Becoming a Financial Planner in Illinois

Crain’s recently reported that the fastest growing segment of the population in Illinois is people aged 60-79. It’s a revealing statistic that not only tells the story of an aging population, but one that also serves as a reminder of the massive generational wealth transfer that’s just around the corner. Boomers have amassed a lot of assets over the course of their lives, with an average net worth of over $1 million each as of 2017 according to the Federal Reserve Board.

All that personal wealth has been keeping financial planners busy as that segment of the population looks for ways to invest, protect, and, eventually, distribute that money through trusts and other vehicles to their survivors. Get enough of that business, and pretty soon you will be in that economic class yourself. That’s not a pipe dream – the latest numbers bear it out, showing real demand for advisers for the foreseeable future.

The Illinois Department of Employment Security, Economic Information & Analysis Division projects an increase of 9.6% in the number of personal financial advisers in Illinois during the current ten-year period ending in 2026, while Insurance producers dealing in fixed annuities and whole life plans are expected to see opportunities increase by 8.5% during this period.

Getting the Degree You Need to Become a Financial Planner in Illinois

FINRA and the SEC don’t care if you ever go to college as long as you can pass the stringent exams required for licensing, but there’s good reason why regulatory agencies don’t bother with enforcing education minimums. This simply is not a field where just winging it goes over well.

The self-regulatory nature of the financial services industry creates an environment where advisers earn degrees for the knowledge itself, not just to pin a fancy credential to the wall. Going to a big name school never hurts, and knowing the right people is always helpful, but even that won’t get you very far if you don’t hone your natural talent with a real education. Even if the regulatory agencies aren’t policing the degrees that licensed investment advisers and brokers hold, you better believe employers and clients will be checking up.

Bachelors Degrees for Financial Planners

A bachelor’s degree is a practical minimum for most financial planners, since it’s necessary to qualify for the CFP (Certified Financial Planner) credential. You actually have a fairly wide latitude in the specific major you can choose. It just has to include the required curriculum. That means degrees in any of these majors are in play:

  • Financial Planning
  • Financial Services
  • Accounting
  • Business
  • Trust and Wealth Management

Selecting from CFP Board-Registered programs ensures you have the right blend of courses. But if you didn’t opt for the CFP-compatible version of those degrees, you can always go back and pick up the necessary 15 credit hours of instruction they require.

Masters Degrees and MBAs in Finance and Financial Planning

Better yet, you can go on and earn a master’s degree or MBA to gain the kind of respect and expertise in financial services that speaks for itself. When you have secured your place in your profession with a master’s, nobody asks you about your qualifications anymore.

If you’re going to be in a client-facing fiduciary role, you’ll even find CFP Board-Registered master’s programs available that meet all the curriculum requirements you need to take the CFP exam.

A master’s offers a more intense, more specialized course of instruction that builds on the basics you picked up as an undergraduate. That’s not to say you need a bachelor’s in finance to get into a master’s program. Plenty of programs accept students with virtually any major, though a background in business, finance, and accounting provides a natural fit and makes for a seamless transition.

With courses covering the meat and potatoes of financial services like risk analysis, options pricing, and corporate valuation, as well as the more arcane, cutting-edge financial arts of big (and small) data analytics and advanced financial modeling, a master’s can equip you with the expert-level knowledge you need for positions that involve advanced analytics, or client-facing roles in wealth management for high net worth families and businesses.

With a master’s, you’ll find the biggest accounts being shuffled over to your desk, and if you’re going independent, it means having access to the wealthiest circle of individual and SME clients.

Selecting an Accredited Degree Program

It’s wise to select a degree that has received a specialty business or accounting accreditation from one of three agencies:

These non-profit groups assess the overall quality and alignment of degree programs with the current demands of businesses and the financial industry as a whole. They look at everything from the quality of instructors to the resources of the department, which means you get a reliable third-party assessment of the suitability of the program when it comes to meeting industry standards for employment and certification in certain roles.

Enrolling in a FinTech Bootcamp

A newer and sexier option for getting your education in some aspects of financial planning comes through fintech bootcamps. Bootcamps are hardcore, focused, time-limited courses that deal exclusively with practical aspects of financial technology and how it is put to work every day in analytics departments and at trading desks:

  • Advanced Excel use
  • Blockchain and cryptocurrencies
  • Machine learning algorithms
  • Big Data financial analysis

Although they don’t offer college credit, many bootcamp programs have career services built in, giving you extensive support for resume-building and interview preparation to make it that much easier to land a job when you complete the program. For current professionals, they offer a skills upgrade without the time commitment and expense of going back to college.

