More schools offer degree programs in finanical planning while academic standards for CFP licensees rise.
Earlier in this decade, some of the profession's
elder statesmen frequently fretted in private about the future of
financial planning. Their concerns were very different from their fears
in the 1980s, when folks wondered if a true profession could emerge
delivering real financial planning services without excessive reliance
on selling high-commission products.
That fear got vaporized in the last 15 years, as baby boomers' demand for retirement investing advice overwhelmed the financial services business. Instead, the new worry became whether there would be a sufficient supply of new advisors to meet the requirements of an increasingly complex business. But in recent years, the supply of young advisors has begun to mushroom. Even if there aren't enough advisors for everyone who wants one, there are enough to sustain a profession. And they are increasingly well-qualified.
The rules are changing for new CFP certificants on March 1 of this year, as the CFP Board of Standards will now require new certificate holders to also have a college bachelor's degree.
Although aspiring planners can major in any subject they chose, they should take note: Finding a degree program in financial planning continues to get easier. "Our sense from the colleges that have degree or credit-based programs is their enrollments have dramatically gone up," says Colleen McArdell, the board's manager of initial certification.
There has also been a swell in the number of CFP Board-registered programs, she adds.
Since the board started registering programs in 1986, the number of college-based programs has grown from just a handful to 324 programs offered at 192 schools. Most of the growth has taken place since 2000, during which time the number of programs has gone from 138 to 324.
Of the programs, 179 are certificate programs, 94 are undergraduate, 48 are master's and three are doctoral programs, according to McArdell.
Several factors seem to be contributing to the
increase, she says. More recognition of financial planning as a
profession is among the major reasons, with colleges adding the field
to their curriculum to prepare students for the job market.
"The barriers are starting to come down, slowly but surely," McArdell says. "I just think there's a greater recognition that this is a profession and there are jobs waiting for graduates on the other end."
Graduates of degree programs typically don't take their CFP exam until some time after graduation, but the CFP Board is already starting to see a spike in applications.
In November, the CFP Board hit an all-time high in certificate applicants with 4,272. That was up from 3,205 a year earlier and 2,662 in November 2004.
What are the potential advantages of a financial planning degree as opposed to another major?
J. Brent Beene, who graduated with a master's degree in financial planning from Texas Tech University in 2002, feels the degree has opened more doors-and opened them more quickly. "There were a number of people recruiting us right out of school," says Beene, a financial advisor at RegentAtlantic Capital LLC in Chatham, N.J. He was originally hired by a New Jersey-based firm that was specifically targeting financial planning graduates, hiring seven people from his graduating class.
"I really felt like when I came out from a technical standpoint that I was ahead of the game in the sense that there were a lot of concepts I was familiar with," he says. "In financial planning, until you've done the hands-on work, it's hard to grasp exactly what you're learning."
Lucas Bucl graduated from Kansas State in 2003 with degrees in family financial planning and corporate finance. Soon after college, he was among a crop of new hires at Accredited Investors in Edina, Minn., which specifically looks for students with a background in financial planning.
The degree program, it turns out, helped Bucl with more than just getting a degree. As part of the degree program, he was able to attend the Financial Planning Association's annual conference in New Orleans in 2002. There, he got a chance to meet Kathy Longo-one of the principals at the firm where he was eventually hired. "Being able to go to the conference created a lot of networking opportunities," he says.
Bucl, whose title at the firm is financial planner specialist-a support role to financial planning team leaders-says his education allowed him to hit the ground running once he was hired.
"Almost everything I learned in the financial program has been put to use," he says, citing estate planning strategies and tax planning as two key areas in which college studies have helped.
Bucl, who is 27 years old, got his CFP in 2005 and sees as his next step working as a financial planner with clients of his own. He one day would like to be a partner in a planning firm or have a firm of his own. "If I start my own business, I would strongly consider getting an M.B.A.," he says.
A Holistic Curriculum
Texas Tech University began its financial planning program in 1987, eventually expanding to a graduate program. The school currently has 200 undergraduates and 60 graduate students in the program, says William Gustafson, director of the university's Center for Financial Responsibility and one of the founders of the financial planning program.
Nine full-time faculty members are devoted to the program, he adds. The school, which offers a doctorate in consumer economics, was the first Ph.D. program to be CFP Board registered. Three doctorate programs are currently CFP registered. "We teach the holistic model-the whole CFP idea of looking at the whole financial situation," he says.
Most students in the program aspire to be in such a practice, and are able to get hands-on experience through internships, summer jobs and the university's annual attendance at professional conferences, including the annual meetings of the Financial Planning Association (FPA).
