Becoming a Financial Planner in Washington

Washington State has enjoyed a long run of good fortune in economic terms over the past decades that has resulted in at least 12 billionaires calling the state home as of 2020. Most of those are the result of well-known corporate giants like Microsoft, Starbucks, Amazon, Valve Software, and T-mobile.

And the wealth hasn’t only gone to the top; the state has more than 180,000 households worth more than $1 million in investable assets as of 2017 according to Phoenix International. It’s so common for early Microsoft employees to have gotten rich off their stock options that the term “Microsoft Millionaire” is shorthand for any shabbily dressed person in a supercar seen on the streets of Redmond or Bellevue. There are ranks of Amazon employees who are coming into the same largesse as that business becomes dominant worldwide in online retailing.

New money is solid gold for personal financial advisors, because each of those freshly minted millionaires is a potential new client for some of the investing, tax-protection, and retirement planning skills that financial planners bring to the table.

That demand shows up in projections from the state Department of Labor forecasting that the number of financial advisor positions will grown by more than 6 percent by 2021. That’s an increase of more than 300 positions across the state.

It’s not just driven by the state’s burgeoning wealth in technology, however. The state overall comes in at number ten in U.S. World News & Report’s list of the wealthiest states in the nation, and the paper puts it squarely at number one for best states in the country overall as of 2020. Washington has plenty of highly-skilled, highly-compensated individuals flooding in, and all of them have needs ranging from retirement planning to tax-sheltered educational savings that financial planners can help them with.

Those planners are going to be well-compensated, also… the mean annual salary for each of them, according to 2019 Bureau of Labor Statistics data, was $111,890.

But you don’t get that kind of salary without putting in your time to get the right education and certifications to justify it. No one in the software industry got rich without validating their code, and you’re not going to get your hands on their investments unless they can validate you, too. We’re here to help put you on the right path to getting yourself the proper education and credentials to become a financial planner in Washington state.

Getting The Right Education to Become a Financial Planner in Washington

Washingtonians have a real respect for education—Seattle regularly tops the annual list of most literate cities in the country—but that’s not the only reason you’re going to need to earn a college degree to become a financial planner in the state. The truth is, financial planning has become a complex, highly technical industry over the past decades, and it requires a professional education to be taken seriously. That’s as true for employers as it is for your potential clients.

Another sign of that reality is the fact that most of the important professional certifications in the industry will require at least some college education in order to apply. The most important, the CFP (Certified Financial Planner), flat-out requires a completed bachelor’s degree in the field. So your path to a career in financial planning is definitely going to start off at a university.

Bachelor’s Degrees for Financial Planners

The four-year bachelor’s degree is the bare minimum requirement for most financial planning jobs. In addition to helping to qualify you for the CFP (although you must enroll in a CFP Board-Registered program to ensure that you meet the exact requirements for this certification), a bachelor’s will give you the right blend of subject-matter expertise and knowledge plus critical thinking and analysis skills to succeed in the industry.

Some of the most common degrees that are used to prepare for financial planning careers include:

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

But you can build a solid preparation from almost any sort of major, with the right minor or electives thrown into the mix. You can even find CFP Board-Registered minors if you prefer a major program that isn’t available for that purpose.

Master’s Degrees for Financial Planners

If a bachelor’s is the minimum, then you probably aren’t going to be satisfied with stopping there—high finance attracts high achievers, and high achievers in this field go for master’s degrees.

A master’s program will last about two years and will take you deep into the weeds of advanced financial analysis, economic policy, accounting processes, and business matters. You learn with professors who are experts in the field, with years of groundbreaking research and developments under their belt. You will have the opportunity to take part in those investigations yourself, or even undertake your own independent research into the matters that interest you most. High-level internship placements give you a window into how the movers and shakers in the industry work today, and help you make the kind of contacts you can use to get to the top of the game after graduation.

It’s also possible to find CFP Board-Registered programs at this level, so if you are coming in from a career path that didn’t take you to one of those at the undergrad level, you can catch up your qualifications at this point.

Selecting an Accredited Degree Program

Accreditation is something that most American universities already hold, so most students never bother to think about it. It’s an independent, third-party evaluation of the school’s academic and administrative standards that ensures a rock-solid education for students and eliminates fly-by-night programs that aren’t up to snuff.

But those accreditations are general ones, and when you are going into a specialized field like financial planning, they really aren’t enough. You’ll have to go the extra mile by looking for a degree or school that also holds a specialty accreditation in business or accounting from one of these three agencies:

Through extensive relationships with the business community, those organizations have the knowledge to evaluate schools and programs with a view toward the kind of training and skills their graduates will be expected to have. That means taking a close look at curriculum contents, instructor qualifications, and program resources to ensure they are all in line with the current needs of the American business community.

Enrolling in a FinTech Bootcamp for Financial Planning

All your college education is critical for getting a job in financial planning, but you’re not going to stop learning when you graduate. The field is evolving quickly, and today, that revolves around fintech: the blend of finance and technology that has created new wonders like algorithmic trading and cryptocurrencies.

