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Financial Planning: The Right Profession for the Right Reasons

By Mark DiGiovanni, CFP

Let me get this out of the way right at the beginning – in my opinion, there is only one kind of financial planner, and that’s a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER professional. Those who are not CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER professionals, but call themselves financial planners, are attempting to be viewed as part of a profession for which they have not yet qualified. They may be a world-class stock broker, insurance agent, tax specialist, whatever, but until they make the effort to earn the one designation that the public knows and respects, they are merely riding the coattails of those who have made the sacrifices to create a clear definition of what a financial planner is and does.

After reading the previous paragraph, it should not surprise you that I emphatically believe that anyone considering a career as a financial planner should have at the top of his/her to-do list the attainment of the CFP designation. Think for a minute how profoundly our work affects our clients and their families. Based on the importance of our work and on the impact we have on those with whom we work, earning the CFP designation should be the minimum entry requirement, not the pinnacle of achievement that it currently is in our profession. Physicians go to college for eight years and endure a grueling two-year residency before they can practice on their own. Attorneys go to college almost as long and have to pass a grueling bar exam. CPAs must have a college degree and pass a test that is twice as long (and, in my opinion, at least twice as hard) as the CFP exam.  If we want people to see us on the same level as these other professions, is passing a ten-hour exam too much to require?

Of course, before someone commits to becoming a part of any profession, he/she needs to examine the reasons to enter that profession. Frankly, one of the worst reasons to enter any profession is some survey that says financial planner is one of the most desirable careers, that financial planners make the most money, that financial planning is a fast-growing field, etc.  None of those surveys consider why financial planning would be a good career for you.  I have been fortunate because I have found in financial planning the career I always hoped to have, though I did not find it until I was almost forty. I knew what I wanted to do, in part, by working many years in the wrong kinds of jobs, and I have worked hard for many years to become as good as I can be in my chosen profession.

Setting Realistic Expectations

I have a young adult daughter.  It would be nice if she came into the profession, learned the ropes as my protégé, and eventually took over the practice and became professionally successful and happy for the rest of her life. Based on her interests, though, urging my daughter into financial planning would be like forcing a square peg into a round hole. As much as I hope my daughter will enjoy the same success and happiness in her career that I’ve enjoyed in mine, her personality tells me that it probably won’t happen for her in financial planning. I would never want my daughter, or anyone else, to enter any profession if he/she did not have a passion for the work itself.

When people, both young and middle-aged, have asked me if they should make a career move into financial planning, one of the first things I do is give them a realistic expectation of income.  I tell them two things regarding income – first, they are unlikely to have any net income in the first year, as expenses will consume what little gross income is generated. Second, they should not expect to get back to their current level of net income for five years.  By making them aware of what they can actually expect in terms of earnings in the first few years, they are able to determine how badly they really want to become a financial planner and if they can make the leap into a new career without taking a bad fall. As a financial planner, I would look pretty bad if I gave advice about financial planning as a career that created a financial disaster for someone.

The True Cause and Effect

Finally – one of the problems with the perceived desirability of our profession is the perception that there’s a lot of easy money to be made. Nothing hurts the quality of a profession like people who enter it for the wrong reasons, money being near the top of that list. As I’ve stated in numerous writings, money is not the cause – it is the effect. If the reason someone wants to enter financial planning is the possibility of making big money, at the very least they will probably become an incompetent disgrace to the profession. At most, they will become a convicted felon. If the reason someone wants to enter the profession is the desire to help people understand and handle the most powerful secular force on earth – money, then they are likely to have a rewarding career, professionally and financially.


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