Kathy Dollard, CFP®, MBA
My journey to becoming a practicing financial planner began 12 years ago when I started taking CFP® courses at Boston University. After ten years in the corporate world, during which I earned an MBA, and another 8 years as a stay-at home mom and volunteer, I was ready to start a new career. Little did I know that what I wanted to do - comprehensive financial planning - would lead me to start my own practice. I thought that I would get my certification and then be hired by a small firm to do financial planning. My idea of financial planning matched pretty closely with the CFP® curriculum I was studying.
Unfortunately, this did not match very well with what employers were looking for. Shortly after starting the courses, I landed a paid internship that turned into a part-time job. I ran the trade desk for a CFP® practitioner who provided assets under management through a well known broker-dealer. I learned a lot about the investment industry, about buying mutual funds, keeping good records, and running a small practice. Because I was not privy to client meetings, I assumed there was some financial planning going on, but I never saw any.
After about a year I changed jobs, this time to work for a financial planner who offered more hours, the chance to sit in on client meetings, and the promise of “real” financial planning. I got my Series 7, my insurance license, and the opportunity to work with another broker-dealer. My boss was also an attorney, so I learned about estate planning and Medicaid, but we never did what I imagined financial planning to be. We invested people’s money, we sold long-term care and life insurance, but we never crunched any numbers. Where’s the financial planning?
Up to this point, I hadn’t really been aware of how the compensation model drove behavior mostly because I was paid a salary at both jobs. I finally realized that the firms I’d worked for didn’t do the kind of financial planning I’d been trained to do because they wouldn’t get paid for doing it. Frustrated by the lack of financial planning being done by my employers, I struck out on my own to do “real” financial planning. I opened my practice in 1999 using the model that I knew - selling investments and insurance through a broker-dealer and trying to sell a financial plan for a fixed fee.
To make a long story short, my desire to do objective financial planning conflicted with my broker-dealer’s desire for me to sell products and I soon went fee-only. I guess the lesson is to know why you are taking these CFP® courses and what your desired career is. If your preferred career is in sales, and you need the CFP® certification to progress, great! You’ll be that much better informed as a salesperson. On the other hand, if you’re looking to do “real” financial planning, your career path may be much less defined. You may find yourself becoming an “accidental” entrepreneur, as well as a practicing financial planner.