4 Common Questions About Attending a College for Financial Planning and Entering the Field
The field of financial planning is expansive. It is just as important for financial planners to understand domestic markets as it is for them to possess a global perspective. They have to be in tune with cultural, political, social, and ethical issues around the world that could affect their investment portfolios and finance strategies.
Financial planning professionals need to acquire expertise related to all aspects of investments, insurance, taxes, retirement and estate planning, legal and regulatory frameworks, and many other financial standards and practices. They have to conduct extensive financial analysis and be able to recognize and mitigate risk and fraud.
There is a lot to learn and know in regards to financial planning, so it is no wonder that you have questions. Take a moment to discover the answers to four of the most common questions that people like you have when they are considering attending a university or college for financial planning. It may help answer your questions about beginning a career in the financial sector!
1. What Is Financial Planning?
For a financial planning definition, it is best to look at the work of a financial planner. In simplest terms, financial planners offer advice to clients and manage their personal or corporate finances in order to meet their goals. But it is definitely not that simple. Financial planners have to exercise expertise with short- and long-term finance strategies and have to be able to analyze their clients' current and projected financial situations.
You must possess a breadth of knowledge pertaining to investments, taxes, insurance, assets, debt, and estates. You may be helping clients plan for retirement or for their children to go to college. Or you could be analyzing a corporation's finances and determining the best way to achieve growth. And along with sound financial knowledge, a financial planner must be able to build trusting relationships with his or her clients and communicate with them effectively. After all, your clients need to trust you with their personal or corporate livelihoods.
Most financial planning professionals focus on either corporate or personal finance. Both areas require a focus on reducing expenses, developing long-term investment strategies, and increasing wealth. But most of the similarities end there. Let's take a closer look at the differences between the two:
- Personal finance—You may be employed with a financial institution and work one-on-one with clients to assess their individual situations. You want to develop plans that protect them against unforeseen risks, such as illness or property damage. You could be creating risk profiles, managing taxes, planning estates (i.e., managing assets after death), and developing investment and savings plans that focus on areas related to education, real estate, and retirement.
- Corporate finance—You may work for a finance firm or within a corporation, and your focus could be on areas related to the financial resources, profitability, and capital structure of the business. Your responsibilities could include balancing the business' profitability with risk, managing broad investment portfolios, analyzing capital budgets, and deciding on the best investment options. You may determine how investments will be funded (such as with current cash or a line of credit) and decide how excess cash will be allocated. (Will it be invested back into the business or paid out to shareholders and owners?)
2. What Kind of Financial Planning Courses & Programs Are Offered?
You may be hard-pressed to find a school that awards a financial planning certificate or diploma. Most financial planning jobs require a minimum of an associate or bachelor's degree in financial planning, finance, accounting, business, or other related discipline. So if you want to pursue a career in this sector, then you likely want to earn a financial planning degree in order to open the door to the best prospects.
The content that your financial planning program covers is going to vary depending on the program type and length. But due to common standards in the financial industry, there are a lot of similarities between programs. Where you might find variation is in the type of majors or specialties that are offered. So depending on the type of education you pursue, here are some of the topics that you may cover:
- Corporate and personal financial planning
- Estate, insurance, investment, retirement, and tax planning
- Financial services
- Financial markets and institutions
- Financial statement analysis
- Portfolio management
- International finance
- Money and capital markets
- Risk management
- Commercial bank management
- Business law
- Business statistics
- Computer applications in financial services
- Micro- and macroeconomics
3. Do I Need to Obtain Financial Planning Certification?
The answer to this is maybe. It really depends on your career goals and the types of organizations in which you want to work. Some organizations have very specific requirements for the types of certifications that you will need in order to work for them. Others do not have any requirements at all. So you will need to develop a plan based on the employment opportunities that you want to pursue.
There are a few different types of financial planning certifications on the market. And it is possible for you to achieve more than one certification as well. Doing so may even be in your best interest. Becoming certified can help highlight your knowledge and expertise, enhance your career opportunities, and increase your earnings. It has been found that Certified Financial Planner (CFP) professionals earn incomes that are 26 percent higher than those of their non-certified counterparts, according to a 2015 study. Furthermore, 17 percent of CFPs that have fewer than 10 years of experience earn more than $215,000 annually. And that number increases to 35 percent for CFPs that have more than 10 years of experience. Some of the additional benefits related to CFP certification are as follows:1
- Organizations that employ CFP professionals generate 40 percent more revenue than firms that do not have CFP professionals.
- Within insurance-broker dealer firms, CFPs generated 131 percent more revenue than other financial advisors.
- Firms with CFP professionals drew in 53 percent more ultra-high-net- and high-net-worth clients than firms without CFP professionals.
