Financial advisor is more than just a title. It means you’ve made a commitment to guiding individuals through their financial journey. You can help others with their money and future goals, guiding them to make smart choices about saving, investing and planning for what’s ahead. Depending on factors like experience, location and the type of firm, financial advisor salaries can range from $61,200 to $158,890.
As a financial planner myself, I can tell you that beyond the numbers, the real reward is seeing your clients achieve their dreams. If you’re thinking about becoming a financial planner or are already set on it as a career choice, I’ll walk you through how to make it happen:
— What is a financial advisor?
— What does a financial advisor do?
— Financial advisor qualifications.
— Important skills for financial advisors.
— How long does becoming a financial advisor take?
— Is being a financial advisor right for you?
What Is a Financial Advisor?
A financial advisor is a trained professional who helps people with their finances. They offer guidance and expertise on the intricacies of managing money, from retirement and estate planning to real estate and investment opportunities.
As a financial planner, you might work in a bank or brokerage firm or settle into a niche in a smaller firm or as an independent consultant. You could also choose to specialize in a specific financial area or work with people who fall within a certain net worth or age bracket.
What Does a Financial Advisor Do?
The role of a financial advisor is as varied as the clients they serve. As Adam Breazeale, a senior financial planner at Schwab Wealth Advisory, puts it, “We look at where our clients are relative to where they want to be, then provide the tools and solutions necessary to create a road map for success.”
As a financial advisor, you’ll help with financial planning by creating long-term strategies to build wealth and manage risk. We analyze our client’s current financial situation and seek to understand their goals and objectives. “If you understand the psychology of money, and how emotions and childhood experiences impact financial decisions, this will let you better serve and understand your future clients,” says Jude Wilson, founder of Centrus Financial Strategies.
Then you develop a tailored plan to help them achieve those goals. You might offer advice on investment options, manage their investment portfolios, recommend insurance needs, map out a tax strategy, or provide any other type of financial planning or advice.
Financial Advisor Qualifications
I can attest that there’s no “one right path” to becoming a financial advisor. For instance, my professional journey began at a Japanese investment bank. However, I wasn’t able to connect on a deeper level with clients to truly help with their personal financial well-being. I took my career in a new direction and became a certified financial planner, or CFP.
Financial advisor careers are open to almost anyone, which is one of my favorite aspects of the profession. The financial industry is strictly regulated, but the requirements you’ll need to meet can depend on the type of service you want to provide.
Many financial planners come from backgrounds in finance, economics or business. I suggest taking courses in investments, taxes, estate planning and risk management to help you get a solid grasp on financial principles, investment strategies and economic trends.
While you don’t need a bachelor’s degree to become a financial advisor, a career in finance is difficult to start without one. Keep in mind that educational guidelines can depend on your career aspirations too. For instance, I wanted to become a CFP, which requires CFP Board-approved coursework and a bachelor’s degree.
Professional licenses are required for some financial advisors. If you want to sell investment products or operate in multiple states, a common occurrence at broker-dealers and banks, you’ll need to pass exams administered by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, or FINRA. The Securities Industry Essentials (SIE) Exam is a common requirement for many in the financial services industry. You may need to pass additional exams as well, depending on your situation:
— Series 6: The Investment Company and Variable Contracts Products Representative Qualification Examination (IR), required to sell mutual funds, variable annuities or other limited investment products.
— Series 7: The General Securities Representative Qualification Examination (GS), required to sell common and preferred stocks and other fixed-income investments as a stockbroker.
— Series 3 or 31: The National Commodities Futures Exam or the Futures Managed Funds Exam, required to sell commodity or managed futures contracts.
— Series 63: The Uniform Securities Agent State Law Exam, required to satisfy state law registration requirements.
— Series 65: The Uniform Investment Adviser Law Exam, required to provide fee-based investment advisory services.
— Series 66: The Uniform Combined State Law Exam, which merges the Series 63 and 65 exams.
If you establish a practice as an individual, you may also need to register your firm as a registered investment advisor, or RIA, with the Securities and Exchange Commission and register yourself as its representative.
