From Client to Planner
A few years ago my husband and I decided that we needed help putting our financial future on track, in spite of a PhD (his) and an MBA (mine). I studied the many flavors of financial advisors and concluded that a fee-only advisor with a Certified Financial Planner® (CFP®) designation would be the only way to go. Why? Fee-only because we would not have to second-guess whether the advice was motivated by the size of the commission the advisor would earn. CFP® because of the high level of competency, professionalism, and ethics required to earn the credential and because CFP® professionals pledge to be fiduciaries, which means they place the interest of the client ahead of their own at all times. About 20% of financial advisors currently have the CFP® designation.
Our experience with the planner we selected was wonderful. The stressful feeling of insecurity when opening 401(k) statements or when pondering the escalating cost of putting our two sons through college evaporated. It was replaced by the comfortable reassurance that we had a plan – a roadmap. We had a handle on our financial future and a trusted professional to turn to with questions.
This experience not only surpassed my expectations, it inspired me to sign up for a fast-track course to obtain the CFP® designation myself. At the time I was in my 9th year of managing an international research center; an interesting job, but one that did not fulfill my desire for meaningful and solution-oriented client contact. I worked my way through the five course modules: insurance, investments, taxes, retirement, and estate planning. At the end of each module our class of 12 would meet for four days to review and discuss the concepts studied and take tests on the material. For the sixth and final module, we each prepared and presented a full financial plan for a fictitious client. The breadth and depth of the material studied was significant and I will not deny that it was a ton of work. But I absolutely loved it.
Those of us who successfully passed all the modules signed up for the national exam administered by the CFP Board. The 6-hour, computerized exam consisted of 170 questions, testing our ability to analyze facts and their implications across the different subject areas. About 15% of the questions addressed case studies and thus closely simulated the real work of a financial planner. Besides probing thoroughly into our factual knowledge, quite a few questions also tested our understanding of the ethical aspects of our job as a planner.
So now instead of being a client, I find myself on the other side of the table, preparing plans for our clients and discussing options and solutions for their financial future. The learning has slowed to a more manageable pace, but each day and each client brings new challenges and new rewards. Honestly, I cannot think of a more fulfilling job!