Table of Contents
- Why Become a Certified Financial Planner?
- What is a Financial Planner?
- What Does a Financial Planner Do?
- Requirements to Become a Certified Financial Planner
- How is the Certified Financial Planner Exam Scored?
- Study Resources and Preparation for the Certified Financial Planning for the Exam
- Career & Salary
Why Become a Certified Financial Planner?
After the Great Recession of 2008, people began to worry that they didn’t know how to manage their money. By earning your degree as a financial planner (or advisor), you’ll gain the knowledge and skills you need to assist people who want to better manage their money and investments.
Not everyone knows how to take care of the money they have or get it to work for them on a long-term basis. Once you earn your degree and certification, you will have that knowledge. Your education in college will be thorough and challenging. After you graduate and begin working, the next step will be preparing to take your certification exam.
And, once you have your certificate hanging on the wall in your office, you’ll be able to counsel your clients, figure out what assets they have, and develop a workable plan that allows you to give them the financial guidance they are seeking.
What is a Financial Planner?
A financial planner is a certified professional who helps clients to develop financial plans that work for their goals. If this is your career goal, you may also go through your clients’ financial situations and develop suggestions on how they can make them better. You may suggest planning for education funding for their children or you may help them plan for retirement.
What Does a Financial Planner Do?
When clients come to you, you’ll interview them extensively to find out what their current financial picture looks like. You’ll learn about their current financial needs so you can help them to clean up any outstanding debts. You’ll also talk to them about their future financial and retirement plans; do they want to retire sooner rather than later? Once they have retired, do your clients know what they want to do? Will they travel, stay at home and enjoy their lives, or even start a new business?
If you decide to specialize in one area of financial planning, you’ll focus more on just one aspect of your clients’ finances. This may be working on simplifying their tax picture or you may become familiar with their investments and begin to guide them so that they experience fewer losses.
Digging a little deeper, you determine their risk tolerance or how strong their finances are against risks. Or you may help them to find the investments that they should be making. This way, they can make their investments grow by putting their savings into the bonds, stocks, and other annuities you’ve already identified for them. Don’t forget about asset allocation, estate planning or tax planning, either.
Requirements to Become a Certified Financial Planner
Before you take your CFP exam, much less begin working as one, you’ll need to hold a bachelor’s degree. The Certified Financial Planner Board specifies that this degree can be in any discipline, though it should be from an accredited university or college. If your degree doesn’t meet this last requirement, you may not be allowed to sit for the exam.
You also have to complete an education program that has been registered by the CFP Board. After studying for the exam, you should be able to easily pass the test. You’ll also need to show that you have financial planning experience and pass the candidate fitness standards of CFP - this includes ethical standards.
Your CFP study guide and the exam both focus on what you need to know as a certified financial planner. CFP exam topics focus primarily on critical thinking and problem-solving. Thus, you aren’t going to see true-false questions. The company that gives this exam wants its students to know and understand financial planning inside and out.
Each question on the exam concerns at least one of the Board’s Principal Knowledge Topics (of which there are eight). Topic areas include investment planning, education planning, general financial planning, professional conduct and regulation, retirement savings/income planning, estate planning, risk management/insurance planning and tax planning.
You’ll also be tested on several tasks: client-planner relationships, working within professional/regulatory standards, gathering the information you need to help your client, developing recommendations, analyzing/evaluating your client’s current financial situation, discussing your recommendations, and carrying out and monitoring your recommendations.
You have some flexibility on exam dates for the CFP exam; it’s offered in March, July, and November of each year. By signing up as early as you can, you may receive an early bird special. Otherwise, if you wait to register later in the year, your exam fee will be higher.
If you have an idea of when you’ll be done studying for your exam, you should be able to register even before you finish. The CFP Board has to have proof of your coursework completion by the education verification deadline so you can sit for your exam.
The exam itself contains 170 questions. These are multiple-choice questions but that doesn’t mean they won’t require significant thought before you give your answer. On top of that, the exam is broken up into two 3-hour sessions, taken in one day, which would be a grueling time frame for any test.
How is the Certified Financial Planner Exam Scored?