These professional certifications can enhance your credibility and are encouraged by financial advisory firms, but they’re not mandatory for becoming a financial advisor. Many certifications and designations are available, and deciphering them can feel like navigating a complex maze of acronyms.
The CFP certification is a well-known badge of expertise in the industry. Earning it demands several years in financial planning, a formal degree, clearing the CFP exam and adhering to high ethical standards. You must also act as a fiduciary, which means prioritizing your clients’ needs over your own.
In addition to the CFP, other notable financial planner certifications include:
— Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA): A globally recognized certification for investment professionals, especially in the areas of investment management and research.
— Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC): A certification focused on advanced areas of financial planning, such as retirement, real estate, insurance and income tax planning.
— Certified Investment Management Analyst (CIMA): Focuses on asset management and investment consulting.
— Certified Private Wealth Advisor (CPWA): Designed for professionals who work with high-net-worth clients on wealth management.
— Certified Fund Specialist (CFS): Specializes in mutual funds and the mutual fund industry.
— Personal Financial Specialist (PFS): Offered to certified public accountants, or CPAs, who want to specialize in personal financial planning.
Starting with internships or entry-level roles is more than just a resume builder; it offers valuable experience in the financial industry. You learn more than the mechanics as you navigate client interactions, strategy crafting, and problem-solving. The hands-on learning prepares you for future hurdles and deepens your understanding of the industry.
Mentorship, too, is invaluable in this journey. A seasoned mentor not only shares wisdom and strategies but also offers insights based on personal experiences that textbooks can’t capture.
Wilson’s experience underscores the importance of this. Being among the less than 2% of Black financial planners in the U.S., he faced unique challenges and perspectives. “I recommend to anyone, especially those in the minority, to find a mentor or to intern with a professional,” says Wilson.
You may eventually arrive at the crossroads that many financial advisors face: joining an established firm or forging your own path. Both have merits. While existing firms offer stability, going solo can be rewarding for the entrepreneurial at heart.
Important Skills for Financial Advisors
Technical knowledge is undoubtedly essential, yet it’s our ability to build trust, understand our clients’ needs and effectively communicate that can make all the difference for success. One crucial aspect of being a financial planner is the ability to break down complex financial jargon and explain it to clients in a way they understand.
In my experience, financial advisors should ideally have:
— An ability to build and maintain strong client relationships.
— A keen ear to actively listen to a client’s financial worries and goals.
— The acumen to analyze investment opportunities and gauge market trends.
— Creativity to find solutions that fit individual client needs.
— Time management skills to balance client consultations, planning and market research.
— A solid moral compass to uphold the highest standards of integrity and trust.
Financial planning does not utilize a one-size-fits-all approach, and every client will have different challenges and goals. A versatile skill set can empower you to address these needs effectively.
How Long Does Becoming a Financial Advisor Take?
Your path to becoming a financial advisor depends on where you start your journey. It can vary from a few months to a few years. One of the quickest routes is to get your series licenses with FINRA, which require no prior job experience.
Hazel Secco, a certified financial planner and president and founder of Align Financial Solutions, reflects on her initial journey. “I began with four different licenses: Series 6, 63, 65 and an insurance license. This process took approximately three months before I officially commenced my role as a financial advisor,” says Secco.
She didn’t stop there. “I decided to pursue the CFP designation right from the beginning of my career. It took me three years to accumulate all the necessary experience and complete the required courses,” says Secco.
You must also factor in the time it takes to complete an internship or gather experience.
Michelle Bender, a certified financial planner at Potomac Financial Consultants, says she’d “struggle to bring in” for an interview an applicant who lacked experience and had not taken the appropriate courses.
Is Being a Financial Advisor Right for You?
Becoming a financial advisor can be a fulfilling and rewarding career choice, but it’s important to consider whether it’s the right fit for you. Think about your strengths and interests and evaluate the educational and regulatory requirements. But above all, consider where your heart lies.
Being a financial advisor requires technical knowledge, but it’s more than crunching numbers. It’s about nurturing a passion for finance, combined with a genuine desire to help others achieve their financial goals.
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Update 09/14/23: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.