If you like helping people and love working with finances, you might want to consider becoming a financial advisor. A financial advisor's job involves giving people financial advice in retirement planning, wealth management, tax planning, and more.
If done right, it can be an extremely fulfilling (and highly lucrative) career path. Before you can dive in and start giving out investment advice to people, you need to know how to become a financial advisor.
This post will help you answer that question. You'll learn all the skills a financial advisor needs, how to become a financial advisor (step by step), and even tips on building a successful career out of financial advising. Ready to learn how to both help people AND make a good bit of money? Let's get right into it.
What is a Financial Advisor?
Before getting into the specifics of becoming a financial advisor, it's essential to understand what exactly a financial advisor is. Simply put, financial advisors help their clients make intelligent financial decisions. These decisions could include anything from estate planning to investment portfolio management to annuity purchases.
Now, don't be fooled by the “big finance” part of the job. Nowadays, as a financial advisor, you can work in all sorts of settings, from a big financial institution (like a bank or a brokerage firm) to a small family office. Many financial advisors even go off to start their advisory firm.
What Do You Do As a Financial Advisor?
At a high level, a financial advisor is responsible for guiding their clients from where they currently are financially to where they want to be. It's a lot of responsibility to shoulder: as a financial advisor, you can completely change your clients' lives in the span of a few meetings. Zooming in, the daily tasks of a financial advisor can vary significantly. Some of them include:
- Marketing – No matter how good you are at financial planning, it's impossible to earn any money without clients. Marketing the firm's financial services is a big part of the job for financial advisors. Popular financial advisor marketing activities can include networking events, digital marketing strategies like content marketing and hosting webinars, or even cold phone calls.
- Client meetings – A large part of the job involves having conversations with clients about their financial situation and reviewing the best next steps. These conversations could revolve around retirement, saving up for a house/car, or saving up for a child's college expenses.
- Preparing for client meetings – While you may spend a lot of time meeting with clients, you're likely to spend even more time preparing to meet. For example, reviewing their financial statements, determining questions to ask during the meeting, and developing recommendations to help clients achieve their goals.
- Team building – If you're successful enough as a financial advisor, chances are you'll be managing a team of people. That means more potential for bringing in money but more phone calls and group interactions.
Skills That Financial Advisors Need
With a career as potentially lucrative as financial advising, not everyone has what it takes. Some skills that you'll need as a financial advisor include:
- People skills – As an advisor, you'll be dealing with tons of people in the day-to-day. Having good people skills is crucial to a successful financial advising career.
- Communication skills – You'll be trying to explain topics like annuities, life insurance, and risk tolerance to people who likely don't have much knowledge in the area. Simplifying these concepts and effectively conveying them is a must in the financial services industry.
- Quantitative insight – It's impossible to create a financial plan without a bit of math. Financial planners must be comfortable working with numbers and data if they wish to succeed.
How to Become a Financial Advisor: Step By Step
Becoming a financial advisor isn't exactly a walk in the park. If it were, everyone would be doing it. So here's how to become a financial advisor, step by step.
Consider Getting a Bachelor's Degree
The first thing you'll want to consider is getting a bachelor's degree. You don't need to pursue a specific major to become a financial advisor, although having a financially relevant one might help you when you're trying to get your credentials. For example, consider taking finance, personal finance, investing, or risk-management courses.
Also, if you want to acquire a CFP designation (become a “Certified Financial Planner“), you'll need to complete specific college-level programs and take the CFP exam. The prerequisites needed to become a financial advisor are pretty light as far as education requirements go. That said, once you become a financial advisor, you'll have to complete continuing education requirements to keep up with industry standards and new developments in the field.
Acquire Your Certifications and Licenses
Depending on where you end up working (and what services you provide clients with), you'll need to get different certifications and licenses.
