Becoming a Financial Planner in North Dakota

North Dakota may seem like strange turf on which to begin a financial planning career, but you don’t have to spend too much time looking around the state to see plenty of evidence why financial professionals are in real demand up here.

The development of the Bakken Fields in the western part of the state in the early 2000s injected so much money into North Dakota that it had a billion dollar budget surplus by 2013. According to the Center for Innovation at the University of North Dakota, the oil and mineral rights could be minting up to 2,000 millionaires per year in the state. Some residents receive between $50,000 and $100,000 per month in return for allowing drilling on their land.

North Dakotans aren’t ostentatious folks, though, and it can be hard to tell your average hard-scrabble farmer loading feed down at the Cenex from a millionaire picking up grain for his hobby alpaca farm.

Someone has to do all the calculating and figuring to keep those alpacas in their organic feed and fancy coats, though. That may be why Job Service North Dakota predicts a 2 percent increase in the number of financial planners in the state by 2021, together with a 3.4 percent bump in the number of securities, commodities, and financial services agents, a closely related field.

They are all going to be kept busy performing the traditional functions of financial planning: developing retirement savings plans and appropriate investment vehicles, creating trust structures and estate plans, working out college tuition and educational savings payment plans. The average salary of $85,670 offers a solid living in a state which, even with oil well roughnecks bumping up the average, only offers a mean annual wage of $50,430 per year.

To get there, though, you’ll have to get an appropriate education and the right professional certifications to be taken seriously by your clients, even the ones raising alpacas.

Getting The Right Education to Become a Financial Planner in North Dakota

An education is necessary because financial markets and services have become highly specialized and enormously complicated in recent years. Everything from algorithmic trading to international cryptocurrencies have come on to the scene, and it’s all way more than you can pick up through on-the-job training; a college degree is a stone-cold requirement to have any kind of real success in the field today.

The finance industry is also heavily dependent on professional certifications to evaluate standards of knowledge and education. Most of the important certifications that you will want to consider also require some level of college education.

Bachelor’s Degrees for Financial Planners

Typically, you’ll start off with a bachelor’s degree in some finance or business-related field, such as:

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

Each of these has a lot of very important domain-specific knowledge for planners but, equally importantly, they include a broad range of liberal arts courses that help you beef up your general knowledge and critical-thinking skills. You’ll come out of these four-year programs knowing a little bit of everything, probably including the difference between alpacas and llamas… maybe a key piece of information to avoid offending your future clients.

One key thing to check, even more important than alpaca/llama sorting courses, is whether or not you are enrolling in a CFP Board-Registered program. This is critical, because one of the more important professional certifications in the business is the Certified Financial Planner (CFP), awarded by that body. However, it requires at least 15 credits of study in specified areas such as estate planning, risk management, and investment planning… all of which a Board-Registered program is guaranteed to include.

Master’s Degrees for Financial Planners

It’s also possible to find Board-Registered degrees at the next level up the educational ladder, the two-year master’s degree. This can make a master’s a great choice if you are coming into financial planning from another career field, one that didn’t involve any of the traditional degree plans at the bachelor’s level. But a master’s is just the thing to accelerate your prospects even if you are already working as a planner.

That’s because it delivers an education that will set you a cut above others in the field. You focus in on the topics of your major in a way that a bachelor’s can’t quite get to, engaging you with advanced theories and some of the deepest thinkers in the financial field. You get to engage in research, sometimes original and independent, that gives you a unique perspective on your studies. And you will get a selection of the choicest internships to hone your skills out in the real world before you graduate.

Selecting an Accredited Degree Program

At both the graduate and undergraduate levels, you’ll want to select programs or schools that hold a specialty accreditation from one of these three agencies:

Accreditation is not usually something American students have to worry about, since almost all schools they will consider already hold a general accreditation from one of the six regional accreditation agencies that verify academic capabilities and resource availability at those schools. But those agencies only look at the basics. When you are studying a specialized subject like finance, however, it’s not enough.

Specialty accreditors maintain close ties to the business community and evaluate programs and schools based on the expectations you will find out in the workforce after graduation. They accredit programs in both business and accounting, and assure you that the education you get will be exactly what employers in the field are looking for.

Enrolling in a FinTech Bootcamp for Financial Planning

A college degree is just the start of your education in financial planning. You’ll pick up a lot more knowledge as you perform your job, go through professional certification requirements, and take on continuing education required to maintain certain qualifications. But you can also learn a lot by enrolling in a fintech bootcamp, a move that can boost your career well beyond any of the conventional paths in the industry today.

That’s because fintech is cutting-edge stuff, a hot new field that is still being actively developed. That means you won’t find much about it in traditional educational venues, but that’s exactly what bootcamps are for.

