Career Transitions into Financial Planning: New Year, New Opportunity

New Year New Job
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Many people change careers at some point during their lifetime, and this trend has recently accelerated amid the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a study conducted last year by OnePoll, 54% of respondents said they considered making a major career change since the start of the pandemic.

Prior to the pandemic, in a 2019 survey of U.S. workers conducted by Indeed, nearly half responded that they had made a dramatic career shift at some point in the past. Among those who hadn’t, 65% said that they were either considering, or had previously considered, switching careers.

In a 2019 survey of U.S. workers conducted by Indeed, nearly half responded that they had made a dramatic career shift at some point in the past.

After a period of reflection afforded by working from home and the recent holiday season, and as part of New Year’s resolutions, many professionals might be thinking about changing careers to the financial services industry, which has seen an increase in job opportunities during the pandemic. As a resource for those considering a transition into financial planning, we have collected the stories of several financial planning career changers — to discuss their journeys, what attracted them to the profession and their general advice for those looking to make a similar move.

Individual Journeys Spanning Teaching, Medicine and Tech

Carolyn McClanahan, CFP®, Life Planning Partners: From the Emergency Department to the Living Room

Carolyn McClanahan began her professional life as an ER doctor before becoming a financial planner. She loved patient care, but the business and culture didn’t align with her passions. When she and her husband inherited money in the mid-90s, she searched for an investment advisor, but Carolyn realized that what she really needed was a financial planner. At that stage in the profession’s history, it wasn’t as easy as it is now to find an advisor with that background. Carolyn decided to take matters into her own hands and create a financial plan for herself and her husband — that’s when she realized she loved the work and decided that pursuing financial planning as a career was a great way to help people.

Aaron Anderson, CFP®, DFS Advisors: A Passion for Teaching Math Culminates in a Financial Planning Career

Aaron Anderson was a high school math teacher and eventually as a college professor (a role he still holds on a part-time basis) before he joined his father-in-law's financial planning business. His interest has always been in helping people reach their goals, which was one of the main things that attracted him to the financial planning profession — in addition to his love of math which, of course, translated well to the investment side of the job.

Kathryn Peyton, CFP®, Abacus Wealth Partners: Taking the Lessons of the Classroom and Applying Them to Adults

Kathryn received her MBA shortly after graduating from college and began her career in banking and at an entrepreneurial software company in California. 15 years later, she and her family moved to Virginia, and she decided to switch to teaching, which she had always been interested in exploring. While she loved teaching history and economics, when Kathryn reached her 50s, she was ready for something different. Throughout the years, she managed her family’s money as well as her mother’s and had a knack for it. But she learned through some tough experiences that investing can be hazardous, and that a lot of the information and guidance she received from “experts” was slanted and hard to interpret. Kathryn knew she could find an ethical career helping people sort through their finances and invest in ways that supported their personal values, so she became a financial planner in 2016 and received her CFP® certification in 2018.

John Krehbiel (Candidate for CFP® Certification), Krehbiel Financial: From Silicon Valley and High School Physics to CFP® Certification

After graduating from Cal Tech and the MIT Sloan School of business, John went into the tech industry working for a semi-conductor company. Once the dotcom bubble burst, John transitioned to teaching high school physics, where he worked alongside his wife and was able to see his kids every day. Some years after leaving his teaching job, John was looking into creating an estate plan. In the midst of his research, he realized that he really enjoyed financial planning and thought he might do it as a career. He jumped headlong into CFP Board’s CFP® certification process. Pretty quickly, he connected with a local financial advisor in the area who said that there were people who could use his help. That motivated John to set up his own firm and take the CFP® exam, which he passed. Now he’s working on completing his experience hours requirement for CFP® certification while also building a client base.

A Capstone Career: How Financial Planning Can Combine Skills from Other Careers

Financial planning is a profession that requires numerous professional skill sets and personality traits, which can lend itself as a natural culmination for those who have been building those skill sets and abilities in other types of careers.

