5 Common Questions About Attending a College for Financial Planning and Entering the Field
1. What Is Financial Planning?
In the simplest terms, financial planners offer advice to clients and manage their personal or corporate finances in order to meet their goals. They exercise their expertise with short- and long-term finance strategies and 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?
It depends on your career goals and the types of clients and organizations you want to work for. Some organizations have very specific requirements; others don't. But even if it isn't required, certification can offer many benefits, including the potential for a higher income.
Here are the two most common financial planning certifications:
- 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. How Much Do Financial Planners Make?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), personal financial advisors earn $121,770 per year, on average, with the top earners making $208,000 or more. On the corporate side, Certified Corporate FP&A professionals tend to fill financial analyst positions within larger corporations and institutions. Financial analysts make an average salary of $100,990, with the highest earners making $167,420 or more.
5. How Is the Employment Outlook?
So the outlook is good. After all, Americans are in need of more help than ever when it comes to personal finances. According to NerdWallet:
- The average American household is over $136,000 in debt.
- American credit card holders have an average revolving debt of almost $7,000.
- American mortgage holders carry an average debt of over $189,000.
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!