Our industry is strange and unnecessarily complex for most “consumers” (i.e. people who need help with their money) to understand what to look for when they hire a financial planner. In our industry, someone can have zero experience with money, but pass the Series 7 and 63 licensing exams and call himself a financial planner. I was fortunate to start my career under the careful tutelage of my dad, who for obvious reasons wanted me trained well. After a two year apprenticeship, I stood on my own to start my practice within the firm. Sink or swim, eat what you kill. I had to learn whether I had the chops to guide clients through life, run a practice, and be an entrepreneur.
I spread my wings immediately, and have since consistently challenged myself to improve as a professional. My practice has evolved over the past eighteen years, both through the licenses and registrations I hold (Series 6, 7, 24, 53, 63, 65; Life and Health) and the increasingly sophisticated clients that I have the opportunity to assist in achieving their life goals.
So, what did I really learn as I went through this process, which for all intents is something I did not need to complete? And why would someone in my position dedicate the hours and focus required to achieve the designation of CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional?
It is evidence that I am committed to my vocation.
My life revolves around setting big goals and achieving them. It is at the core of who and what I am, it is what drives me, and it is in the end what orders my day. A CFP® certification is the gold standard of excellence in my profession, and I want it to be obvious how much of me and my life has been devoted to helping families.
The CFP® certification requires a comprehensive commitment to the profession, as evidenced by the substantial education, experience and ethics requirements, in addition to a marathon examination as the culmination of hundreds of hours of study.
It means something to have initials after your name.
Our industry is now and will remain challenged by the many definitions of financial advisor/financial planner/wealth advisor. While I have used these terms interchangeably to describe myself, there are now three initials that will tell my current and future clients that my responsibility to them is to be their teacher and coach, but more importantly to be their fiduciary and personal CFO. I am committed to a rigorous standard of expertise and practice to guide my clients and their families towards their life goals. I have always practiced in the spirit of a CFP® professional: taking a holistic approach in my practice, and putting clients first, so there will not be a seismic shift in the way that I do business. Now, however, there will be an understanding and an expectation of what I deliver.
We should always try to learn, no matter how much experience we have.
Despite the fact that I have had my own practice for over 15 years, I am young for my industry. I am constantly looking for ways to improve myself, my knowledge, and what and how I deliver financial guidance. While I have experience and knowledge in all of the subject areas, I know I benefited from working through the learning modules and gaining a different perspective on how the various areas of a client’s life intertwine.
I developed a clearer focus on my value as a professional.
Regulators, writers and even potential clients are increasingly focused upon expenses in my industry, particularly on whether clients understand what they are paying for, whether those expenses are relevant to their goals, and also whether human advisors – as opposed to robots, or robo advisors - are really helpful. This discussion is necessary and will hopefully be beneficial to investors in the long-term. However, this focus can also derail us from identifying a planner’s true value, which differs from that of merely an investment manager. I know that my best and greatest impact will not be on choosing large cap value over large cap growth in a given year, but rather in helping my clients evaluate, preserve and use their resources to live the life they want to live. This is what is expected of a CFP® professional.
Long journeys require support and patience to be a success.
I map out long journeys for my clients all the time… to send a child to college, to be able to stop working one day, to prepare for the loss of a spouse, to prepare for the sale of a business. I have a natural skill for putting the puzzle pieces together so strategies can run side-by-side and cross a cohesive finish line many years down the road. For all of that to work, I need my clients to commit to plan, sacrifice, stay focused, and work hard. Achieving the CFP® certification required this exact formula for me, and I gained a further appreciation for the faith and efforts of each of my clients. Additionally, this journey required the support of my work team, my home team, and my friends and colleagues, who flooded me with texts and e-mails throughout the months of preparation and the day before the exam, reminding me in no uncertain terms that I was going to succeed. In this day and age of hyper-individual pursuits, I was honored to know that I am part of a community that cheers for my success, and I would be wise to bring them along on the rest of my journey.
Hard work may be its own reward. The CFP® certification is the trophy on the wall.