A Day in the Life of a Financial Planner

Financial planners determine how their clients can meet lifelong financial goals through management of resources. They examine the financial history-past and current-of their client's assets and suggest exactly what steps the client needs to take in the future to meet her goals. Although other professional financial advisors usually focus on one area of a client's financial life, the broad-based approach to financial advice that financial planners offer distinguishes them from the rest of the profession. In this sense, financial planners are jacks of all trades, but they do not work alone. Financial planners will inevitably meet with their client's other advisors-attorneys, accountants, trust officers, investment bankers-in order to fully understand their client's financial goals. The last thing a financial planner wants to do is map out a plan that conflicts with investments that their client has already made with their bankers. It is a research-heavy profession, as well as a stressful one: You are suggesting how to use other people's money, which can make those people touchy. It is a very corporate profession as well, and you will be expected to look and play the part. Although many financial planners are asked to devise comprehensive plans for their clients, some people hire planners to handle a specific interest and financial goal, such as planning for retirement, buying a home, or investing an inheritance. A financial planner will conduct questionnaires and personal interviews to put together a client profile detailing financial objectives, current income, investments, risk tolerance, expenses, tax returns, insurance coverage, retirement programs, estate plans, and other pertinent information to put together a plan that meets the client's overall, or specific, financial agenda. The plan itself is a set of recommendations and strategies for the client to use, or to ignore, and financial planners should be ready to answer hard questions about the integrity of the plan they map out. Because of this, financial planners must constantly be updating their plan and watching the all-important market for trends that will affect the plan they have offered. According to the Institute of Certified Financial Planners, planners spend the majority of their time, in descending order, advising clients on the following: investment planning, retirement planning, tax planning, estate planning, and risk management. All of these areas require different types of financial knowledge and planners are generally expected to be extremely competent in the disciplines of asset management, employee benefits, estate planning, insurance, investments, and retirement. On top of all of this required knowledge, a financial planner must also have good interpersonal skills since establishing a client-planner relationship is essential to a planner's professional success. It also helps the planner to be a great presenter since even the best financial plan, if presented poorly to a client, can destroy the client's trust.

Paying Your Dues

Earning a bachelor's degree in any discipline can put hopefuls on the track to be financial planners, but it will help if your degree indicates skill with numbers, be it in science or business. However, education alone is not going to give potential clients the peace of mind they need to turn over their finances. On the issue of trust, it is prudent to note that no federal agency regulates financial planners. There is some regulation on the state level, but only in some states. Because of this, most financial planners choose to become certified by the Certified Financial Planners (CFP) Board. The CFP Board is an independent professional regulatory organization that extends licenses to those planners who pass the CFP certification examination. Most clients will look for financial planners who are certified and are bound to the CFP Board's ethical and educational standards (which include a bachelor's degree, three years of financial planning-related experience, and completion of college-level courses in financial planning).

Present and Future

The seemingly unstoppable bull market of the last several years has seen a boom in the financial planning profession. Increased activity by banks, brokerage houses, and mutual funds has seen these financial giants scramble to expand their financial planning services for both individuals and small businesses. In fact, financial planning is the fastest growing segment of the industry with the amount of assets managed by fee-only financial planners having doubled in the past five years to an incredible $282 billion. All good news for people interested in entering an industry where top salaries push the $200,000 level.

Quality of Life


Early in their careers, financial planners will be working for banks, mutual fund companies, or investment firms and will receive extensive on-the-job training. The job itself, however, will be heavy in both client-based and research activities. In many cases, financial planners are really beginning their own business and as they learn their skills they also have to build up their personal client base, as in any business. Particulary during these early years, financial planners will see long hours of analysis of documents, meetings with other advisors, and networking to find new clients. Pressure is high and pay is relatively low for the newly anointed, with starting incomes around $20,000. Financial planners are paid on a fee-only, commission, or fee-and-commission basis. Early on, fees and commissions are apt to be low.


Those who have not changed their career track can expect to have established some good client-planner long-term relationships, will experience less over-the-shoulder supervision from their employers, and may even have clients who are "feathers in the cap" to their house or firm. Measured success at this point in the career will see a planner's service fees considerably marked up from when they started, and, depending on the client, even commissions that add up to a nice annual income on their own.


Those who have survived this long have a wealth of satisfied clients, and a good track record, and a six-figure income. Many will have moved onto management positions, overseeing the financial planning services of major investment firms.