Becoming a Financial Planner in North Carolina

New wealth creates fresh markets for financial planners who chart out the best investments and strategies for navigating major life events like college and retirement. And with the North Carolina Department of Commerce expecting the state to add nearly 400,000 new jobs in the ten-year lead up to 2026, that’s exactly what’s going on in Charlotte, Raleigh and other metros around the state.

In fact, the department expects demand for planners here to far outstrip the national demand, with a 22.5% increase in the number of personal financial advisors working in the state expected by 2026, versus only 14.9% at the national level.

According to a 2020 report by Phoenix Marketing International, 5.45% of North Carolina households had a net worth of $1 million or more, landing the state in 36th place on the 2020 Kiplinger Millionaires in America list. These high net worth families are much more apt to work with personal financial planners familiar with wealth management, tax planning, and investment strategies.

And a lot of that wealth is in the hands of the state’s retirees. According to U.S. Census Bureau figures, in 2019 16.3% of North Carolina’s population was 65 or older, and that number is only going up as the overall population of the country starts to go gray. All of that amounts to more financial planning as the most affluent generation in the history of America prepares to retire and draws up plans for transferring that wealth to the next generation.

With both young and old North Carolinians in need of solid advice and guidance in matters of money, the state will continue to provide fertile ground for careers in financial planning.

Getting a Degree to Qualify as a Financial Planner in North Carolina

With new and abstract investment vehicles and algorithmic trading moving money around on a scale that’s hard to even wrap your mind around, the world of finance has never been more complex than it is right now. And it’s never been more important to get an education that will help you keep all the diverse and nuanced factors facing planners straight in today’s complex economic environment.

The days where you could just sit down and ace your FINRA series exams and go sweet-talk a few high net-worth clients into your stable are long gone. You need to have an element of professional preparation behind you if you want to be taken seriously as a financial planner today.

It’s wise to pick up at least a bachelor’s degree along your career path, and quite possibly go even further if you really want to be assigned the big accounts, or get the best referrals if you’re going independent. Beyond the core knowledge, you’ll also make valuable contacts while earning a degree, and also lay the groundwork for some of the professional certifications that have become so important in the financial field.

Bachelors Degrees for Financial Planners

A bachelor’s degree is considered entry level in financial planning just as in most other finance careers. If you’re aiming for CFP certification, it’s the minimum level of education you will need. However, you have a fairly wide latitude in the type of degree that you earn, so you could major in any of these or other related areas:

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

Of course, most financial planners at least consider going for the CFP, so earning a bachelor’s and meeting the specific curriculum requirements laid out by the CFP Board is always on the table. The easiest way to make sure you comply with this requirement is to pick a program that has been CFP Board-Registered.

Masters Degrees and MBAs For Finance and Financial Planning Positions

A bachelor’s is just a bare minimum, of course. Many finance professionals go on after a few years in the industry to pick up an MBA or a master’s degree in some other finance-related specialty. If you don’t want to spend your career bottom-feeding on the low rungs of the advising ladder, this is a path you should start preparing to take not long after you earn your four-year degree.

It’s also a popular route to get into financial planning even if your undergraduate degree isn’t necessarily related to accounting or finance. Picking up a master’s will enhance your specialized finance knowledge if you are already in the field, but it’s also a way to get the kind of education, and educational credentials, you’ll need to break into financial planning if you are making a career change.

Even better, many master’s programs are also CFP Board-Registered, so they include the necessary coursework you need to become a Certified Financial Planner along with all the advanced knowledge of financial markets, business valuation, financial statement analysis, and often, even how to get in on the big data goldrush by putting technology to work for in your market analyses.

Even MBAs allow for that, with specializations in all kinds of areas of finance and wealth planning. The intense, broad-spectrum education you get at this level opens doors that you might never even get to knock on with only a bachelor’s degree.

Accreditation is Important in Selecting Your College Degree Program

You should not only insist on a school that has a general accreditation from one of the six regional accreditation bodies in the U.S., but it’s also worth looking for specialty business accreditation from one of the three recognized agencies in the country that offer it:

This ensures that your program covers everything employers and clients expect finance professionals to know, and ensures you get the kind of high quality student experience you deserve.

Participating in a FinTech Bootcamp in Charlotte or Online as Preparation for a Career or Degree in Financial Planning

A faster and more directed option to get training in some elements of finance is through a new kind of program called a bootcamp. Bootcamps are every bit as rigorous and intense as the name suggests. Usually lasting from a few days to a few months, and aimed at various skill levels.

Fintech bootcamps focus on the intensely practical side of the business, using real-world scenarios, tools, and techniques to teach you how to handle some of the hottest and fastest-growing aspects of finance and financial planning, such as:

  • Algorithmic trading
  • Big Data-driven financial analysis
  • Machine learning and artificial intelligence
  • Blockchain and cryptocurrencies

Those are all skills that most colleges are still coming to grips with, but you could own those skills yourself by attending the right bootcamp.

