Becoming a Financial Planner in Virginia

The Old Dominion has long been known as a place awash in old money, going right back to fortunes made in the Revolutionary era exporting tobacco to the Old World. Today, the state ranks number eight on the list of states developed by Phoenix International for millionaire households per capita as of 2017. It also comes in ninth in the U.S. News & World Report list of the wealthiest states in the country for 2019, with a median household income of $71,535. That shows plenty of new money joining the old, as high-tech ventures in Northern Virginia along the Dulles Technology Corridor and Tyson’s Corner area pay off for investors and workers alike.

That may be why the state’s Workforce Connection projects a 4.1 percent increase in demand for personal financial advisors across Virginia by 2021, bringing 240 new positions into the existing workforce of nearly 6,000. Insurance sales agents, a closely related job that frequently involves some financial advising services, is estimated to rise by 3.7 percent over the same period.

Those planners work with Virginians at all levels of wealth and income, however, in a dizzying array of different areas: trust establishment and management, investment advising, tax planning, educational savings, and retirement planning. In uncertain times, with a huge array of options and possibilities on the menu but limited amounts of time, it takes highly professional, ethical, and well-trained financial advisors to keep savings secure and to help build wealth to support the kind of lives those families want to lead.

But if just getting warm fuzzy feelings from helping out a wide swath of fellow Virginians in realizing their dreams isn’t enough to motivate you, consider this: the average personal financial advisor in the state in 2019 made $126,220 accomplishing all those tasks, according the the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And that is just the mean; the best-educated, best-trained, and most accomplished were pulling down a lot more.

If that sounds like the kind of scratch you would like to be bringing in each year, then read on to learn the kind of path you’ll have to take to get there.

Getting The Right Education to Become a Financial Planner in Virginia

Both potential employers and possible clients will be looking to make sure you have a college degree before they are willing to take a risk on you. The fiduciary responsibility that comes along with financial planning really ups the bar for qualifications; no one wants some fly-by-night dabbler managing their money.

That’s also why all of the most important professional certifications that are standard in the profession require some level of college education to obtain. A formal study of the concepts and core elements of the financial system and accounting principles are all must-haves for anyone hiring financial planners today, and earning a college degree is the only satisfactory way to demonstrate it.

Bachelor’s Degrees for Financial Planners

That means, in almost every case, at least a four-year bachelor’s degree. The most popular majors for anyone heading into financial planning are specific degrees in planning itself or other related fields, such as business, accounting, or financial services. But you are essentially free to put together whatever type of program you think will give you the biggest advantage as a planner; there are no real restrictions on your major as long as you put together the right combination of electives or minors to give you the expertise required for professional planning.

One caveat, however, is that you must select a CFP Board-Registered program for either your major or minor, or have another plan to acquire the certain specific classes necessary to earn a CFP (Certified Financial Planner). The CFP is one of the most important professional certifications in the industry, and it requires that you have not just a bachelor’s degree, but 15 credits earned in 9 specific subjects as mandated by the CFP Board. A Board-Registered program will include all of those requirements, and save you a lot of trouble getting qualified later on.

Master’s Degrees for Financial Planners

Many financial planners aren’t satisfied with stopping at just getting an undergraduate degree. This is a highly competitive field, and earning the same basic qualifications as everyone else isn’t nearly enough to get you ahead of the pack.

Putting two years into a master’s degree program, however, can dramatically boost your earning potential and promises of promotion to important roles in financial firms. You’ll spend that time immersed in studies of the most complex and important elements of economics, financial systems, accounting practices, and policy. Internships will put you in the thick of things with actual decision-makers, observing how they operate and how they think. You’ll work closely with professors who have made careers of dissecting financial systems and get pointers on the most essential elements. And you will participate in research that is unveiling new techniques and practices in planning.

You also get a second bite at the CFP Board-Registered program apple, since there are master’s degrees that are on that list also. If you failed to pick up the required credits at the undergrad level, you can make up for it with a master’s.

Selecting an Accredited Degree Program

At every level of college education, accreditation is an important consideration. Most students, however, never really do have to consider it—a basic general accreditation is pretty standard for most American universities, so much so that you’ve probably never come across one that doesn’t have it.

The same is not true of specialty accreditations, however. With certain types of specializations, such as accounting and business, a good school will have more than just a general accreditation. They’ll also go out of their way to get a specialty accreditation from one of these organizations:

That’s because each of them maintain close ties to the American business community, and use their knowledge and expertise to evaluate business and accounting degrees and schools with a different set of standards. They dive into curriculum contents, instructor selection, internships arrangements, and general resource availability to make sure that all of it is closely aligned with what employers in the field are expecting from graduates.

