Becoming a Financial Planner in Pennsylvania

Financial planners are popular in Pennsylvania. How popular? Well, the state ranks fifth in the nation for the overall employment level of these knowledgeable, cool-headed professionals according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data from 2019, and they are on a tear to move even higher: the Pennsylvania Center for Workforce Information and Analysis projects that between 2019 and 2021, the number of personal financial advisors will climb by 3.2 percent, while the closely related fields of insurance agents will bump up by 3.5 percent and securities and commodities brokers by 2 percent.

What’s driving all that demand? Well, it’s probably a few different factors, many of them demographic in nature.

One of those is the quickly aging population. The Baby Boom generation is fast approaching retirement age, and more so in Pennsylvania than elsewhere… according to the Census Bureau in 2019, nearly 19 percent of Pennsylvanians are over the age of 65, more than 2 percent higher than the American population in general. As retirement age approaches, people tend to get more serious about their finances, and need professional services to handle things like balanced investment portfolios, trust setup, and wealth management.

Pennsylvanians also often need assistance in other phases of life, however. Financial planners assist them in setting up college savings accounts for their kids, or building out smart investment frameworks to achieve savings goals, or to assist in tax planning and asset management. Planners work with individuals of all types of wealth levels and in every phase of life, which can make it a rich and rewarding profession for almost anyone who enjoys working with numbers and finances.

How rewarding? Well, according the the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average personal financial planner in the state as of 2019 made just over $100,000 annually. That’s nearly twice as much as the average wage in the state… a healthy salary, if you can clear the educational hurdles to get the job.

Getting The Right Education to Become a Financial Planner in Pennsylvania

That’s because both potential clients and possible employers in Pennsylvania demand financial planners who have taken the time to build their knowledge and skills before throwing their hat in the ring. The finance industry has become both large and complex in recent years, far too difficult for even the smartest cookie to just pick up on the job.

So if you are bound for a career in financial planning, you’re going to be bound for college. College credits are also increasingly a requirement for the major professional certifications that are important in the industry as well, so earning a degree at a reputable university is probably your first step toward a job in financial planning.

Bachelor’s Degrees for Financial Planners

A bachelor’s degree is the minimum entry-level requirement for most financial planning jobs. These four-year programs combine courses that are major-specific, teaching you about business, accounting, economics, and other financial matters, together with electives and general studies requirements that offer up a sturdy liberal arts education that emphasizes critical thinking and communications… both requirements for successfully managing clients.

Common majors for future financial planners include:

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

But you can take almost any sort of degree and spin it into financial planning gold, so long as you pick a CFP Board-Registered program for either your major or a minor.

That’s because the CFP Board is the agency that awards the coveted Certified Financial Planner certification… but only to those who have filled their unique requirements to take at least 15 credits in specific subject areas including ethics, risk management, tax planning, and more. Board-Registered programs are guaranteed to fill that requirement.

Master’s Degrees for Financial Planners

You may not be done with college after you finish your bachelor’s program, however. That’s because getting to the top of the profession in financial planning takes a lot more education; the kind of schooling you’ll get if you enroll in master’s program.

A master’s in a finance-related field is a two-year program that gives you a far more advanced perspective on the same general subjects you learned at the undergrad level. You’ll leave the liberal arts aspects behind to focus on hardcore economics data, accounting practices, tax policy and regulatory considerations, and investment analysis. You will probably take part in major research projects and go through an internship at a major employer in the industry, all of it designed to give you a strong theoretical and practical background that puts you ahead of everyone who stopped at a bachelor’s and called it good.

You can also find CFP Board-Registered programs at the master’s level, a great choice if you are switching professions or for some other reason didn’t make you CFP qualifications as an undergrad.

Selecting an Accredited Degree Program

At every stage of a college education, it’s important to stick with programs that have been fully accredited by the relevant organizations recognized by the Department of Education and Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).

A general accreditation is almost a given for most American schools, which meet the basic qualifications outlined by one of the six major regional accrediting bodies as a matter of course. But in business and accounting programs, a specialty accreditation is just as important. That means bearing the stamp of approval from one of these three agencies:

They go beyond the essential academic qualifications and look hard at the additional aspects of the program that are particularly important to American businesses: things like how well the curriculum aligns with current business practices and regulations, the ethical considerations that are passed along, and the sort of resources and partnerships that allow finance students to get the exposure they need to real-world practices.

Enrolling in a FinTech Bootcamp for Financial Planning

College alone isn’t always enough to get you the kind of big money that you can make in financial planning; for that, you need not only specialized knowledge and skills, but knowledge and skills that are in great demand in the field today.

That means fintech most of all, the special blend of finance and technology that is transforming the industry and evolving too fast for most university programs to keep up with. That’s where fintech bootcamps come in.

