According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 78 million people over the age of 65 could live in the U.S. by 2035. Many of these residents will look to certified financial planners to help them make the most of their retirement savings. Younger workers may also seek personalized advice to reach their goals, such as paying off debt, financing their children's education, or funding their retirement.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) anticipates a 15% growth in employment for personal financial advisors through 2028, with more than 40,400 new jobs opening. Assisting clients with financial planning requires specific education. Read on to learn about training opportunities, skills development, and professional support.

What Skills Do You Need to Become a Certified Financial Planner?

Becoming a successful certified financial planner requires an in-depth understanding of investing and accounting, plus keen financial analysis and strong communication and listening skills. Your educational program should cover the essential accounting, finance, and mathematics skills necessary. Many financial planning tools utilize specialized software and technology platforms, which planners must learn to use confidently. Certified financial planners work closely with their clients, so they should develop interpersonal skills to excel in their positions.

Financial Analysis

Certified financial planners must understand accounting practices, financial markets, and banking information. Clients rely on their financial advisors to evaluate investment opportunities, track performance, and safeguard their funds. These professionals work with numbers and must feel comfortable solving complex mathematical problems regularly. Many certified financial planners also advise clients on their tax returns, especially as those tax returns relate to retirement or medical savings accounts.

Problem-Solving Ability

Clients depend on their financial advisors to offer solutions to their money problems. Certified financial planners must find the most appropriate products and services to handle everything from debt management to estate planning. No two clients present the same challenges and goals. Individualized consultation sets personalized financial planning services apart from automated services.

Communication

Certified financial planners must listen well and speak clearly. They must actively listen as clients share information about their current financial status, challenges, and future goals. Planners may ask probing questions to fully understand their clients' needs and gauge their comfort with risk. They must know how to explain complex information so their clients can understand it. Such information may include why certain investments offer better returns or lower client risk, or how market fluctuations impact their savings.

Technology

Certified financial planners often use computers for their work. They should be comfortable with technology and adept at picking up new software and applications. Programs may include financial analysis software or resource planning programs, along with typical office software like word processing, spreadsheets, and email. These programs help automate complex mathematical formulas and can help track investment trends.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Certified Financial Planner?

  • Earn a Bachelor's Degree

    This four-year degree serves as the minimum education requirement to become a certified financial planner. When choosing your major, look for courses in investing, estate planning, risk management, tax laws, and finance. Often, degrees in business, finance, or accounting help prepare you to pass exams.

  • Complete an Internship

    Often part of your undergraduate curriculum, internships provide the chance to apply knowledge in a practical work settings. Internships also offer professional networking opportunities and can serve as extended job interviews. Your internship may require one semester or an academic year.

  • Get Your License

    To offer certain financial products, states and the federal government require licensing. These products include securities, commodities, bonds, stocks, and insurance products. Exams for licensing require several months of intensive preparation. In addition, some exams, such as the Series 7 exam, require professional sponsorship. Insurance licensing varies by state, but most states require a high school diploma, a specialized preparation course, and passing a standard exam.

  • Find a Job

    Look for your first job at firms offering on-the-job training and mentorship opportunities. Smaller firms offer chances to work in various areas of financial planning and wealth management, which can help entry-level professionals choose which certifications best suit their career goals.

  • Earn a Master's Degree

    Though not required for most entry-level positions, earning a master’s degree in personal financial planning or a related degree may enhance your career advancement opportunities. A master’s degree in accounting also meets the educational requirements for certified public accountant licensing and some professional credentials.

  • Earn Certification

    Industry certifications showcase your skills and knowledge in various aspects of financial planning. The certified financial planner designation requires candidates to pass the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards (CFP Board) exam, agree to a code of ethics, and document at least three years of work experience. The exam takes about six hours to complete. Applicants have five years to document their work experience.

Other common certifications include the chartered financial analyst designation from the CFA Institute, which requires four years of work experience and three exams. The personal financial specialist credential, offered by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, mandates that candidates pass certified public accountant licensing requirements and meet additional requirements, such as three years of work experience and an additional exam.

What Education Do You Need to Become a Certified Financial Planner?