About 50 to 55 students graduate from the program each year. "I can't think of any kid in our program willing to move geographically who goes without a position," Gustafson says.
The typical bachelor's degree graduate, he says, will take a job with a boutique practice, at a starting annual salary of between $35,000 and $50,000. A fewer number of students will venture out into new careers. Past graduates include a casino computer security director and pharmaceutical salesmen.
Gustafson feels one of the primary benefits of earning a college degree in financial planning or a related field is the flexibility it provides graduates as they enter the job market. "You are talking about the difference between a training program and an educational experience," he says. "You develop a set of skills over time, and in an intellectual environment where the student can question and consider alternative viewpoints. If you're in a training program, there is the way it is, and they're not interested in your thoughts."
The university is currently working on a plan to provide more hands-on experience for students by creating a financial planning clinic, says Vickie Hampton, director of the university's CFP Board-registered programs.
The clinic, which the university hopes to launch in six to eight months, would expand upon a program in which financial planning degree students provide financial advice to other students. "Students need a lot of help with fringe benefits, taxes and other areas," Hampton says. "It gives them an opportunity to work with real people."
Planners In Demand
San Diego State University has offered a graduate program in financial planning for 30 years and an undergraduate program for 20 years. On the undergraduate level, it offers a bachelor's of science degree in financial services and a certificate program in personal financial planning.
Five years ago, the university started an "Executive Planner" program, designed for financial service professionals looking to study toward a CFP certification. The program requires three years of work experience and at least a bachelor's degree.
The undergraduate program consists of about 300 students, with a typical graduating class of between 150 and 175, says Tom Warschauer, a finance professor who directs the program.
Graduates of San Diego State, as with other schools with financial planning programs, often take their CFP exams after a year or two of work experience, he says. "In the undergraduate program, about a quarter of the people get their CFP certificate within a year of graduation," Warschauer says. "Most employers want them to get fully licensed before the CFP exam."
The financial planning program at San Diego State has grown along with the profession itself, he says, with the undergraduate program growing at about 30% a year up until this year, in which the growth slowed to 15%. The program also enjoys one of the most successful job placement records on campus, he says. "I think the ratio of job offerings to graduates is a better ratio in financial services than any other part of the university, with the exception of engineering," Warschauer says.
The job opportunities in financial services may not be something students are aware of when they enter college, but they are aware of the field's potential by their junior and senior years. As a result, he says, the financial planning program gets a high percentage of students who are transfers from other majors.
While students with financial planning degrees may not get a better starting salary than students who enter the field from other majors, Warschauer says, "I think they move ahead much more rapidly. They usually get their licensing done in a faster period of time."
Among graduate students, about a quarter get hired by fee-only planners "as support people who turn into financial planners within a short period of time," he says. A quarter go to work at accounting, investment management or other professional firms, a quarter compete with undergraduates for financial services jobs and another quarter end up in ancillary industries, such as financial planning software companies, he says.
About two thirds of graduate students will typically say they expect to be partners in a business or go into business for themselves, he says. "Students in the financial services major are much more career focused than in some of the other majors," Warschauer says. He also notes that about a quarter of the school's graduate students are international students, many intent on practicing their profession back in their home countries. "They feel the U.S. has this profession nailed," he says.
University of Missouri-Columbia is also among the pioneers of financial planning studies, having started its undergraduate program in 1987 and later adding a graduate program.
The undergraduate program currently has about 166 students and the graduate program has seven students, says Robert Weagley, chairman of the university's personal financial planning department and one of its founders.
In previous years, the school has had as many as 260 undergraduate majors. Weagley says the drop has been from a combination of budget cuts and a recent increase in the university's grade point average requirement for degree majors.
But he thinks the drop is temporary. "I believe that enrollments will be going up mainly because there is demand out there," Weagley says. "Usually a day doesn't go by without us getting a call from someone (at a company) who wants to talk to students."
The budget cuts have forced the department to reduce its full-time faculty to four from seven since 2000, he says. "Our biggest problem here is simply funding," Weagley says.
The program puts a "life planning" focus on its curriculum, with emphasis on how a planner helps families accomplish their goals, he says. One of the undergraduate courses, entitled "The American Dream," deals with topics that include income and distribution issues and requires students to interview people 65 and older about their lives.
The program also requires students to take a course in volunteerism and runs a counseling center in which students provide tax assistance to low-income families and other college students. "Some of these men and women have never sat across the table and talked to anyone like that," he says. "What the students get out of it is real good communication skills."