With the average age of a financial advisor estimated to be 50-something, a looming talent shortage has made it increasingly appealing to become a financial advisor… both as a prospective career for college students, and career-changers looking to switch into a more financially lucrative and psychologically rewarding career. The caveat, however, is that as CFP certification increasingly becomes the requisite pathway to a professional career as a financial planner, the CFP Board’s experience requirement is proving to be especially troublesome and challenging for career-changers who can’t necessary jump in with both feet at once and must make a more gradual transition.
In this week’s #OfficeHours with @MichaelKitces, my Tuesday 1PM EST broadcast via Periscope, we discuss why the 3-year experience requirement is especially challenging for career-changers pursuing CFP certification, the ways that career-changers can satisfy their experience requirement, and the changes that the CFP Board itself should consider to be more accommodating to the realities of career-changers in the future.
Historically, most financial advisors started their careers as a 20-something that received training to sell their company’s products, and over time moved up into more comprehensive financial advice. The “good” news of this sales-centric pathway was that in the early years that are often lean, advisors were early in their own careers and usually didn’t have many family or income constraints. In other words, it was economically more practical to take the risk. By contrast, though, for those who are mid-career and want to transition into a full-time planning career, it might not be so financially feasible to make an abrupt change. Instead, career-changers more commonly make a gradual shift into the financial services industry, and may only devote a couple days each week to gaining the requisite experience. Yet unfortunately, in that scenario, it can take 5-10 years or more to fulfill the CFP Board’s three-year (6,000-hour) experience requirement, a few hours per week at a time. With the added complication that once a career-changer sits for the CFP exam, the experience doesn’t even count more than five years after passing the exam!
Fortunately, several years ago the CFP Board expanded the ways that the CFP experience requirement can be satisfied, allowing a wide range of “indirect support of financial planning” jobs to count, including working in employee benefits administration or even compliance. And while from the industry perspective, this is concerning – as it means people who have never actually advised anyone nor ever even sat across from a single client can still tick off the experience requirement – from the career-changer perspective, this becomes an especially appealing pathway to finish the CFP experience requirement in lieu of slowly “counting the hours” doing part-time work.
Accordingly, for career-changers who are struggling to fulfill their experience requirement, the best option is usually to look for opportunities in the industry to provide “indirect support” (rather than as a financial advisor salesperson out of the gate, which has a high risk of failure), as even if it’s a role in operations or project management, if it’s in an advisory firm (or the industry more broadly) it should still count. Alternatively, for those who do plan to – or need to – transition more slowly, be cognizant of when you’re going to take the CFP exam, given that you only have 5 years after you pass the exam to fulfill the experience requirement. And bear in mind it’s also possible to beef up your CFP experience hours by volunteering to do pro-bono financial planning work (including structured programs like the IRS’ Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) or Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) programs, or by taking advantage of the FPA residency program to get 3 months of CFP experience in just one week!
In the meantime, hopefully the CFP Board itself will re-think how their policies adversely impact part-time career-changers, with an experience path that isn’t built for the financial realities of career changers who can’t necessarily take a full-time (often entry-level) job out of the gate. Especially since the reality is that even “full-time” financial advisor jobs from the start are often 80%+ prospecting and sales, and less than 20% financial planning anyway… which means part-time career-changers may still be getting just as much real financial planning experience as a new financial advisor trainee anyway!
The bottom line, though, is simply to recognize that there are pathways for career-changers to gain experience, but those who have the most financial flexibility to take potentially-lower-paying-jobs to accelerate their experience progress will have the most options. Which is appealing for those who are able to do so. And hopefully the CFP Board will consider expanding these pathways further over time, so the available career path options aren’t so limited for those who aren’t able to take a step back financially just to make the transition!