Enrolling in a FinTech Bootcamp for Financial Planning

Fintech is a new and developing aspect of the financial world that you are probably already paying close attention to. Cutting-edge instruments such as Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, high-speed algorithmic trading, AI-analysis of investment potential… these are all trends that are on their way to upending the financial industry. It goes without saying that anyone with expertise in any of those areas is in high demand right now.

But you won’t build that expertise in the average college program. Instead, you will have to look elsewhere, such as a fintech bootcamp.

Bootcamps are sometimes run by colleges, but they do not resemble the typical university experience at all. They are relatively inexpensive and extremely fast-paced… lasting only weeks or months at the most. Instead of a traditional classroom environment and assignments, you will participate in project teams that work with cutting-edge technologies and real-world data to attempt solutions to realistic challenges of the same sort you would face on the job. Instructors are not traditional academics, but rather involved experts who have been pulled straight from the job and have the latest insights into new developments in the field.

Through this intensive experience, you’ll learn technologies and techniques like:

  • Advanced Excel analysis
  • AI and Machine Learning financial analytics
  • Python programming and use of financial libraries
  • Cryptocurrency and other blockchain tech like Ethereum and Solidity

Most bootcamps are full-time and in-person, but you can also find part-time, online courses like these that are available to Virginia residents:

As with most bootcamps, these also come with a helping of career development services. That means you get interview coaching, resume prep, and portfolio-building advice along the way, designed to help you showcase your new skills and land the new position, or promotion from your current role, that your new fintech expertise will deserve.

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

Professional certifications are among the things that really make the finance industry tick. Good financial planners are made from more than just book learning; they also have to have real-world experience, solid gold ethical standards, and definitive subject-matter expertise in order to progress up from the very bottom tier.

Professional certifications exist to wrap all that evaluation up into one package, so clients and employers can take one look and know you’ve cleared the bar for all those standards in various specialty areas. Certifications that are important in the planning industry 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

The CFP, one of the most challenging but valuable, can only be had with a specific set of coursework under your belt, even after you earn the required bachelor’s. If that wasn’t part of your undergrad program, if, for instance, you are coming in from a different career field entirely, then you can still get it covered by taking a CFP Board-Registered certificate program at some later date.

How to Obtain an Investment Adviser License in Virginia

Aspiring proprietors of investment adviser (IA) firms and the investment adviser representatives of these firms must register with the Virginia State Corporation Commission’s (SCC) Division of Securities and Retail Franchising. Registration is done through the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s (FINRA’s) IARD (Investment Advisor Registration Depository) system after passing the North American Securities Administrators Association’s (NASAA’s) Series 65 examination; or the Series 7 examination in combination with the Series 66 Exam.

Many investment advisory firms have offices in Virginia, with names that are both nationally and locally known. Some of these include Edward Jones and Wells Fargo, and smaller firms like the Virginia Wealth Management Group. Most advisers start out at one of these respectable and established firms before branching out on their own or looking for more lucrative and specialized positions at boutique wealth management companies.

How to Obtain a Stockbroker License in Virginia

The Division of Securities and Retail Franchising also issues licenses to broker-dealer agents who wish to do business within the state, provided that they also register with the FINRA Central Registration Depository (CRD). Under Virginia’s Administrative Code, all broker-dealer agents must pass one of the following exams:

  • Uniform Securities Agent State Law Examination, Series 63
  • Uniform Combined State Law Examination, Series 66 and the Series 7

Continuing education requirements of FINRA and NASAA include a computer-based Regulatory Element, consisting of a training course taken after two years of licensure and every three years after that; and a firm-provided Firm Element that includes sales training to registered agents to keep them abreast of changes in the industry including new investment products.

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

The Virginia SCC’s Bureau of Insurance licenses life insurance producers who may also sell fixed annuities and thereby offer financial planning products. There are no pre-licensing education requirement, but would-be producers must pass the state’s licensing exam as conducted by independent third-party proctoring firm Prometric. Actual licensing registration is performed through either the Sircon or NIPR (National Insurance Producer Registry) systems.

Like most states, continuing education is required for you to hold your license over time. For a single license type, 16 hours are required every 2 years, 3 hours of which must be in ethics courses. You can find available and accepted courses through the Sircon website.

If licensed life insurance producers in Virginia want to expand their offerings by selling variable annuities, they must apply for a Variable Life and Annuities License. This is obtained by passing the Series 63 exam along with the Series 6 exam. Continuing education requirements of both FINRA and the Bureau of Insurance must be upheld in order to renew a Variable Life and Annuities License in Virginia.