You won’t learn much about those subjects in school because they are too new and evolving too fast. But you can enroll in an fintech bootcamp after graduation to get the most current perspectives, knowledge, and tools for becoming a fintech expert… a category of professionals who are in high demand.

Bootcamps can give you those skills because they are quick and nimble. Often lasting only weeks or months, they change up their curriculum as quickly as new developments are made in the field. And they don’t waste your time teaching through conventional techniques; instead, it’s an entirely hands-on program that puts you through a series of projects with your classmates through which you will learn about subjects such as:

  • Advanced Excel analysis
  • Python programming and the use of financial libraries
  • Blockchain and cryptocurrencies like Ethereum
  • Smart contracts in Solidity
  • AI and machine learning applications in financial analysis

At one time, most bootcamps were offered by private providers, but you are increasingly seeing major universities get into the game today, such as the University of Washington FinTech Boot Camp. Available both online and in a traditional in-person format, it’s unusual also in that it is delivered on a part-time basis, with evening and weekend attendance making it an easy choice for currently-employed professionals.

Like other bootcamps, though, it includes extensive career services offerings that will help you beef up your resume, prepare to answer hard interview questions, and demo your skills to potential employers… or impress your current boss enough to line up a raise and a promotion. Fintech expertise is one clear way to differentiate yourself in today’s planning environment, and it is likely to be a lucrative one for years to come.

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

After you have a few years of experience in the industry under your belt, you’ll notice potential employers and clients looking around your office or glancing at your resume with a curious gaze. Let’s clear up the mystery here; they are looking for the cluster of little letters after your name that indicate that you hold one of these key professional certifications:

  • 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

You won’t get far in financial planning without at least one of them to your name. All of them require a combination of knowledge, experience, education, and ethical qualification that make them an easy shorthand for your abilities to faithfully and competently execute your duties, so if you expect to be taken seriously and advance through the industry, you’ll need to earn one as soon as possible.

The CFP is among the most highly-valued, but it requires not only a bachelor’s degree, but the requisite 15 credits in specific coursework outlined above. If you didn’t happen to pick that up as an undergrad or even graduate student, never fear; the CFP Board also lists Board-Registered certificate program options that allow you to augment your education with the necessary coursework even after you’re out of school so you can qualify for the credential.

How to Obtain an Investment Adviser License in Washington

Investment adviser (IA) firms and their representatives (IARs) who advise Washington residents must register with the Washington State Department of Financial Institutions Securities Division, or the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), dependent on the amount of client assets they have under management. Firms that manage in excess of $100 million qualify for federal SEC registration, while those that manage less than this would register with the state. In both instances, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s (FINRA’s) IARD (Investment Advisor Registration Depository) system is used.

Those interested in becoming financial planners in Washington licensed as Investment adviser firm principals or representatives must pass the Series 65 Uniform Combined State Law Exam by itself, or a combination of both the Series 7 General Securities Representative and Series 66 Uniform Securities Agent State Law exams.Applicants that hold one of the following designations or who were registered as an IAR in another state within the past two years, are exempt from taking these exams:

  • Certified Financial Planner (CFP)
  • Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC)
  • Personal Financial Specialist (PFS)
  • Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)
  • Chartered Investment Counselor (CIC)

All the conventional national investment adviser firms have offices all around Washington state, including Waddell & Reed, Charles Schwab, and Edward Jones. Chances are, you’re going to find your first job at one of those or another big bank or retail advising firm. But you may not be satisfied sticking it out with the crowds; after a few years, and after getting your client roster built up a bit, you may look around for a more specialized boutique wealth management firm, or even roll the dice and set up your own shop.

How to Obtain a Stockbroker License in Washington

Stockbrokers must register with the Washington State Department of Financial Institutions Division of Securities through the FINRA-operated Central Registration Depository (CRD).These securities sales agents must pass the Uniform Securities Agent State Law Exam (Series 63) or the Uniform Combined State Law Examination (Series 66), in addition to the proper product-specific examination for the products they’ll be selling. For general securities agents, this would be the Series 7 Exam.

FINRA requires continuing education that includes two components:

  • The Regulatory Element consisting of a course taken after 24 months of licensure and every 36 months thereafter for the remainder of the registered rep’s career.
  • The Firm Element, provided in-house by the securities firm, keeps reps abreast of regulatory changes in the context of products and sales strategies.

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

The Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner licenses life insurance producers, who also sell fixed annuities. Before taking an examination, pre-licensing education (PLE) of 20 hours per line of authority is required. Washington-approved PLE providers may be found here. Aspiring producers may then take the Washington licensing exam given by PSI.

Once licensed, 24 hours of continuing education, including three hours of ethics, must be taken biannually to keep these licenses current. You will need to make sure you are getting your CE hours through approved providers, which the Insurance Commissioner maintains a list of on their website.

If a life insurance producer would like to sell variable life products or variable annuities in Washington, additional licensure and registration as a securities dealer is required. This means passing either the Series 6 or the Series 7 securities exams would be compulsory.

Since a variable contracts license combines insurance licensure and securities registration, continuing education mandates of both the Office of the Insurance Commissioner and the governing self regulatory organization (SRO) must be met during respective renewal cycles.