Becoming a Financial Planner in Georgia

Financial planning demands in Georgia are on the upswing as uncertainty and the state of global finance are sending more and more people searching out professional advice in managing their money. And greater need for financial planning leads to more opportunities for financial planners and related professions all across the state… the Georgia Department of Labor forecasts a nearly 4 percent increase in the number of jobs for personal financial advisors by 2021, leading to a total of more than 6,000 positions across the state. Insurance sales agents, who deal in life and annuities planning and enrollment, will grow even more, by 5.1 percent over the same period.

While part of that is driven by the volatility in today’s markets and uncertainty about the future, some of it is structural, shaped by trends that have been building for a long time and that will be sticking around for even longer. Georgia’s Office of Planning and Budget predicts that by 2030, for example, the state’s population will grow by 4.6 million, increasing by 46 percent to a total of 14.7 million residents. And more and more of those residents will be approaching and hitting retirement age as the Baby Boom goes gray.

Experts have noted that not only will the aging of the baby boomer population contribute to the growth of Georgia’s senior population, but also the fact that more and more retired seniors are choosing Georgia over Florida for their residence during their retirement years. NPG’s Special Report on Geogias Dilemma estimates that by 2025, 17 percent of Georgia’s population will be over the age of 65. By 2050, this segment of the population is expected to grow to include 3 million residents. This highlights the growing demand for financial planners who specialize in helping retirees manage their savings to ensure a steady stream of income on which to live comfortably during retirement years.

But there are all kinds of roles for financial advisors in the state that extend beyond retirement; with the right kind of education and certification, you can find yourself building a lucrative practice in portfolio planning and management for up-and-coming Atlanta tech magnates, handling educational planning and financial arrangements for middle class families in Macon, or dealing with investment risk planning for Savannah-based shipping lines executives. It’s all on the table for ambitious financial planners.

Getting The Right Education to Become a Financial Planner in Georgia

Talking finance and finances out in the open isn’t always strictly genteel in Georgia, so it can seem sometimes like the locals aren’t sophisticated about subjects like financial planning. But if you’re from around here, you understand that the conversations behind closed doors require being sharp and knowledgeable about the current state of affairs in the markets and completely on point when it comes to investing and saving strategies.

You don’t get that kind of in-depth background in financial planning without a college degree under your belt. Building up the essential knowledge of economics, accounting, tax law, and investing strategies takes classroom time at a solid university. A college education will also give you the many soft skills that are necessary to success in the planning industry: a knowledge of history, psychology and other social sciences, and the communication and marketing skills to make connections with clients.

Bachelor’s Degrees for Financial Planners

It all starts with a bachelor’s, the four-year degree that is considered the entry level when it comes to financial planning. Most clients, and almost all employers, will look for this as a basic proof of your competence and commitment. Beyond that, most of the major certifications that are common in the field require at least some college credit to your name.

The good news, though, is that you can pick those credits up in just about any kind of degree. That leaves you free to specialize in any way that you think will benefit your career… while you can stick with the standard degree in financial planning or financial services, closely related subjects like accounting or business, or even take unconventional approaches like studying psychology or sociology. It’s all on the table.

One thing to strongly consider, however, is enrolling in a CFP Board-Registered program, or tacking on a minor that meets their stringent qualifications. Those include 15 credits worth of study in 9 specific subject areas, such as professional conduct, tax planning, and investment planning. With those courses under your belt, and a four-year degree, you’ll have met the educational requirements for the all-important Certified Financial Planner credential.

Master’s Degrees for Financial Planners

Many planners work for their entire career without every progressing past a bachelor’s level education. You can make good money and perform interesting, high-level work without it.

But if you really want to kickstart your career in financial planning, you’ll probably want to look at going on to earn a two-year master’s degree. Available in all the same fields as bachelor’s programs, these are more intensive courses of study that get into the details of the subject with greater focus and an emphasis on mastery and innovation. You’ll find more research and critical thinking work and more flexibility in structuring your coursework to fit the objectives you define for your degree.

With a master’s, you’ll have the right knowledge and skills to take on the the top jobs in the field, working with high net worth individuals or stepping into management positions at major firms.

A master’s can also be a good choice if you are just coming into financial planning from a career in a different field. That’s because you can both develop your skills in planning, and complete your educational requirement for the CFP, since the CFP Board also registers qualifying programs at the master’s level.

Selecting an Accredited Degree Program

Beyond and in addition to CFP Board registration, it’s important to find fully accredited degree programs to pursue as you study financial planning. Fully accredited means that the school should not only hold a basic accreditation from one of the six major regional accrediting agencies in the United States that every respectable university already has, but also a specialty accreditation from one of these three agencies:

These specialty accreditors are recognized by CHEA (the Council for Higher Education Accreditation), the same organization that evaluates the regional accreditors, but their focus is on business and accounting principles and training. Through close connections with the American business community, they look at the specific elements of programs that apply to business and finance and ensure that the coursework you see, the instructors you learn from, and the topics you study are all in line with the expectations of modern American commerce.

Enrolling in a FinTech Bootcamp for Financial Planning

A college education is a minimum requirement to become a financial planner, but there is always more to study. The industry evolves, and today it is changing faster than ever. Not even the best colleges can keep up with the latest trends and innovations. In fact, it’s not always clear what’s going to be an innovation and what is going to be a blind alley… that’s what life on the cutting edge looks like.