“The communication skills I learned in medicine have translated really well to financial planning,” says McClanahan. “Diagnosing a patient is really similar to sitting down with a client for the first time. As a doctor I assessed medical histories, but as a financial planner we gather financial histories. Then we administer exams — physical exams in medicine and financial exams in financial planning — to find any ailments. At the end, we deliver a diagnosis — in my current role that is the financial plan we provide to clients.”

There are also similar parallels from the teaching profession, according to Peyton.

A common theme through each of these individual career journeys is the positive impact that all of the individuals wanted to have on people through their work.

“Helping people talk about money is a lot like doing a parent-teacher conference with nervous parents. We all want the same things, but sometimes people are nervous and unsure about past choices and decisions that have led to that meeting. I love watching clients’ eyes light up when they see their financial future making sense and growing more secure.”

A common theme through each of these individual career journeys is the positive impact that all of the individuals wanted to have on people through their work.

“I started working with a couple that was really smart but didn’t have time to do this [financial planning] right, but knew it was important,” Krehbiel says. “The uncertainty over their finances was a real stressor in their marriage. After they started working with me, I was overjoyed to hear that they no longer suffered from the same stress. That’s something that really motivates me.”

“Helping people has always been a passion of mine,” continues Anderson. “As a math teacher, math was something people struggled with just like people struggle with their finances. With my education background, I’m able to take something complicated and explain it in a way that’s easy for them.”

Actionable Advice for Making the Switch

While financial planning can be a rewarding career, it’s not for everyone. There are several things one should know before making the switch.

“Make sure you know what you are getting into,” Anderson offers. “The move to financial planning should be a positive decision and not something you’re doing because you just want something new. This is a really comprehensive profession and people will be depending on you.”

“People often equate being a CFP® professional with investment management, when in reality financial planning is so much more than that,” adds McClanahan. “Those who are looking to make the career switch to financial planning should expect a holistic experience.”

Peyton echoes this sentiment. “A true financial planner is doing much more than just investments — in fact for me it’s actually pretty low on the list, which I didn’t expect. As it turns out, you spend quite a good deal of time working on college planning and retirement planning rather than simply picking stocks.”

Both Anderson and McClanahan strongly recommend shadowing a CFP® professional or taking a job as a paraplanner before making the leap.

Once you do make the leap, John Krehbiel says having a strong support system in place is particularly important in the first couple of years. “Working with a support group of professionals who are going through the same process has been really important for me. We bounce ideas off each other and I’m always thinking of something in a different way as a result.”

Identifying a niche service can be valuable early on Peyton adds.

“This will help you find a firm whose approach to investment and planning aligns with the clientele you’re hoping to serve. If you have a passion for helping people with budgeting or if you want to focus on couples’ planning, you’ll have a much easier time in your search.”

Additional Tips from CFP Board

Some additional tips from CFP Board for those considering a switch into the financial planning profession:

  1. Know what transferable skills you have. In the case of financial planning, there are several key skills that you've probably developed at previous jobs that are ideal for the financial planning profession, including communication/interpersonal, analytical, relationship management, marketing and project management.
  2. Become a “superfan” of the profession. Learn all about the financial planning profession by subscribing to industry publications, joining professional associations and attending conferences/social events.
  3. Network with experienced professionals. Informational interviews are a great way to learn about the profession and build your list of contacts. Who knows — you may even find a mentor or a new connection that leads to a job.
  4. Have a solid job search strategy and be flexible. A well-thought-out plan for job searching will minimize frustration and increase your chances of landing interviews. Initially, it’s important to focus on the areas that offer more jobs in your field, and also be creative and flexible in your search. 

For additional resources on making the switch to financial planning, visit the Career Changers section of CFP Board’s website and be sure to watch for CFP Board’s new career paths guide scheduled to be released in early 2021.

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