I love my job. I can’t tell you how lucky and fortunate I feel to to be able to truthfully say that.
Is my job easy? H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks no!
Being a financial advisor requires a certain skill set that I had no idea I had until I got started in the business. I’m not here to tell you how successful I am. You can read my post on how to become a successful financial advisor to learn how I and other successful financial advisors did it.
What I wanted to do with this post is to address a common question that I get asked here at the blog.
I’m interested in becoming a financial advisor. What do you consider the best way to get started in your industry?
Whew. That might seem like an easy question to answer but so much has changed since I got in the business over 8 years ago. In my effort to best answer that question, I thought it would be best if I shared how I got started as a financial advisor as well as how others got started, too. In addition, I’ll also share some resources that should be helpful for anyone interested in getting a job as a financial planner.
How I Got Started
Pretty soon it would be the end of a good run — graduation was approaching. I had just had one of the best interviews of my life with A.G. Edwards and Sons. It was so good, in fact, that I felt that I had secured a position with their corporate office in St. Louis, and that soon I would be living the dream of riding the corporate ladder to the top.
It all looked good. Then the “Dot Com” bubble burst.
Things changed. And not for the better.
A. G. Edwards, at the time, had a been in in existence for 117 years and never had any company layoffs. Never. That is, until, I was getting ready to graduate. Of course, right?
My future, that once had visions of me living in St. Louis, was gone. Now what I’m going to do?
Part of me getting the opportunity to have a great interview was that I was already interning at the local A.G. Edwards office in my hometown. I landed the internship as kind of a desperate measure between my junior and senior year. I had one of those pucker moments where I realized that other than my work history of local retail jobs and my military experience, there was nothing really outstanding on my resume.
It hit me that I would be graduating in a year and that I needed to finally get up and do something and I needed to do it now.
Through a connection, I inquired about a summer internship at the local A.G. Edwards branch, and I was lucky enough to get it. It was like any other internship that you would imagine: filing, paper shredding, all the administrative tasks that no one else in the office wanted to do. Although the tasks were remedial, I treated the internship like a real job. I showed up on time, dressed the part, did everything that was asked of me (and above), and made a lot of good impressions on the staff.
Amazing What a Little Bit of Effort Will Do
Along the way, I was asked by one of the assistants of the top producer in the branch if I could help file away some financial statements that had been piling up on them. I’m the intern, of course I’ll help.
As I started to file them away, I realized that their filing system was a little bit out-dated. In fact it was a mess. So I took it upon myself to re-setup their file system that I thought would help them out in the long run. Turns out that little extra effort made a very good impression.
As it turns out, that top producer was looking to hire someone part-time to help out his assistant with their day-to-day tasks. At that time I was getting ready to be a senior in college. I was already working 15 to 20 hours a week at a mall job. But I thought it was good opportunity to get my foot in the door. So my senior year I was hired to work 8 am to noon, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday (most of my classes were on Tuesday and Thursdays) and then I would also work at my mall job in the evenings and weekends. I didn’t think much of the job at the time, about what it may turn into. Turns out that it would lead to much, much more.
I continued working for them and helping them out with just their day-to-day tasks. Then, along the way, the broker had asked me if I’d be interested in cold-calling for him. I had never done anything of the sort, but I thought, oh what the heck, we’ll give it a try. Every once in a while I would call randomly from a list that he had purchased of residents in the local community. I was calling just to set appointments for him, with a basic spiel; and, to both his and my amazement, I landed him a few appointments.
That’s when it started to happen.
As graduation was getting closer, it turns out that the top producer that I had helped with his filing, was looking to hire a junior broker. He had asked if I was interested, but initially I turned him down. Primarily because I had bigger dreams. I planned on working a corporate job up in St. Louis, and also I felt that I was way too young to handle people’s money.
I had noticed that many of the top clients that came in the branch were at least twice, if not three times my age. I felt that had no business advising them on their retirement planning. So I kept plugging away, hoping for the next bigger and better thing.
As graduation approached, I realized that the bigger and better thing was not coming. I didn’t want to graduate without having something line up so I accepted his offer.
I was going to be a junior broker. I didn’t have the same ring as “corporate executive” or “investment banker”, but I was still excited of the prospects of what could come.
Most everything in life that I’d ever tried out or attempted — I had always succeeded so naturally I thought this would be no different. I still didn’t know if this was what I would do for the rest of my life, but I was excited for the opportunity to see what could happen. And as they say, “The rest is history”.
That Was How I Got Started
I worked at A.G. Edwards for over 5 years until I left to start my own independent firm with LPL Financial in 2007. Right before I left, I was able to take the accelerated program through Kaplan University and I became a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional. I feel fortunate to have the opportunity that I did.
Alas, I am one financial advisor and my story is just one example of how you can become a financial advisor. So that you can see how others got started, I wanted to share some stories of others who are in the business. I’ve asked them a few questions and excited to offer their stories, too.
How Did You Get Started?
Neal Frankle, a CFP who blogs at Wealth Pilgrim shares how he got started.
I got started working in a bank and I think that was a great beginning. This was back in 1989 (man…am I THAT old?) and the banks were introducing reps to clients and allowing us to really do some good work. At the time, they weren’t pushing us to sell insurance products as they later started doing. In the bank, I didn’t have to really worry about marketing because they introduced me to clients every day.
