Financial planner: career path and qualifications

What is the career path of a financial planner?

Financial planning is a profession that can provide huge income potential and job growth prospects. The average salary of a personal financial adviser in 2020 is US$89,330. More than 263,000 people were employed as financial planners in 2019, and this number is expected to increase by 4% by 2029.

In the field of investment professionals, financial planning is a fairly new niche market. Until a few decades ago, you were more likely to get financial advice from a stockbroker, banker, or insurance salesperson. Today, financial planners help clients piece together all parts of a financial puzzle.

Key points

  • Financial planners work closely with clients to help them build investment portfolios to ensure a financially comfortable future.
  • Most financial planners have a bachelor’s degree in finance-related fields or a humanities degree that emphasizes interpersonal skills.
  • Many financial planners are also certified as Certified Financial Planner (CFP) or Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA).

Requirements to become a financial planner

A bachelor’s degree in finance-related fields is a typical starting point, but some companies also hire graduates of humanities majors such as psychology. Financial planners need to be able to build trust with customers, explain complex financial products in a popular way, and gain customers’ approval of the action plan. Interpersonal skills are generally considered more important than detailed knowledge of mutual funds and trading strategies.

A Master of Business Administration (MBA) may help financial planners climb up the corporate ladder to management positions. Occasionally, you may see PhDs in finance-related fields among managers, but MBA holders are the most common.

The annual salary of financial planners working in New York, Maine, Montana, Minnesota and Massachusetts ranks among the top six.


Many financial planners are certified. The gold standard is Certified Financial Planner (CFP) and Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA).For accountants, a similar certification is the Certified Public Accountant (CPA).

To obtain CFP certification, candidates must hold a bachelor’s degree and complete a financial planning course through the CFP Commission Registration Program. They must also complete 6,000 hours of professional experience related to financial planning, or 4,000 hours of apprenticeship experience to meet additional requirements. The exam itself is a 170-question test, conducted in two 3-hour courses.

The candidate must also prove that he is a valuable trustee who can always serve the interests of the client. Before granting CFP, all applicants must agree to a detailed background check.

CFA is generally considered to be a more difficult certification than CFP. It requires four years of experience and three hard exams.Both of these certifications will significantly improve your employment prospects.

There is also a Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC) certification. The course does not require a bachelor’s degree, but it is recommended. Candidates must complete eight courses including insurance planning, income tax, retirement planning and estate planning.


Although financial planning does not require a license technically, some financial planners choose to obtain a license from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), such as Series 6, Series 7, or Series 63. This allows them to sell stocks, bonds, mutual funds, insurance, and anything else that customers might need.These licenses may require membership in self-regulatory organizations.

Career path

Since all major certification bodies require several years of industry experience, most financial planners work part-time or full-time while completing their studies, starting from junior positions.

After being certified, financial planners can receive clients without supervision. Salaries vary by region, with financial planners in New York, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Connecticut, and Massachusetts earning the most.Most financial planners also receive annual bonuses and/or profit sharing that can easily reach five figures.

89,330 USD

The median annual salary of personal financial advisers in 2019.

Many financial planners are content to maintain their roles and turn to higher net worth clients and higher salary levels. Senior financial planners in large companies can get a six-figure base salary and a matching year-end bonus in a relatively low-stress work environment.

Some financial planners prefer to become self-employed after completing certification. Since the cost of starting a business is basically the price of a small office space, many people find that its income potential is higher than a normal job in a financial company. The key to independent entrepreneurship is to establish a network of contacts and a stable customer base.


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