Despite a desire to grow their financial assets, most individuals don’t know how to invest money or save strategically to meet their goals. Financial planners meet this need, not just for the ultra-wealthy but for the middle class, as well. A bachelor’s degree in one of several different fields can prepare you for a job in financial planning, but regardless of what major you choose, you need to complete coursework in investments and estate planning and undergo lengthy on-the-job training.
Financial Planning Careers
The most visible occupation in financial planning is personal financial advisor. Personal financial advisors make a median salary of $90,640 per year, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Opportunities in the financial planning career field are growing rapidly, and the BLS expects jobs for personal financial advisors to grow by 15 percent – more than twice that rate expected across all occupations – leading to 40,400 new jobs.
Personal financial advisors work directly with their clients and recommend ways to reach that client’s situation-specific financial goals. Instead of proffering generic advice that takes into account nothing except for age or income level, personal financial advisors take the time to understand what financial concerns an individual or family has and create specially tailored strategies to meet those goals. Just a few of the goals a personal financial advisor might help their clients achieve include saving for a wedding, a new home, starting a family, college tuition and retirement. To be a good financial advisor, you must research different types of savings accounts and investment opportunities and educate clients on the different options and their benefits and drawbacks. They may invest clients’ money on their behalf or sell them insurance policies that mitigate financial risks, the BLS reported.
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A bachelor’s degree is essential and a master’s degree is optional for financial planning careers, but aspiring personal financial advisors have a great deal of choice in their program of study. The BLS reports that there are certain courses aspiring financial planners must take, such as investments, risk management, estate planning and taxes. Developing your analytical, math, interpersonal and communication skills is almost as crucial as learning about investments, and an array of different college majors can help you acquire these skills.
While more than half of personal financial advisors work for the industry of securities, commodity contracts and financial investment activities, almost a quarter of the occupation is self-employed, according to the BLS.
Financial Planning Degrees
A degree in financial planning seems like the most logical choice for this career path, but this major is not a widespread option, although the BLS reports that these programs “are becoming more available” than they have been in the past. The advantage of choosing a degree in financial planning is that your coursework is already tailored to match your career interests. Your classes might include financial planning principles, investments, retirement planning, insurance planning, portfolio management and financial plan development. Some financial planning degree programs include a capstone course that exposes students to the real-life risk and reward of the career field by having them develop real financial plans – and sometimes, invest real money – as part of their education. Another benefit of majoring in financial planning is that the programs that do exist often line up with professional credentialing programs like the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) certification. Some programs align with certification eligibility requirements, while others simply base their curricula in part on the knowledge needed to pass the CFP exam.
Financial planning degree programs often include an emphasis on wealth management, or the financial planning of individuals who have considerably more money to invest than members of the general public have.
Since financial planning degree programs are still somewhat uncommon, many aspiring financial planners choose the more general and ubiquitous finance major. Finance is the study and career field of managing money and assets. A typical undergraduate finance curriculum may include studies in corporate finance, investments, financial management, risk management, financial analysis, financial accounting and global finance. Students can sometimes choose specialized finance courses, including portfolio management, real estate finance and coursework in different types of financial investments.
A finance degree is more versatile than the financial planning major and can equip students with the skills needed for other finance careers, including financial analyst, management consultant and loan officer.
Business, Accounting and Economics Degrees
Having broader business knowledge beyond investment and portfolios is an asset to financial planners. Some students choose to pursue a degree in business administration, accounting or economics rather than focusing narrowly on financial planning or finance. On the plus side, studying one of these broader degree programs makes your education more versatile and your skills more marketable. However, since in-depth studies of investments and similar subjects aren’t always required in these degree programs, students who aspire to work in financial planning may have to use their electives to build up the knowledge of finance.
Another option for financial planners is a math degree. Majoring in math helps you develop the analytical, reasoning and math skills you need for success in this career – but you need to make taking classes in investments and portfolio management a priority.
Believe it or not, legal studies can also be valuable for aspiring financial planners, according to the BLS. You don’t need to be a full-fledged attorney with a Juris Doctor degree and a license to practice law to be able to apply knowledge of legal studies to the field of financial planning. In fact, some colleges offer undergraduate studies in law, like a law minor, out of interdisciplinary departments that blend law, tax and financial planning studies. However, if you want to advance your legal education, some graduate schools now offer dual degree programs award a Juris Doctor degree along with a Master of Science in Personal Financial Planning degree.
Though rare, there have been times when established attorneys made headlines changing careers to become financial planners – and found a lot more job satisfaction in their new roles.