After a few years I left the bank and went independent. Then I got my CFP. In retrospect, I would have started working on my CFP earlier but it would have been tough. I was working 15 hour days as it was — the bank was sending me that many clients. I would have hired an assistant earlier in my career at the bank too. That would have freed me up.
Carl Richards, CFP from the Behavior Gap adds :
I got started by accident. When I got married I was a full time student and was working for a landscape company, so literally digging ditches. My wife thought I should find a better job so I applied for a what I thought was a security job. I assumed that it was some sort of security guard. I went to the temp agency that was holding interviews and quickly learned it was a securities job. Not a security job.
Pretty funny looking back. I got the job at Fidelity investments in their national call center. I was in training when Netscape went public. Wild times.
From there I got a job at a Brokerage firm, earned my CFP, my CIMA (which I latter dropped). After about 10 years in the brokerage industry I left to start my own RIA firm in 2004.
The entire process has been a series of wonderful surprises with no real plan. I could have never imaged ending up in the profession I am now in. In fact the being a financial planner is still really hard to even defined let alone get into.
I took the following from the website of Caleb Brown, CFP, MBA. With his permission, of course Caleb’s story is inspiring for the true go-getter’s out there. Instead of sitting back and waiting for things come to him, he went out and took control of what he wanted.
In the summer of 2002, Brown sought and accepted an internship position with a senior advisor in his area. Brown convinced him early on to spend quality time with him inside and outside the office. The senior advisor shared insights to managing staff, handling clients and brought Brown into client meetings. The experience has helped Brown better to find both his career goals and the skills he needed in order to bring value to a future employer. He also satisfied the 200 hour internship requirement needed for graduation from the program and gained three month’s of work experience towards fulfilling the CFP certification requirement. On with the plan, Brown continued to leverage networking opportunities. That fall he intended FPA’s annual convention in New Orleans and bumped into Lee, the chapter president he had speak years before at his school. This chance meeting would prove advantageous to help plant a seed in Brown that would later germinate into a full-time employment. With his degree in hand, Brown focused on jobs in Dallas Fort Worth in hopes of staying near family and friends. Seeking guidance, he called Lee to talk about planners and firms he was interested in and asked for help in locating a firm that would be a best fit for him.
What would you have done different?
Caleb Brown adds:
I would have secured additional internships. Ideally, a financial planner candidate would do 3 internships(1 every summer while in school) to get the most exposure to the various firm sizes, client types, internal processes and financial planning & investment management philosophies different firms have to offer. These exposures are imperative in the preliminary matching up of a candidate to a firm that is the right fit for them in beginning their careers. Lately I have been seeing a lot of new entrants not securing any internships, taking the first job that is offered(and not asking the right questions), then wondering why its not a good fit 6 months later and wanting to make a change.
I realize this may be difficult or impossible for the typical career changer type candidate. However, they have options too though. To illustrate, let’s revisit my situation early last decade. When I was trying to secure my internship I ended up talking with a handful of firms before I secured a position. As a professional courtesy, I kept in touch with the firms who had decided not to take an intern that year and when I was on location(SF Bay area) for my internship, I scheduled meetings with all them. This built my network, created a pipeline of worthy and willing mentors, and provided me good glimpses of the internal operations of these other firms. I call them glimpses because they were thorough but not equivalent to a three month internship. So in essence, even though I technically only did 1 internship, I was able to gather a lot of information about the different firm models which better equipped me for success in the industry by helping narrow down my search to a career track that was right for me. The bottom line is that most financial planners are very open and willing to help new folks so candidates should contact them to inquire about the opportunity to come visit their office to shadow for a closer look at what a financial planner really does. This is often a good strategy for career changers.
If I had to do it all over again today, i would probably try to find work with an established firm. I don’t know if the banks are the way to go these days. I would have also become a CPA and possibly worked in an accounting firm and then tried to leverage that position.
In my opinion, the key is to have a way to grow your business without having to waste hours and hours doing it. I believe that a CPA firm would basically replace the bank in it’s capacity to kick start the business.
What Tips Could you suggest to someone wanting to get in the business?
“This issue is being addressed by the FPA and I think they have come along way to defining a career track for people that want to get into the business. Use them as a resource. The thing about this business is most of the really good planners are also really good people and are more than willing to take the time give perspective and advice. Ask for it.
Getting your CFP done as part of your education or as soon as possible is critical. Then find a place to get good training.
Find mentors that you respect. Realize that you don’t have time to spend with anyone of questionable values. It may take a while, but find a real planner, convince them to hire you, and learn everything you can.
Resources for Aspiring Advisors
A great organization that I’m a proud member of is the Financial Planning Association. It’s a tremendous resource for consumers and financial professionals. For someone that is hoping to get in the financial planning business, FPA offers a residency program -think of it as an internship- that is a client-centered training experience using comprehensive and detailed case studies. By completing the 6 day internship program, candidates will be eligible for 30 hours of CFP Board continuing education credit or three months of financial planning work experience. You can learn more by visiting the FPA’s website.
Investment News, which is a leading publication in our industry, recently launched Career Center as resource for employers and potential future employees.
So InvestmentNews will be spending more time focusing on this issue and exploring where, exactly, the next generation of financial advisers will come from. One of the first things we’d like to do is connect with students who have expressed some interest in the profession and are currently looking for more information on the business itself, or where they can get started looking for jobs in the field.
Being a financial advisor is a tough job, but; for the right person, can be a perfect fit and, even more, a perfect career.