Most bootcamps range from a few days to a few weeks. They are available both online and on site, from a variety of providers.

One example in Chicagoland is the Northwestern FinTech Bootcamp, a six-month, part-time program offered by a notable local university. Like most boot camps, it offers a project-based education that might have you:

  • Analyzing stock movement with financial APIs in Jupyter Notebooks
  • Creating predictive models for stocks with time series analysis in Python
  • Building a decentralized identity management system using blockchain tech like Ethereum

All of this is accessible to anyone with a pulse and a GED, as long as you’re over 18. And you can use it as your foot in the door to a master’s program, as a way to compete for a promotion, or even as a path into the field.

Education Requirements for the Industry’s Top Certifications

In a client-facing business like financial planning, independent planners in particular, often go for widely recognized exam-based credentials that are only available with the right combination of college education and experience. Clients may not take the time to research your alma mater and degree major, but an industry-standard certification will be one of the first things they notice. Earning one of the recognized credentials in the field almost always involves a degree or at least some college level courses:

  • Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC) issued by the American College – 27 semester credit hours in specific courses, plus 3 years experience
  • Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) issued by the CFA Institute – 4 years combined professional and/or university experience
  • Chartered Investment Counselor (CIC) issued by the Investment Advisor Association Must hold a CFA and have 5 years experience
  • Certified Financial Planner (CFP) issued by the CFP Board – Bachelor’s degree, plus 3 years experience
  • Personal Financial Specialist (PFS) issued by the AICPA – CPA license (which requires college credit hours equivalent to a master’s degree, plus 2 years experience), plus 75 hours personal financial planning education

Not only is that formal education important for certification, but it’s also broadly used by potential clients and employers to weigh your knowledge and capacity… not to mention your work ethic.

How to Obtain an Investment Adviser License in Illinois

The Illinois Department of Securities requires registration of all investment adviser (IA) firm owners and investment adviser representatives (IAR). When registering with the state, those who wish to establish IAs must register through the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA)-managed Investment Adviser Registration Depository (IARD). Investment adviser representatives for established firms are registered through the CRD (Central Registration Depository) system.

Both firm principals and employees must pass the FINRA Uniform Investment Adviser Examination (Series 65 examination), or as an alternative, both the General Securities Examination (Series 7 examination) and the Uniform Combined State Law Examination (Series 66 examination) will be accepted.

Investment advisory firms of global, national and regional fame can all be found right here in Illinois. Among them are Savant Capital Management, Guggenheim Partners, and Towers Watson, all with offices in Chicago; as well as JPMorgan Chase in Batavia; US Bank in Glen Ellyn; First American Bank in Elk Grove Village; Mutual of Omaha in Rosemont; and Inland Investment Advisors, Inc. in Oak Brook.

How to Obtain a Stockbroker License in Illinois

Stockbrokers are also registered with the Illinois Department of Securities through the FINRA-managed Central Registration Depository (CRD). Any prospective stockbroker in Illinois must be at least 18 years old and pass the Series 63 or Series 66 exams, and the Series 7 exam or another securities exam specific to the type of products they’ll be selling.

Continuing education (CE) that FINRA requires for keeping registration current consists of a Regulatory Element and a Firm Element. Your employer will set you up with Firm Element CE, keeping you up on industry developments and products through in-house training. All registered brokers will need to participate in some continuing education in the Regulatory Element after two years of service, and every three years after that.

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

The Illinois Department of Insurance regulates life insurance producers in the state, who also often provide limited financial planning services by dealing in fixed annuities and whole life plans. Prospective life insurance producers must complete 20 hours of pre-licensing education, 7.5 of which needs to be completed in a classroom setting.

Insurance licensing exams in Illinois are administered by third-party exam provider, Pearson Vue. To maintain a producer’s license, every two years life insurance agents must complete 24 hours of continuing education (three of these hours must be in ethics courses).

Prospective producers who also want to sell life insurance policies with an investment element may apply for a variable contracts license while submitting their application for a life insurance producer license.

Because of the stock market element in variable contracts, selling variable annuities and life plans requires a securities license, so as an associate of a FINRA-member firm, this would mean passing the Series 6 or Series 7 exam, in addition to the Series 63 exam.

There is no additional pre-licensing education required for a variable contracts license in Illinois; however, variable contracts producers must meet the continuing education requirements of the Illinois Department of Insurance as well as those necessary to retain their securities license.