There’s one college major that practically guarantees a great job and future financial success. Sadly, far too few colleges and universities offer a degree in financial planning. But students who do graduate and take the certified financial planner (CFP) exam can easily start earning $50,000 a year or more.
That point was well-made at the Financial Planning Association national conference held in Chicago recently. Teams of students competed to win the Student Challenge, a three-round effort that entailed creating a written financial plan, presenting a case study before some tough judges and a game show challenge along the lines of “Jeopardy” with multiple choice answers.
These young experts answered questions in categories ranging from principles of financial planning to estate planning, as well as investments, tax and insurance. For example: For $400 in the investment category, which of these four answers properly defines “beta”? Or for $200 in the insurance category, which of these answers describes the tax status of the beneficiary of a life insurance policy?
(I was proud to have answered all of them correctly, except for a tricky tax question about cost basis of a tractor. And I was triply delighted that more than half of the contestants were young women!)
Directors of these college level programs traveled to the competition with their student teams, beaming with pride as they competed. John Grable of the University of Georgia reported that his program has 150 undergrads studying financial planning, along with 70 working toward a master’s degree and another 30 students getting a PhD in financial planning.
All of them go on to great jobs with financial planning firms, he explained. And Professor Grable made special note that almost none of these students go on to work for broker/dealer firms (notorious for selling commissioned products) or for life insurance companies. This new generation truly takes the term “fiduciary” to heart, eschewing careers built on sales pitches and determined to serve middle-income families.
Once the student graduates, he or she can immediately sit for the CFP exam. The degree is conferred only after at least two years of experience, typically accomplished with internships while in school combined with a post-grad job with a CFP financial planning firm.
Surprisingly, most of these college programs in financial planning do not come at the major universities. Utah Valley in Orem, Utah, has one of the largest programs with more than 400 students. The fast-growing and highly regarded Texas A&M program created by Dr. Nathan Harness started just a few years ago. Its students were among the top competitors.
Dr. Harness notes that these degree programs will revolutionize the concept of financial planning as a profession. Most professions, he points out, start with a generalized education and then develop specialties. For example, physicians get an M.D. degree before going on to specialize. But traditionally financial planners have come from a “branch” of financial the financial world — starting out in insurance or investments, for example. It’s as if, he says, “a tree grew backwards, starting with the branches!”
Since all certified financial planners must pass an excruciating test that covers all aspects of financial planning, this new generation of planners will have a much broader knowledge base. And starting in October 2019, all CFPs must operate as fiduciaries — that is, follow the standard that puts clients’ interests ahead of their own and fully disclosing all fees, commissions and other rewards for giving specific investment and product advice. That will truly be a mark of distinction.
(Article written by Terry Savage)