Bootcamps are fast-paced, stripped-down crash courses that only last a few weeks or a few months. That’s quick enough to teach you the hottest new developments and get you back on to the street quickly enough to use them before they inevitably change again. The curriculum can shift dramatically, but it’s always based on the state-of-the-art, and will commonly offer up skills like:

  • Advanced Excel analysis
  • Python programming and use of financial libraries
  • Blockchain tech and cryptocurrencies
  • Machine learning and AI financial analysis

Learning doesn’t happen in a dry classroom environment, either, but rather through a series of hands-on projects that give you real-world data and realistic objectives and put you through the paces of developing solutions together with your cohort. You’ll get the benefit of insights and guidance delivered by instructors who were recently working in the field themselves.

You can find fintech bootcamps offered by a variety of organizations and in different formats, from the traditional on-site, full-time approach, to part-time, online offerings, such as the Penn LPS FinTech Boot Camp.

Although the part-time approach taken by Penn stretches out to six months, the evening and weekend coursework offers quite a lot more flexibility than a traditional approach and is just about the only option for anyone currently juggling professional obligations with their studies.

Taking a bootcamp offered by a university also comes with the benefit of a professional career services team, one that has enormous experience in preparing graduates to land the kind of jobs they are looking for or advance within their own organizations. You can expect assistance in interview preparation, portfolio development, and resume polishing, all of which will give you an edge in showing off your new talents after graduation.

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

A professional certification is more or less expected of all financial planners after accumulating a few years of experience in the field. There are a variety of these available, each rooted in separate specializations and with a different set of qualifications you’ll need to achieve:

  • 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

Those all include both on-the-job experience, some degree of formal college education, and passing a knowledge-based test. Ethical and professional standards are also assessed. It’s an almost mandatory way to prove your capabilities to practice at the mid-levels and above in financial planning.

The stringent CFP requirements go beyond just having a bachelor’s degree to include 15 specific credits taken at that level in certain subject areas. If you didn’t cover that in your degree programs, you can still catch up by taking a special CFP Board-Registered certificate program that will cover exactly those topics.

How to Obtain an Investment Adviser Representative License in Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities handles the registration of investment advisor representatives (IAR) as well as investment advisory (IA) firms in the state. Under the Pennsylvania Code, investment adviser representatives must pass one of the following examinations/examination combinations:

Series 65 Uniform Investment Adviser Law Examination

Series 7 General Securities Representative Examination in combination with the Series 66 Uniform Combined State Law Examination. Exemptions apply if one holds any of the following certifications or graduate degrees:

  • Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
  • Certified Financial Planner (CFP)
  • Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC)
  • Master of Science and Financial Services (MSFS)
  • Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)
  • Personal Financial Specialist (PFS)
  • Chartered Investment Counselor (CIC)
  • Be a licensed attorney in the state

There are countless IA firms, including national, international and regional, across Pennsylvania. You’ll probably find yourself working for a big-name IAR such as Schwab or Morgan Stanley, at least initially, but with time and experience you may graduate to smaller boutique firms that carer to high-net-worth individuals or offer specialized expertise.

Investment adviser representatives who prefer to work for themselves by establishing a sole proprietorship or LLC, may also license their own IA firm through the Pennsylvania Securities Commission.

How to Obtain a Stockbroker License in Pennsylvania

Stockbrokers in Pennsylvania are also regulated by the Pennsylvania Securities Commission. They must pass the NASAA Series 7 Examination as well as the Series 66 Examination that covers state laws.

Once licensed, Pennsylvania’s broker-dealer agents must adhere to the continuing education requirements of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Inc (FINRA). This includes completion of a computerized refresher training program after having been licensed for two years, and then every three years after that. These training programs are updated often so as to present relevant info in the ever-changing financial services regulatory environment. Additionally, all firms must provide continuing education through training programs conducted in-house or sponsored by firms off-site. These are designed to keep agents abreast of any changes in regulations as they pertain to sales tactics and financial vehicles.

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

The Pennsylvania Insurance Department handles the responsibility of licensing life insurance producers, who may also sell fixed annuities so as to market themselves as financial planners in the state. Pre-licensing education requirements of 24 credit hours through a Pennsylvania Insurance Department-approved provider must be fulfilled prior to a license being granted. Three hours of that education must be in ethics studies. After that, you’ll have to pass the state’s insurance examination, which is administered by the third party testing center, PSI.

Twenty-four hours of continuing education must be completed biannually to maintain your insurance producer license. The sale of variable annuities requires additional licensure through the Pennsylvania Securities Commission. In addition to meeting the requirements of insurance producers above, variable annuities sales persons must obtain broker-dealer sponsorship and pass Series 6 Investment Company Products/Variable Contracts Limited Representative Exam or the Series 7 General Securities Representative Exam.