Becoming a Financial Planner in Wisconsin

Financial advising is a hot job in Wisconsin right now. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2019 the state has the fourth highest concentration of personal financial advisor positions in the country… and a pretty solid salary to go with them, at an average of $108,610 per year.

And while you can find those jobs statewide, you’ll find most of them, and a higher average salary, in the Milwaukee and Waukesha area, which ranks third out of all metros in the country, and has an average salary of $109,880.

There are opportunities of all sorts for advisors here in cheese country, making that cheddar count for everyone from families saving up to put their kids through college to retirees who need stable, protected, structured wealth management plans to keep their assets protected and delivering steady income throughout their golden years.

There are more of those new or soon-to-be retirees around the state than ever, courtesy of the aging Baby Boom generation. The state is already a full percentage point ahead of the rest of the country in proportion of the population over age 65 according to 2019 data from the Census Bureau, and that proportion is only increasing. The state Department of Health Services estimates that nine counties in the state will have almost half their residents over the age of 60 by 2025, and that number goes up to sixteen by 2040.

They’ll all need professional services at some point, and better sooner than later. Shoring up investments, planning out trusts, selecting the right life insurance policies… they are tasks that every responsible retiree will confront, and they will want someone who has taken the time to get the right education and develop the right expertise in finance and economics to help them.

Getting The Right Education to Become a Financial Planner in Wisconsin

Wisconsin can be a pretty traditional kind of state, where deals are done with handshakes and folks place more emphasis on personal connections than on the pieces of paper hanging on your wall. But they do appreciate expertise, and when you’re talking about them turning over some chunk of their financial future for you to manage, they are going to insist on finding someone who has the right education for the job.

Employers are just as stringent, and you’ll also find that most of the major professional certifications that are heavily weighed by the industry require at least some college education. And that all means that a university degree is in your future if you hope to become a financial planner in Wisconsin.

Bachelor’s Degrees for Financial Planners

At a minimum, that’s going to be a bachelor’s degree. These four-year programs include not only a heavy helping of industry-specific knowledge, shaped around majors in subjects like financial planning, economics, business, or accounting, but also a standard slate of liberal arts coursework. You might feel like you’re wasting your time in classes on literature, language, social studies, or history, but actually what you are doing there has a direct bearing on your success as a financial planner: those are all time-tested approaches to building up your critical thinking and communication skills, and if you don’t think those are important skills to have, you may not belong in a position managing money!

Whatever path you take in your undergrad studies, you’ll want to make sure you select a major or related minor that is on the CFP Board’s list of Board-Registered programs. That’s because the CFP Board is responsible for issuing maybe the most important credential in financial planning, the Certified Financial Planner, and they require that you not only earn a bachelor’s degree, but that your studies include certain specific coursework in areas like ethics, trust planning, and education planning. A Board-Registered program will cover all the angles and ensure that you qualify.

Master’s Degrees for Financial Planners

You may be among the elite few that decide to follow up your bachelor’s program with a course of graduate studies in the field as well. Not only can you also find Board-Registered programs at this level, qualifying you for the CFP, but you will also equip yourself with the kind of knowledge and skills that can rocket you to the top of the financial planning profession.

Big time money-managers and firm principles typically have master’s degrees. That’s how they got to the top of the pile, by studying some of the most advanced subjects in the industry, at a level of depth achieved by only a select few. A master’s involves original research efforts in the field, helping you find new ways to take apart and think about the hardest problems in investing and finance, assisted by professors at the top of the field and through internships that allow you to observe some of the finest minds in the industry at work. If you have the confidence and the work ethic to take on one of these two-year programs, you’ll get a massive payoff in the long run.

Selecting an Accredited Degree Program

It’s important at both the graduate and undergraduate levels to ensure you are enrolling in programs that have the right level of accreditation for your specialty. Almost every American college will already hold a general accreditation, attesting to its basic academic and administrative quality, a third-party stamp of approval that makes a university education as valuable as it is.

But if you are in a specialized field like financial planning, you need to look for another level of accreditation in your school or program. That means a specialty accreditation in either business or accounting as offered by one of these organizations:

They take a closer look at the business-specific elements of those programs to ensure that the curriculum lines up closely with the skills and information that modern businesses expect college graduates to have. They evaluate professors to ensure they have the qualifications to teach those subjects. And they look at the resources and business connections available, validating the overall relevance of the subjects you will be learning to the larger business community.

Enrolling in a FinTech Bootcamp for Financial Planning

Not all your education will happen in college. Over the course of your career, big things will be happening in the financial industry, and you’ll need to keep up if you hope to keep the most lucrative clients and the most important jobs.

Today, the biggest thing going is fintech. Financial technology is revolutionizing the industry with changes like high-speed algorithmic trading, cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, and in-depth financial analysis of big data. It’s too hot and fresh to have made it into most college courses just yet, but you can enroll in a FinTech bootcamp and get the kind of skills and knowledge to put you on the cutting edge.

Bootcamps are a relatively new concept that came out of the programming industry. Designed to pack a lot of information into the space of only a few weeks or a few months, they don’t waste a lot of time on reading or deep theoretical background. Instead, you focus on learning by doing: a set of hands-on projects are completed by you and your fellow students over the course of the program, under the tutelage of instructors who are themselves fresh from the field. You practice using technologies such as:

  • Advanced Excel analysis
  • Python programming and the use of financial libraries
  • Blockchain concepts and uses like smart contracts
  • AI and machine learning analysis of financial data
  • Ethereum and other cryptocurrencies

You do it using real-world data and breaking down the same kind of projects you find at real-world fintech jobs.

