3 Things to Consider if You Want to Be a Financial Advisor

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By Robin Reshwan

Employment of personal financial advisors is projected to grow 27 percent from 2012 to 2022, which is much faster than the average for all occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The median salary for financial advisors was $81,060 in 2014, and as the population ages, demand for financial planning services should increase. For college students and new graduates considering a career in wealth management, here are some pointers to ponder:

First, take your finance education in college seriously. A critical part of advising clients on how to manage their money is actually understanding finance and being comfortable with numbers. When surveying successful professionals in the field, paying attention in school came up as a great way to excel in the field (or a missed opportunity for late bloomers in the industry). You don't need a degree in accounting or finance, but a strong grasp on business, knowing how wealth is accumulated and understanding various investment tools definitely makes a positive impact on career development and building client trust.

Second, it is ideal if you want to help people.William Wang, a client service specialist with a leading investment services firm, realized in college that a career in wealth advising was right for him because it combined his natural strength with numbers, his interest in solving complex problems and his desire to help people. He started as an intern in college selling insurance and eventually moved to representing a variety of investment tools.

Although the products and services offered may change, great advisors recognize that their recommendations have a significant impact on their clients' abilities to navigate through major life decisions, such as buying a house, sending a child to college or retiring with a nest egg. Advisors who start and end with a "client-first" (versus a "profit-first") mentality tend to build longer-term client relationships and benefit from referrals due to their ethics.

Thin-skinned applicants need not apply. No one can predict what will happen in the investment markets, and no advisor will be right all of the time. However, your clients will never want to lose money. And they will always worry that someone else may be making more money than they are. If you advise individuals on their wealth, be prepared to be blamed when things are not going as well as expected. Of course, if you set reasonable expectations, build strong relationships, research options as much as possible and really try to match your recommendations to each investor's individual goals, you will fare better than your peers who overpromise.

Not ready to stand behind more volatile investments? You may want to stick with representing more conservative long-term products. If you can handle higher stakes and you have experience with complex investment tools, you may be ready for riskier portfolio management. In summary, be sure to match the amount of pressure you can handle with appropriate client communities.

Finally, be selective about your employer. There are many different types of financial services firms looking to hire. Before jumping at the first offer, consider these things: products, prospects, pressure and paths.

  • What products would you like to represent? Options range from insurance to mutual funds to stocks to international investments and more. In general, newbies start with a more limited product range and may progress to a wider and more complex range of tools and services later.
  • Who will be your prospects? Do you need to contact your own personal network, or will you be given a list of potential customers? When starting out, an employer may want you to rely on your own connections as the source for your first deals. Other firms may have a list of leads or previous clients for prospecting. Be sure to understand how your sales will be generated.
  • Assess the pressure of various roles. Are you ready for a highly competitive, highly volatile environment, or are you better suited for a more controlled and steady pace? In any revenue creation role, there will always be some pressure. However, there is a wide range of pressure to sell among firms. Making a match is key to wanting to stick around long enough to be successful.
  • What is the path for a specific role? Titles and responsibilities vary within the financial services industry, from financial advisor to client services representative to investment advisor to wealth manager and more. Each position and company has a different progression path. Savvy advisors investigate the differences in options, consider brand image of employers and factor in who will provide training and offer mentorship.

Whether you are a new graduate looking to launch a career or a more experienced employee desiring a change in professions, financial planning is a rapidly growing employment option. It is expected that more than 60,000 new jobs will be created between 2012 and 2020. There is ample room to develop a gratifying and lucrative career.

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