- Almost 50 percent of professionals indicate that obtaining their CFP credential has had a significant or considerable impact on their job satisfaction. And almost 60 percent of CFPs indicate that they are very likely or likely to recommend certification to their colleagues.
So now that you can see some of the clear benefits to achieving known industry credentials, take a moment to discover the two most common financial planning certifications below:
- Certified Financial Planner (CFP)—Administered by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, the CFP certification provides you with the opportunity to highlight your financial planning expertise. In order to become a CFP professional, you must meet the education requirements, which include possessing a bachelor's degree, passing the exam, fulfilling the work experience requirements, and completing an ethics declaration and background check. Once certified, you must re-certify every year and meet specific continuing education requirements every two years.
- Certified Corporate Financial Planning and Analysis Professional (FP&A)—Issued by the Association for Financial Professionals (AFP), the FP&A designation offers a great way to showcase your expertise in corporate financial planning, budgeting, and forecasting. To be eligible, you must have a relevant bachelor's degree and possess related work experience. The amount of work experience that is required depends on your level and type of education. Once you have achieved certification, you will have to recertify every three years, which requires the completion of 45 continuing education credits.
The distinguishing difference between the above-mentioned designations is that the CFP certification is recommended—and often required—for those who want to work with individual clients. In contrast, the FP&A certification is for those who want to work in corporate financial planning. Other common certifications that a financial planner might hold (but that extend beyond the financial planning scope of practice) include:
- Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)
- Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC)
- Certified Investment Management Analyst (CIMA)
4. What Is the Average Financial Planning Salary & the Career Outlook?
Overall, financial planners are facing a good career outlook. In fact, Americans are in need of more help than ever when it comes to personal finances. Just consider that the average American household is almost $130,000 in debt. Check out these other national debt facts:2
- American credit card holders have an average debt of more than $15,000.
- American mortgage holders carry an average debt of almost $166,000.
- Americans who take out vehicle loans are more than $26,000 in debt, on average.
- The average U.S. household pays more than $6,600 in interest charges alone every year. That amounts to almost 10 percent of the country's average household income.
From 2003 to 2015, the median household income for U.S. citizens grew by 26 percent while the overall cost of living increased by 29 percent. To break living costs down further, in that same period, medical costs increased by 51 percent and food and beverage prices grew by 37 percent.2 So although that three-percent difference between household income and cost-of-living increases does not seem like a lot, it can have a big impact on Americans who have young families or children in college or increased medical needs.
The rising cost of real estate in certain cities across the country has also contributed to higher debt loads for some Americans. Housing prices across the U.S. have increased by 17 percent from 2012 to 2015. But cities like San Francisco and Las Vegas saw a 50-percent increase during that same time.3 And the situation is not any better for renters. In the 50 biggest housing markets in the country, rent increased by 22.3 percent, on average, between 2006 and 2014. And at the same time, the country's median household income decreased by 4.2 percent.4
When you consider these trends, you can see that the services that financial planning professionals offer are important for American consumers. Not to mention that a competitive and sometimes tumultuous global market has created an ongoing demand for business and corporate finance professionals as well. So whether you desire a career in personal or corporate financial planning, there could be a lot of great possibilities out there for you.
Financial planners who work with individual clients to help them manage their personal finances are often referred to as personal financial advisors. In 2015, the average annual salary for personal financial advisors was $118,050, and the top earners were making $187,200 and higher.5 And personal financial advisor jobs are expected to grow in number by 30 percent during the decade from 2014 to 2024.6
On the corporate side of financial planning, Certified Corporate FP&A professionals tend to fill financial analyst positions within larger corporations and institutions. Financial analysts earned an average salary of $95,320 per year, and the highest earners made $160,760 or more annually, according to 2015 data.5 And financial analyst job growth is projected at 12 percent for the 2014-to-2024 period.6
Take Your Professional Talents to a New Level
Are you dreaming of all the great things you could achieve as a financial planner? Well, you can start turning that dream into a reality right now. All you need to do is enter your zip code into the search tool below to generate a list of schools offering programs in your area. You might be steps away from finding the university or college for financial planning that is a fit for you!
1 Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. (CFP Board), "Research Shows Benefits of CFP Certification," website last visited on June 20, 2016.
2 NerdWallet, 2015 American Household Credit Card Debt Study, website last visited on February 25, 2016.
3 The Economist, "American house prices: realty check", website last visited on February 25, 2016.
4 Trulia, "From Own to Rent: Who Lost the American Dream?", website last visited on February 25, 2016.
5 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, website last visited on May 12, 2016.
6 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, website last visited on February 25, 2016.