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So you want to be a financial planner

If you’re looking for a career where job opportunities are on a strong upswing, financial planning is one to consider. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has named it one of the fastest growing professions in the country. 

Sounds promising. But what exactly do financial planners do?

In brief, they help clients understand, through financial analysis and advice, the assets and strategies needed to achieve major goals in their lives — buying a house, having children, paying for education, providing for retirement, caring for aging parents and more.

“It’s really one of the helping professions,” said Todd Davidson, who for more than 20 years has been the owner of Davidson Financial Planning and an instructor in the UCLA Extension Personal Financial Planning (PFP) program. “A financial planner is also part educator, part psychologist.”

Davidson started out as an attorney, followed by 20 years in a tax/management position. When he enrolled in the UCLA PFP program in 1993, he quickly realized this was the career he wanted. “I couldn't wait to get started in the field. Everything about it was exciting to me,” he said. 

We asked Davidson what natural abilities he thought were most important for someone considering a career as a financial planner. 

“Number one: relationship skills. It’s important to be a good active listener, to understand people’s concerns and their fears,” he said. "Another skill a planner needs is the willingness to continue learning, because everything in the field is constantly changing."

Then he asked, “Did you notice what I left out?” 

We did. Math. 

“You do have to have basic math skills,” he said, “but it’s not paramount.”

He recommends a solid education in financial planning, like the UCLA Extension Personal Financial Planning certificate program, where every class is taught by working professionals and can be taken either in the classroom or online. 

The program consists of eight courses covering the key aspects of financial planning — investments, insurance, income tax, retirement plans and estate planning — as well as a capstone course designed to bridge a student’s academic studies with hands-on practice in creating financial plans. You must also take a one-day seminar in professional ethics. When you successfully complete the program, you’ll be awarded UCLA Extension’s PFP certificate.

After achieving that step, you may want to take it to the next level and become a Certified Financial Planner (a trademarked title). Davidson called this “the brass ring” of financial planning, and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Those who obtain certification will likely see the best prospects.”

To become a Certified Financial Planner you must have a bachelor’s degree and fulfill several requirements — also known as the 4 E’s. The first requirement is Education, which is satisfied when you complete your UCLA Extension’s CFP Board-registered PFP certificate. Then you must pass the very rigorous Examination, which the UCLA Extension CFP Exam Review Program can help you prepare for. Third, you must have on-the-job Experience, either three years of verified full-time employment in the financial planning industry or specified equivalents. And finally you must meet a set of Ethical standards.

If you want to be a comprehensive financial planner, you must also become a Registered Investment Advisor or obtain a securities license issued by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. 

There are many ways to begin working in the profession. You can set up your own practice or find a job with an established comprehensive financial planning firm, or an insurance company, brokerage firm or bank.

“There's a ton of choices out there,” Davidson said.

 —Maxine Nunes for UCLA Extension

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