For many people, money matters, such as making investments, choosing insurance providers, dealing with mortgages, handling savings, and estate planning, are intimidating. Without a knowledgeable expert on their side, they may be rolling the dice on their financial futures. Financial advisors help eliminate some of that risk by providing the information people need to make sound choices.
For those wanting to use their expertise to help others, a career in financial services might be an excellent choice. As the field grows, students in finance and professionals looking at their options for second careers might consider how to become a financial advisor.
What Does a Financial Advisor Do?
Most people need to learn about investing before they are able to set sensible, informed financial goals. Personal financial advisors provide that education. They assess clients’ needs and then inform them on financial topics accordingly. Financial advisors help clients plan for educational expenses, reduce their tax burdens, address debts, and make money with investments in stocks and bonds. They can also offer specialized advice in areas such as risk management and retirement.
As financial advisors guide clients through financial choices, they explain the reasons behind their advice so clients can have peace of mind and feel well-informed. Once financial advisors have helped their clients decide where and how to invest, they keep tabs on client investment accounts to determine if and when changes could enhance financial performance.
Steps to Becoming a Financial Advisor
Initially, the steps to becoming a financial advisor follow a specific course. As careers advance, however, financial advisors might pursue additional degrees, certifications or training that allows them to specialize in a particular area of financial management.
Step 1: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree
As is the case with most finance-related positions, a bachelor’s degree is often the foundation of a successful career as a financial advisor. Degrees in economics, accounting, business, mathematics, and law are often good preparation for aspiring financial advisors, but a bachelor’s in financial services is likely the most helpful degree. A student interested in how to become a financial advisor should understand that financial advising entails more than just planning. Much of the work involves sales, marketing, and leadership. Undergraduate programs with interdisciplinary curricula are more likely to provide that type of diversified training. Also important are degree programs that offer training under field experts and coursework that develops fundamental business skills transferable to other professions, such as personal bankers, account executives, and financial analysts, in case a student wants to change career paths.
Step 2: Meet Licensing and Certification Requirements
Financial advisors must obtain specific securities licenses according to the investment products they sell. Varying state licensing board requirements also dictate which licenses and certifications financial advisors need. For some certifications, candidates must have a bachelor’s degree, complete several years of work in the field, pass exams, and adhere to codes of ethics. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) administers licenses, the most comprehensive being the Series 7 which allows advisors to sell most investment products.
As of October 2018, candidates for a Series 7 license will have to pass both the Series 7 exam and the new Security Industry Essentials exam. In addition, financial advisors who manage investments in smaller firms must register with state regulators, and those in larger firms must register with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Step 3: Build On-the-Job Experience
Earning a bachelor’s in financial services can start the process of becoming a financial advisor, but there’s no good substitute for real-world experience. Financial advisors need time in the banking and financial industry if they are to advise people about it. Before embarking independently, financial advisors work under the guidance of a senior financial advisor for at least a year. Individuals must also take an exam to become a financial advisor, and they can only do so while working within a firm that is a member of FINRA.
Step 4: Earn a Master’s Degree for Advancement (Optional)
Though not required, earning a master’s in accounting can make an aspiring financial advisor’s resume more competitive and speed up the promotion process. Master’s programs in accounting develop advanced skills in accounting, auditing, and financial reporting, and they teach students how to deal with the crossover between accounting and other business services. The additional education often helps financial advisors build their client base as well.
Some universities offer fully online master’s programs. Other options include accelerated programs through which students can earn the degree in less than a year and programs that incorporate the Becker CPA preparation course into degree requirements, which allows students to prepare for the CPA exam while earning their degrees.
Skills a Financial Advisor Needs
Valuable skills and knowledge that financial advisors need include:
- Accounting knowledge and math skills to manage investment portfolios
- Analytical skills to assess clients’ needs and then recommend suitable investments and financial choices based on a collection of information
- Sales skills to sell financial products
- Interpersonal skills to develop trust with clients and educate them about money matters as they set short- and long-term financial goals
Financial Advisor Salaries and Outlook
Becoming a financial advisor has the potential to be lucrative. According to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report in May 2017, financial advisors earned a median annual salary of $90,640. That projected job growth for financial advisors is one factor that attracts people to the career. In addition, BLS expects a 15 percent increase between 2016 and 2026. This growth rate is considerably faster than the average growth rate for other occupations, and the demand for financial planning services will likely increase in proportion to increased life expectancy.
Start Your Journey to Becoming a Financial Advisor Today
The process of how to become a financial advisor starts with getting the right education, and Maryville University offers a Bachelor of Science in Financial Services that can launch a career in the field. The online degree provides a thoughtfully designed program that builds a core of business and financial services skills that industry experts recommend for successful financial advisors. By blending financial theory with marketing applications, the curriculum prepares graduates to provide financial advice in a variety of settings. No entrance exams are required, all work can be completed online, and eligible transfer credits are accepted.