The bootcamp approach takes the latest tools and techniques, constantly adopting new innovations, and crams them into a short program, lasting only a few weeks or a few months, that focuses on the practical aspects and uses for the technology. You learn through hands-on projects that make use of real-world data as well as active tools and techniques from the front lines, working with a cohort of fellow students and instructors who are fresh from the industry themselves. You’ll learn technologies like:

  • Advanced Excel analysis
  • Python programming and financial libraries
  • Machine learning and artificial intelligence applications in finance
  • Algorithmic trading operations
  • Cryptocurrencies and blockchain tech

Originally, bootcamps were all delivered on-site and full-time, and you can still find them in that format, but you will also find online and part-time options, such as these offerings open to North Dakota residents:

Not all bootcamps are offered by colleges, like these are, but you get some advantages by going with programs from big-name schools. They teach the same types of fintech topics, but you will have professional instructors, significant computational and reference resources on tap, and experienced career services teams that can help you with job placement or even basics like interview prep and resume polishing.

It’s a great way to boost a career in financial planning or to make a course change into a new field at a low cost and with minimal time commitments.

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

Certifications are something you will find both potential employers and prospective clients to be intensely interested in. They serve as a third-party validation of your knowledge, education, and skillsets, proven by experience, testing, and strict ethical requirements.

Some of the most common certifications in the business include:

  • 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

All of them have rigorous standards, but the CFP is particularly challenging, since you need not only a bachelor’s degree, but also the specified 15 credits required by the CFP Board in that college education. If you are coming into financial planning from a different profession, you might not have had the opportunity to get those credits covered, but you will also find post-baccalaureate certificate programs available that are Board-Registered and can help you make up the coursework.

How to Obtain an Investment Adviser License in North Dakota

The North Dakota Securities Department is accountable for the registration and licensure of investment adviser (IA) firms and representatives (IAR) who have clients in the state. The state requires all investment advisers and investment adviser representatives to register through the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s (FINRA’s) IARD (Investment Advisor Registration Depository) system. They must pass the North American Securities Administrators Association’s (NASAA’s) Series 65 examination (Uniform Investment Adviser Law), or the Series 7 examination (General Securities Representative) in combination with the Series 66 examination (Uniform Combined State Law).

You may be grandfathered in if you are currently registered as an investment adviser in another jurisdiction. Additionally, the testing requirement is waived for those holding one of the following professional certifications:

  • Certified Financial Planner (CFP) awarded by the International Board on Policy for Certified Financial Planners, Inc.
  • Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC) awarded by the American College, Bryn Mawr Pennsylvania
  • Personal Financial Specialist (PFS) awarded by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants
  • Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) awarded by the Institute of Chartered Financial Analysts
  • Chartered Investment Counselor (CIC) awarded by the Investment Counsel Association of America

Despite the general demand for investment advisers throughout the state, there are relatively few firms that have set up shop here… Edward Jones has an office in Bismarck, and Securian Financial Advisors work out of Fargo, but there is a great opportunity for ambitious investment advisers to branch out and set up their own businesses anywhere in North Dakota.

How to Obtain a Stockbroker License in North Dakota

Stockbrokers in North Dakota must register with the state’s Securities Department through FINRA’s Central Registration Depository (CRD). All broker-dealer agents in North Dakota must pass either the Series 63, 65, or 66 exams in combination with the Series 6 or Series 7 exam, based on the specific investment vehicles in which they plan to deal.

Continuing education (CE) is required under NASAA and FINRA regulations for all registered securities representatives in order to maintain licensure and registration. The first part of this CE, the Regulatory Element, must be taken as a training refresher course after two years in practice, and every three years after that. The Firm Element, the second component of required CE, makes firms accountable for providing training to securities sales reps in their employ. This is designed to keep them up to date on regulatory changes in the industry and how they impact sales practices and product offerings.

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

North Dakota residents who want to become life insurance producers and who to deal in fixed annuities need to obtain a license through the North Dakota Insurance Department. Applicants must be residents of North Dakota and at least 18 years old. They must pass an exam for the life insurance line of authority, but pre-licensing education is not required in North Dakota. Prometric administers the insurance examinations, each of which has two parts: one specific to North Dakota law and the other on general product knowledge.

Twenty-four hours of continuing education, with three hours in ethics, must be completed every two years in order to maintain your insurance producer license.

Licensed life insurance producers in North Dakota who wish to sell variable annuities must first seek securities licensure. This involves taking either the Series 6 or Series 7 exam. Producers who sell variable life and variable annuities must meet continuing education requirements of both the North Dakota Insurance Department and their governing SRO.