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How do you get started as a financial planner?

That was the question a 25-year-old college grad asked me recently. He went on to say that he had a strong passion for helping people with their finances, but he was unclear on how to get started in the financial planning field.

Once he told me his age, my immediate thought was, "I've been in financial services for as long as he's been alive!"

How the tables turn: I'm starting to get questions I used to ask—and still do, on occasion.

I hadn't planned to write about our conversation, but I thought I'd share my advice to him in hopes it helps others considering the financial planning profession.

First, I advised him to seek out his local chapter of the Financial Planning Association. I explained that joining a local chapter would allow him to network with financial planners who are either running or working at firms of various sizes. Being a member of FPA would allow him to also potentially work part-time or as an intern while pursuing his certificate in financial planning, thereby allowing him to gain valuable on-the-job experience while completing his coursework. As a member of FPA, he would have access to a ton of resources that could help him mitigate the challenges associated with obtaining his designation as a Certified Financial Planner.

Second, I told him that obtaining his CFP designation should be his primary objective. If he wants to be viewed as someone having his clients' best interest at the forefront as well as having an ongoing duty of loyalty to his clients, he should obtain his CFP designation ASAP. The course work is a prerequisite to sitting for the CFP qualifying exam. Being an FPA member might make him eligible for a 10% discount on the introductory course depending upon the school. That course would be a good way for him to get a better understanding of the profession.

Third, I informed him that there is a perception that there is a low barrier to entry in becoming a financial planner. Just because you have your CFP does not mean that people are automatically going to trust you.

In other words, the road to gaining someone's trust is pretty steep. No matter how many ways you communicate that you are there to help, or that you have a fiduciary obligation to your clients, some people will be resistant to receiving your help.

They might show skepticism, cynicism, or even hostility towards your attempts for a myriad of reasons that might be beyond your control.

Many other people, however, will welcome your help, because they recognize the need and value of your service. Needless to say, try to focus on this second category of people, for they will be the ones who truly appreciate your efforts to help them organize their goals in a manner that helps them lead more productive lives.

As our conversation ended I encouraged him to continue pursuing the profession.

And what did I do then? I called one of my own mentors to ask a question about being a better financial planner.

There's the fourth piece of advice: Never stop learning.


Frank Paré is a certified financial planner in private practice in Oakland, California. He and his firm, PF Wealth Management Group, specialize in serving professional women in transition. Frank is currently on the board of the Financial Planning Association and was a recipient of the FPA’s 2011 Heart of Financial Planning award.

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