Few undergraduate degrees in financial planning exist. Instead, students must look for degrees that prepare them to handle daily certified financial planner job responsibilities and pass important industry and regulatory licensing and certification exams. No degree guarantees future employment, but earning a relevant degree and appropriate industry certifications may enhance your resume and skill set.

Look for a bachelor's degree in finance, accounting, business, or a related field. The curriculum should include complex mathematical principles, particularly in the areas of financial forecasting and investment planning. Many programs offer specializations in areas of tax law, investing, risk management, or retirement planning. These courses cover the knowledge your future clients expect you to hold.

Many large firms require candidates to hold at least a master's degree.

The CFP Board requires applicants for the certified financial planner certification to graduate from a regionally accredited university or college. Their degrees must meet rigorous standards for financial planning preparation, with coursework including professional conduct, retirement savings, estate planning, and insurance planning. All applicants must complete a capstone course including 45 contact hours and covering practical skills for financial planning professionals.

The final project requires the development and presentation of a comprehensive financial plan for a client.

The CFP Board offers an accelerated certification option for individuals completing doctoral degrees in business, finance, or economics. They may also have worked as licensed attorneys or hold other professional credentials, such as certified public accountant licensure. These credentials require a master’s degree or higher.

Many large firms require candidates to hold at least a master's degree. Popular graduate programs include a master of business administration with a financial planning concentration and master's programs in accounting or finance. Some schools offer interdisciplinary programs tailored financial planners' specific needs. These programs draw from consumer science, accounting, and finance disciplines.

Certified Financial Planner Career Development and Credentials

What is a certified financial planner? These financial advisors have completed continuing education and passed rigorous exams verifying their knowledge and skills in various areas of financial planning. However, some states require further licensing for financial planners offering specific services.

Certifications and Continuing Education

Professional certifications showcase your knowledge and abilities and can enhance your resume. However, earning certification remains voluntary. Popular certifications include certified financial planner (CFP), chartered financial analyst (CFA), and personal financial specialist (PFS).

Each certification requires candidates to pass at least one exam and meet educational standards. CFP certification requires three years of work experience, while the CFA looks for four years. The PFS designates a personal finance specialization for individuals holding valid CPA licensure. These credentials also consider professional ethics, for which reason credentialing organizations require professional references before granting certification.

Once you earn initial certification, most certification boards require ongoing education and training. Continuing education ensures professionals stay current on the laws and regulations pertaining to their areas of expertise. Certifications typically require 15 contact hours of professional development each year. Some may require a portion of those hours to include instruction in professional ethics.

Credentials and Licensing

Federal regulations require individuals offering certain investment products and financial planning services to earn licensure from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. These exams make sure financial advisors understand their professional responsibilities and expectations for ethical conduct. Most states require the Series 63 license and Series 65 licenses. Advisors offering stocks, bonds, or other investments need a Series 7 license.

If your practice includes insurance products, such as life insurance or annuities, your state likely requires an insurance broker's license. Requirements vary between states but include a preparation program followed by a standard exam.

Learn More about Financial Planning Careers and Take the Next Step Today

Career and Professional Resources

  • CFA Institute This organization brings together investment professionals to promote professional standards and education. It offers CFA certification, continuing education seminars, and networking events. Members also receive access to career services, marketing literature, and research materials.
  • Certified Financial Planners Board of Standards Individuals earning the CFP certification gain access to tools and resources that enhance their financial practice. Members gain access to a library of compliance resources, educational literature, and marketing materials. The CFB Board also operates the Center for Financial Planning, an initiative that brings together practitioners and educators to support research and advocacy.
  • Financial Industry Regulatory Agency This nonprofit organization acts as the regulatory authority for the investment industry and enforces ethical business practices and fair financial markets. It supervises more than 600,000 investment brokers who must gain licensure before serving clients.
  • National Association of Personal Financial Advisors The organization serves fee-only financial advisors with online and in-person professional development and continuing education. Members enjoy access to a vibrant online community where they can network with their peers. The organization also holds members to a code of ethics and requires all members reaffirm their commitment to serve their clients each year.
  • North American Securities Administrators Association The NASAA helps educate investors about their rights. It also investigates investor complaints, enforces state securities laws, and administers exams for securities licensing for investment advisors and stockbrokers. The association advocates for consistent securities legislation, as well.