But for anyone willing to take the risks and make the right choices, there are good odds that some of those hot new fields will pay off big-time… like work in fintech. Putting high finance together with high technology has been a game changer in the industry. And one of the only places you can really learn about it today is in a fintech boot camp.

Boot camps are offered by both private companies and now by some colleges themselves, like these programs that are available to Georgia residents:

Offered both online and in classrooms, in part-time and full-time formats, these fast-paced programs give you a crash course in the latest breakthroughs and techniques in fintech, all crammed into a few weeks or a few months of intensive study. There aren’t any slow days in a bootcamp program: it’s all hands-on, practical learning, driven by projects that use real-world financial data to teach you about real-world tools. You work with a tight-knit cohort of fellow students under the supervision of instructors who have already had successful careers in the industry, and you study subjects like:

  • Smart contracts and blockchain-driven tech like Ethereum and Solidity
  • Financial programming and libraries with languages like Python
  • Advanced Excel formulas and analysis
  • Machine learning and algorithmic trading

Most bootcamps also come with dedicated career services, so you have professional staff helping you place your talents in these esoteric but in-demand fields. You’ll find job fairs, mock interviews, resume reviews, and portfolio building assistance that will help you branch your career into a new aspect of financial planning, or advance it at your current firm.

Adding a Professional Certification to Boost Your Qualifications as a Financial Planner

Financial planning and the financial field generally relies heavily on independent, third-party certifications in order to establish the ethical, professional, and academic qualifications of practitioners. Nailing down one or more of these credentials can be key to getting a job at the investment advising firm you are dying to join, or locking up that hard-to-convince client who wants to know they can really trust you with their money:

  • Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC) – Requires 27 semester credit hours in specified courses, although not a completed degree, plus 3 years experience
  • Chartered Investment Counselor (CIC) Not required; however, must hold a CFA, plus 5 years experience
  • Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Hold 4 years combined professional and/or university experience
  • Certified Financial Planner (CFP) Hold a bachelor’s degree, plus 3 years experience
  • Personal Financial Specialist (PFS) Have 75 hours personal financial planning education; also, hold a CPA, which requires a degree, plus 2 years experience

You’ll notice that each and every one of them includes at least some level of college education, as well as real-world experience to validate that you have the practical skills you need. The CFP is one of the most stringent, requiring a full bachelor’s degree, and not only that, but the required 15 credits in specified courses.

If you didn’t get that coursework out of the way during your bachelor’s or master’s programs, however, there is another option: CFP Board-Registered certificate programs exist that are expressly designed to catch you up on that requirement before you sit for the CFP exam.

How to Obtain an Investment Adviser License in Georgia

Under Georgia’s Uniform Securities Act of 2008, all investment adviser (IA) firms and investment adviser representatives (IARs) in the state must register with Georgia’s Securities Division of the Secretary of State’s office. Passing scores on the Uniform Investment Adviser Law Examination (Series 65), or on the General Securities Representative Examination (Series 7) taken in combination with the Uniform Combined State Law Examination (Series 66) are required. All IA firms and prospective IARs must register through the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s (FINRA’s) IARD (Investment Advisor Registration Depository) system.

With your license, you have the ability to set up your own shop or to take a position at one of the many nationally and internationally recognized firms that are already operating in Georgia. At the high end that can include companies like the Investment Research and Advisory Group, with more than $7 billion under management and a $1 million minimum asset level; or you can aim for local boutique shops like Bowstring Advisors, leveraging high tech with a hometown feeling for the best of both worlds for a select clientele.

How to Obtain a Stockbroker License in Georgia

Broker-dealer firms and their sales agents must register with the Securities Division and work under the provisions of the Georgia Securities Act. Registration takes place through the FINRA-managed Central Registration Depository (CRD). Broker-dealer agent candidates must pass the Series 63 Uniform Securities Agent State Law Examination along with one of the following examinations:

  • Series 1 Registered Representative Examination
  • Series 2 SECOIFINRA Non-Member General Securities Examination
  • Series 6 Investment Company Products/Variable Contracts Representative Examination
  • Series 7 General Securities Representative Examination
  • Series 22 Direct Participation Programs Representative Examination
  • Series 52 Municipal Securities Representative Examination
  • Series 79 Investment Banking Representative Examination

All registered securities representatives must meet continuing education requirements set forth by their self regulatory organization. FINRA securities representatives engage in Regulatory Element continuing education after two years of employment and then every three years thereafter, as well as Firm Element training provided by broker-dealer firms designed to keep employees current on product offerings and sales protocols as they change in accordance with evolving industry regulation.

How to Obtain a License to Sell Life Insurance and Fixed Annuities in Georgia

Georgia’s Office of Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner (GADOI) registers life insurance producers in the state who often offer retirement planning services by selling annuities. Pre-licensing education of at least 40 hours is required through state-approved education providers, which can be found here. After fulfilling the pre-education requirement, you’ll take the licensing exam through Pearson VUE, and independent proctoring agency with locations around the state. Waivers of the prelicensing and exam requirements are available if you hold CLU or FLMI designations, or have a similar license held in another state.

Continuing education (CE) requirements are based upon the length of time life/annuity agents have held their insurance license. If having held a license for less than 20 years, 24 hours of CE is required each year, with 3 hours in ethics training. If an agent has held a license for more than 20 years, 20 hours of CE is required each year, with 3 hours in ethics. Life producer licensees in Georgia interested in selling variable annuities, which consist of a stock market component, must gain a variable products license and register as securities sales agents. Passing the Series 6 or 7 exams, along with the Series 63 exam, is required in this case.