That’s not to say colleges in general are behind the curve, just that traditional curriculums aren’t made to evolve that fast. But the University of North Carolina is among the exceptions. The FinTech Boot Camp at UNC Charlotte is a cadre-based course of instruction, driven by experienced instructors and offering a series of hands-on projects you can use to develop and demonstrate your skills.  Here you will learn Python programming, financial libraries, machine learning algorithms, Solidity smart contracts, Ethereum, blockchain, and more.  In this program you study part-time, three days a week, while maintaining your work schedule.

This is a highly technical program, and one that comes with career services and job placement assistance to help you put your in-demand talents to work in the industry, whether you hold a degree already or not.

Education Requirements for Professional Certification in Financial Planning

Getting a degree or passing through a bootcamp is far from the end of your story when it comes to building qualifications as a financial planner, though. The industry is replete with professional certifications that often carry far more weight than the collegiate education they rely on. Whether it’s clients or potential employers asking about your expertise in the field, holding up one of the following is always going to be the best answer:

  • Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC) from ACFS – Requires 27 college credits in specified areas and 3 years industry experience
  • Personal Financial Specialist (PFS) from AICPA – You have to hold a CPA, which itself requires the credit equivalent of a master’s degree, plus 75 additional hours of personal finance education
  • Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) from the CFA Institute – You must have 4 years combined of college or on-the-job experience
  • Chartered Investment Counselor (CIC) from the Investment Advisor Association –After earning a CFA, an additional 5 years of experience can qualify you for a CIC
  • Certified Financial Planner (CFP) from the CFP Board – Must have a bachelor’s degree, plus 3 years of experience

The CFP also requires that at least 15 credit hours of your college experience be in certain approved courses. A CFP Board-Registered program at the bachelor’s or master’s level will carry these courses, but it’s also possible to take a stand-alone certificate course that will fill the requirement after graduation.

How to Obtain an Investment Adviser Representative License in North Carolina

The North Carolina Secretary of State’s Securities Division is responsible for licensing and registering investment adviser representatives (IAR) who work for brokerages and wealth management firms operating in the state. Being recognized as an investment adviser rep in the eyes of the state Securities Division starts by being registered through the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s (FINRA’s) IARD (Investment Advisor Registration Depository) system. The firm you work for will guide you through this process.

All prospective IARs must pass the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) Series 65 exam; or the Series 7 in combination with the Series 66 exam. All exams are administered through FINRA.

International, national, local, and regional investment advisor firms have a strong presence in North Carolina, and frequently hire straight from local colleges to build their ranks of investment advisors. Among these are UBS Financial Services in Charlotte; Met Life in Winston-Salem, Shelby, Greenville, Greensboro, Charlotte, Wilmington, and Raleigh; AXA Advisors in Raleigh and Greensboro; Virginia Asset Group in Outer Banks; North Star Resource Group in Chapel Hill; Allegacy Investment Group in Winston-Salem; and Vypak Consulting in Charlotte.

All of them take FINRA exam performance seriously when sponsoring a new adviser, so you should, too.

How to Obtain a Stockbroker License in North Carolina

Stockbrokers must be registered with both the North Carolina Securities Division and the FINRA Central Registration Depository (CRD). Registered reps in the state are required to pass either the Series 63 or 66 state exams in combination with the Series 6 or 7 depending on the specific investment vehicles they’ll be working with.

NASAA and FINRA require continuing education of all registered securities representatives. You’ll have to take a computerized Regulatory Element refresher-training program after being registered for two years. After that, the program is required every three years to keep reps abreast of changes in the evolving regulatory environment of the financial services industry. Firms must also provide Firm Element training for their brokers, keeping them updated on industry developments and any changes in sales protocols and product offerings.

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

Anyone planning to deliver financial planning services alongside selling fixed annuities must become licensed as a producer through the North Carolina Department of Insurance (NCDOI). This requires a 20-hour pre-licensing education course approved by the department, which may be taken in the classroom or remotely as a correspondence course. Prospective life insurance producers then sit for a state licensing exam administered through the third-party exam service, Pearson VUE.

After receiving your license, continuing education requirements must be met every two years to maintain it. NCDOI may allow exemptions from pre-licensing education for those who hold an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in a related major, and for anyone who holds one of the following professional certifications:

  • Certified Employee Benefits Specialist (CEBS)
  • Certified Financial Planner (CFP)
  • Certified Insurance Counselor (CIC)
  • Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU), Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC)
  • Life Underwriter Training Council Fellow (LUTCF)
  • Fellow Life Management Institute (FLMI)

Once licensed as a life insurance producer in North Carolina, you may go on to become a Variable Life and Variable Annuity Agent in order to offer potentially higher-yield annuities with a securities component. This involves a securities license, which you can qualify for through broker-dealer firm sponsorship and FINRA registration. It’s the exact same process stockbrokers go through, so just like anybody licensed to sell securities, it also means passing the Series 6 or the Series 7 exams, depending on the products you’ll be selling. Your sponsoring firm will guide you through this and direct you to the appropriate exams.

Holding a broker’s license so you can sell these types of life and annuity products involves meeting the continuing education requirements of the NCDOI to maintain your insurance producer license, as well as the FINRA-mandated continuing education to keep your securities license current.