Originally, bootcamps were offered primarily by private organizations, but today you’ll find more and more of them driven by colleges themselves. Two that are available to Wisconsin residents via online learning are the Northwestern FinTech Boot Camp and the Rice University FinTech Boot Camp. Offered part-time on evenings and weekends, they are a good solution for currently working professionals who want to beef up their fintech credentials.

Like most other bootcamps, they also come with a helping of career services to get your job search off the ground after graduation. Helping you out with everything from resume polishing to mock interview prep, they teach you how to showcase your new skills for either a new position or to have the best opportunity to climb the ladder at your current company.

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

Bootcamps are optional, but a professional certification in some financial specialization is all but required after you have a couple years of experience in the industry under your belt. Popular options 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

You’ll notice that all of them require at least some amount of college education to earn. They typically also involve direct, on-the-job experience in the field, taking and passing a written knowledge test, and having an impeccable ethical track record. That’s why employers and clients alike use them as a proxy for your skill and trustworthiness in an industry where those qualities are absolutely imperative.

You’ll also notice that the CFP requires not just a full bachelor’s degree, but also the requisite 15 credits in certain specific areas of study at the college level. If you didn’t happen to pick that up in a Board-Registered program at either the bachelor’s or master’s level, though, you still have a chance to get qualified through a Board-Registered post-baccalaureate certificate program instead.

How to Obtain an Investment Adviser Representative License in Wisconsin

The State of Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions registers investment adviser (IA) firms and investment adviser representatives (IARs) who work with clients in the state. Any IAR with five or more clients in Wisconsin over a 12-month period must register in the state. State and federal level registration is done through the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s (FINRA’s) IARD (Investment Advisor Registration Depository) system. Exam requirements for IA firm principals and firm representatives are the same: the North American Securities Administrators Association’s (NASAA’s) Series 65 (Uniform Investment Adviser Law) examination; or the Series 7 (General Securities Representative) examination along with the Series 66 (Uniform Combined State Law) examination.

You will probably find yourself working initially for one of the many major retail investment advising firms that have branches in Wisconsin such as Charles Schwab or Edward Jones. While those are fine places to start off and build up your experience and client lists, chances are you will want to move on at some point to more exclusive shops, or possibly even to open your own investment advising firm by filing as an IA with DFI.

How to Obtain a Stockbroker License in Wisconsin

Registered representatives of broker-dealer firms, also called stockbrokers, broker-dealer agents, or securities agents, also are required to register with the Department of Financial Institutions as well as with a Self Regulatory Organization (SRO). In all cases, this is done through the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) Central Registration Depository (CRD). All securities agents in Wisconsin must pass the Series 63 Uniform Securities Agent State Law Exam or the Series 66 Uniform Combined State Law Exam, plus at least one other exam dependent upon the type(s) of securities products they plan to sell. Most BD firms will require reps to hold a Series 7 license, but other possible product examinations offered include:

  • Series 6 Investment Company Products/Variable Contracts Representative
  • Series 7 General Securities Representative
  • Series 22 Direct Participation Programs Representative
  • Series 52 Municipal Securities Representative
  • Series 62 Corporate Securities Limited Representative
  • Series 42 Registered Options Representative
  • Series 72 Government Securities Representative
  • Series 82 Private Placement Representative

Once registered, agents must maintain their registration by fulfilling FINRA-mandated continuing education (CE) requirements. These include a Regulatory Element, consisting of a computer refresher program taken after holding registration for two years. Every three years after that, registered reps must take the Regulatory Element again, as it is frequently updated to reflect regulatory changes in the industry. In addition, BD firms must offer the Firm Element portion of CE to employees to keep them informed of changes that may influence sales practices and product offerings.

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

Those who wish to sell life insurance and fixed annuities in Wisconsin must register through the Wisconsin Office of the Commissioner of Insurance. Pre-licensing education, which may be completed via approved self-study or classroom-based courses, must be completed prior to licensure. The pre-licensing study here is rigorous, involving at least 20 hours, split between 12 hours of policies, terms and concepts, and specific insurance laws, with the other 8 being devoted to general insurance laws and ethics.

Applicants may be exempt from pre-licensing education requirements if they can produce the following:

  • Transcript showing completion of a two-year Wisconsin vocational school degree in insurance
  • Transcript showing completion of a four-year college degree in business with an insurance emphasis
  • Holding any of the following professional designations:
    • Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU)
    • Certified Employee Benefit Specialist (CEBS)
    • Certified Financial Planner (CFP)
    • Certified Insurance Counselor (CIC)
    • Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC)
    • Life Underwriter Training Council Fellow (LUTCF)
    • Fellow of the Life Management Institute (FLMI)

Aspiring life insurance producers must then take the state’s insurance licensing exam, administered through PSI, and apply through the National Insurance Producer Registry (NIPR).

Licenses last for two years in Wisconsin, and you’ll have to accumulate at least 24 hours of continuing education during each renewal period in order to maintain them. A minimum of three of those hours must cover ethics in insurance.

Licensed life insurance producers may pursue the variable life/variable annuity license in Wisconsin. No additional pre-licensing education or examination is necessary for this license through the Wisconsin Office of the Commissioner of Insurance. However, as this does involve selling securities, registration through FINRA and a securities license is mandatory, which means passing the Series 6 or Series 7 exams. Firm and Regulatory Element continuing education requirements specific to registered reps, as well as continuing education required by the Wisconsin Officer of the Commissioner of Insurance apply to variable life/variable annuity license holders.