Hopefully, once you’ve taken your exam, you’ll be able to be confident that you passed it. Once you submit your answers, you’ll receive your preliminary results. Your official results will be sent via mail, and you should receive them about 4 weeks after the testing window closes.
If you didn’t pass, the CFP Board will mail a diagnostic report of your results. These diagnostics cover the Principal Knowledge Topics and show you where the weaknesses and strengths are in your answers. This helps you to zero in on the areas where you need to improve your knowledge base for the next time you take the exam.
Passing scores for the CFP exam are “based on a minimal competency level required to pass the exam. . .” according to the CFP Board. The overall passing rate in 2018 was 60%; for first-time test-takers it was 64%. If you don’t pass your exam, you are able to take it two more times in two years.
Study Resources and Preparation for the Certified Financial Planning for the Exam
Before you begin studying for the Certified Financial Planner exam, you need to know you’re going to spend significant time for several months studying. Plan to spend about 1,000 hours studying before you do sit for your exam.
Memorization is not key. In fact, the CFP exam requires you to know the material well enough that you can break it down to apply it to real-life scenarios. Here, recall and application are both vital activities for you as you study.
As you study and take practice tests, strive to earn the highest grade of which you are capable. The CFP exam is different from licensing exams, which are then assigned a percentage grade, which means that those test takers need to earn a minimum percentage to pass. However, with the CFP, you won’t receive a grade for your exam. You’ll get a letter telling you if you failed or passed.
Take advantage of review courses. By doing so, you’ll be provided with pointers on how to apply reasoning in the case study questions. You may also find out how much importance, or weight, is given to each exam section. Because of how much material is presented in the CFP exam, some topics may only get a few questions. If you understand which topics are likely to be given less importance, you’ll be able to focus on the remaining topics. Don’t cram for the exam.
On test day: Follow your gut; answer all questions; know material on taxes.
This exam is difficult. Because it contains so much material that is sourced from professional experience and education, you’re going to use your own professional knowledge just as much as you use your education.
Because of the exam’s difficulty, focus on the big stuff. Don’t let the minutiae bog you down. As you look through the CFP Board’s 8 Principal Knowledge Topics, you’ll notice that some have a 17% weight for the exam; these are the sections that will have the highest number of questions, so you can focus your studies there until you’re sure you have them down pat.
Because of the exam’s difficulty level, some students study for as many as 5 hours each week until exam day.
When you register for the exam, you’ll have to pay a registration fee. If you signed up after the early bird period has ended, you’ll pay $825. If you sign up during the early bird rate, you’ll only pay $725. Students who register late will pay a fee of $925.
During your first registration, you’ll be asked to pay a non-refundable fee of $125. After you have earned your CFP, the annual re-certification fee will be $355 - CFPs are required to update their certifications annually.
Career & Salary
Where Might You Work?
When you accept a job offer as a financial planner, you’ll have a variety of workplace options. You may work for a national wire house, a credit union, or for a small firm. Or you could find work with a large, nationally known bank.
Once you have been working as a CFP for a few years, you may decide to branch out on your own and open your own firm. You may also decide to return to school to earn your masters and doctoral degrees so you can work as a financial planning researcher or as a professor.
Certified financial planners are easily able to find employment in a company that offers financial services. For instance, in securities, commodity contracts, and other financial investments and related activities. There are 144,000 CFPs employed in the US; this is 15% of industry employment.
The job outlook for the financial planning industry is slated to increase by 27% between 2012 and 2022. Due to a drop in funds for both state and corporate pensions, the CFP industry is expected to grow because of the numbers of people who will need financial planning assistance.
Financial planners who have taken the time to earn their CFP will set themselves up to receive the best job offers before 2022. Consumers said in a study that they were more likely to look for the CFP certification before choosing their financial planner than any other certification.
After the Great Recession, people lost investments and retirement accounts. They needed some skilled guidance and advice to rebuild what they lost. A knowledgeable financial planner is able to focus on rebuilding, estate planning, and targeted budgeting. And, for those who are worried about their own holdings, a financial planner is able to help them to structure their finances for the future. The newest tax laws make financial planning a necessity as well.