If, on top of your financial planning services, you also decide to sell investment products (standard at banks and broker-dealers), you'll be required to pass specific exams. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) administers these exams and include:
- Series 66 Exam – NASAA Uniform Combined State Law Exam
- Series 65 Exam – NASAA Investment Advisers Law Exam
- Series 63 Exam – Uniform Securities Agent
- Series 7 Exam – General Securities Representative
- Series 6 Exam – Investment Company Products/Variable Contracts Limited Representative
You can find out more about these exams on FINRA's website, including the testing formats, time limits, and what you need to score to pass.
Get Your Foot in the Door
It is tough to get hired as a financial advisor without any experience. Some firms don't even give calls back to applicants without a financial work history. For this reason, it might be a good idea to consider getting an internship first to break into the financial industry.
The great thing about starter internships is that (because it's your first financial job), it doesn't have to be specific to what you want to do in the future. For example, you can work in a comprehensive wealth management firm, an investment management firm, or other financial services institution. Any one of these roles will get your foot in the door.
Bonus: the skills you'll be using to try and land one of these internships are the same skills you'll need as a financial advisor to land clients.
Apply for a Job
Once you've got some experience under your belt, it's time to apply for a financial advisor job. Some good places to look are large broker-dealers (a broker-dealer trades securities on behalf of its customers) that implement million dollar investment strategies or small full-service investment-advisory firms.
Wherever you end up working, make sure that the environment is conducive to your learning and that they have tons of on-the-job training for you. Once you're in, all that's left to do is work hard, study hard (if they make you take more exams), and positively impact people's lives.
Tips for Being a Successful Financial Advisor
Becoming a financial advisor is half the battle. After all, not every financial advisor succeeds, and only some end up making the big bucks. Here are some tips for becoming a successful financial advisor.
- Invest money and time in continuing education and learning – The best financial advisors are the ones who take their responsibilities very seriously. That means constantly learning and staying up to date on the financial markets so that you can make the most well-informed decisions for your clients (and have their best interest at heart).
- Learn how to market – There are numerous ways to attract new clients. Take the time to observe what's working for others, read marketing articles, and ask for suggestions from advisors you trust. You'll need to focus on the strategies and tactics best for you, or you're unlikely to succeed as a financial advisor.
- Develop solid workflows – Once you start doing paid work, it's tempting to neglect business development and let your pipeline dry up. That's why it's crucial to develop good time allocation skills and make sure you're budgeting your efforts efficiently.
- Follow up with people – As a financial advisor at a brokerage firm, you may get compensated when you make a sale (and not for any of the follow up). Because of this, many financial advisors neglect past clients and view them as just numbers. If you take the time to write thank you cards, or send the occasional holiday email, or recommend certain books you liked, it will go a long way in the eyes of your clients.
- Focus on understanding – “People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.” – President Theodore Roosevelt. Often, new financial advisors make the mistake of talking too much about themselves “I went to X education program and got Y diploma, and now I work with Z high-net-worth individuals.” Most clients want to ensure you understand their situation first and foremost. Making this shift in your mindset could help your financial advising career significantly.
How Do You Know If Becoming a Financial Advisor is Right for You?
So there you have it, how to become a financial advisor (step-by-step). If you're still unsure about whether becoming a financial advisor is right for you, consider asking yourself these questions:
- Am I passionate about helping others achieve their financial goals?
- Do I genuinely believe in the financial products that I will be recommending?
- Does the idea of financial planning and investing excite me?
- Am I willing to put in the time and effort to meet all the necessary qualifications?
- Can I deal with a variety of people daily?
If some of these questions bring to you cause for concern, no worries; there are plenty of other fantastic jobs out there for you to consider. BUT, if you answered “yes” to all of the questions above, becoming a financial advisor could be a very profitable and very fulfilling career for you.
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Jeff is a current Harvard student and author of the blog Financial Pupil who is passionate about learning, living, and sharing all things personal finance-related. He has experience working in the financial industry and enjoys the pursuit of financial freedom. Outside of blogging, he loves to cook, read, and golf in his spare time.