could mean reducing your qualifying period to one year. If your supervisor is not of the appropriate status, or you work without supervision, this period is extended to three years.

Working in a financial advisory company may mean you get your employer’s help with meeting the costs associated with your training. Such as CPD, examination costs, and other studying expenses.

Ethics

You need to hold an MCSI membership, which shows your commitment to the CISI Code of Conduct.

Examination

Once you have your Diploma, SPS, and appropriate work experience, you can sit the CISI’s Financial Planning & Advice examination. If you pass, you can then apply to be certified as a Certified Financial Planner.

How to become a certified financial planner

What is the best financial planner training?

Financial planner training can be a long, costly process. The best financial planner training for you, if you want to be a Certified Financial Planner, is training that helps you on your path. This will mean choosing a degree course which is FCA accredited where you can. Or, a degree which will help you get a job in a company who provides supervised experience and help towards ongoing, accredited training.

Ultimately, you should decide whether undertaking this training with the aim of reaching CFP status is for you. It can be a long, but rewarding process. Therefore, you should be aware of all the requirements of each training course before committing yourself.

What if you understand the potential cost and commitment required of the courses you will need to take, and still want to go down the CFP path? Then you are sure to reap the rewards that come with being a committed financial planner.

What being a CFP means

As a consumer, the CFP shows your financial advisor has reached a high standard in financial planning. Thus, you can be confident your advisor has the knowledge and experience to be able to put your needs first. This goes hand in hand with giving you the best financial advice possible for your situation.

A CFP has to renew their certification annually. This is done through a minimum of 35 hours of CPD (continuing professional development) to keep their knowledge and skills up to date. As well as through ongoing membership of the relevant professional bodies. This means a CFP has current knowledge of all the issues surrounding financial planning.

Final thoughts

As a CFP, certification shows your commitment to good, ethical financial planning. Also, that you place high importance on up-to-date knowledge. Resulting in being a trustworthy financial planning professional.

AICP Certification brings value to your career, the organization you work for, and the communities you serve. Do you want to demonstrate your expertise, show your commitment to professional ethics, distinguish yourself in the job market, and keep your planning skills in tip-top shape? Good news! Getting AICP-certified is simpler and more flexible than ever.

We’re rolling out a new, enhanced platform for the AICP certification process. To ensure a smooth experience for applicants, the winter application window will open January 5.
See updated deadlines for the May 2021 certification cycle

Take These Steps to AICP Certification

How to become a certified financial planner

GET EDUCATED and GAIN EXPERIENCE

AICP applicants must meet specific criteria for education and experience when applying for certification. Check out the AICP eligibility requirements and find out if your experience qualifies.

Students and New Graduates of PAB Programs

The AICP Candidate Pilot Program is an alternate path to certification that allows you to take the AICP Certification Exam before earning professional planning experience.

APPLY FOR CERTIFICATION

The AICP Certification Application verifies your education and experience. Apply for certification to begin your path to AICP.

First, submit an application to verify that you have met the education and experience requirements.

Once your application has been approved, you must successfully complete two components for certification. These two steps may be completed in any order:

SUBMIT YOUR PLANNING EXPERIENCE ESSAYS and Take the Exam

If your AICP application is approved, you can submit your planning experience essays that demonstrate your professional planning experience and test your knowledge on the AICP Certification Exam. Both steps must be successfully completed before you can become AICP, but you may complete them in any order that works for you.

See APA’s five-step approach to exam preparation and links to resources to help you succeed.

Maximize Your AICP Certification

Congrats! You’re a part of an elite group of planners who are leading the profession. Learn how to leverage your certification.

May 2021 AICP Certification Cycle

Opportunities to take the exam with Prometric are in accordance with all local, state and federal regulations — please check their website for the most up to date information.

May 2021 AICP Certification Cycle Dates

Application Dates

Application Window Opens January 5, 2021, 9:00 a.m. CT
Application Deadline for Those Intending to Submit Essays January 19, 2021, 3:00 p.m. CT
Final Application Deadline April 2, 2021, 3:00 p.m. CT

Exam Dates

Exam Registration Opens January 19, 2021, 9:00 a.m. CT
Exam Registration & Transfer Deadline April 30, 2021, 3:00 p.m. CT
Testing Window May 1 – May 25, 2021

Essay Dates

Expedited Essay Review Window Opens February 9, 2021, 9:00 a.m. CT
Expedited Essay Review Window Closes February 16, 2021, 3:00 p.m. CT
Regular Essay Window Opens February 16, 2021, 3:00 p.m. CT
Regular Essay Window Closes February 23, 2021, 3:00 p.m. CT

May 2021 AICP Certification Cycle Fees*

Application Fee $70
Planning Experience Essay Fee $220
Expedited Essay Review $290
AICP Exam Registration Fee $220
AICP Exam Transfer Fee $100
Planning Experience Essay Appeal Fee $100

*All fees are non-refundable

November 2021 AICP Certification Cycle

Opportunities to take the exam with Prometric are in accordance with all local, state and federal regulations — please check their website for the most up to date information.

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.