What Is A Financial Planner And How Do You Become One?


A finance job that doesn’t involve number crunching? Yeah, right. Of course, any job that manages numbers requires a handy calculator.

But here’s a finance career that values people skills just as much as the client’s bottom line—if not more.

What is financial planning?

According to Heather Mills, communications specialist with the Financial Planning Standards Council (FPSC), “Financial planning is the process of managing your financial affairs to meet your life goals.”

Sounds pretty straight-forward. In fact, it might even sound like something we can all do ourselves. But managing financial affairs can be tough and time-consuming and can keep individuals and families from more important priorities.

Mark Girgis, a graduate of Seneca College’s Business Administration – Financial Planning program, roughly compares financial planners to wedding planners. “They make sure the caterers are there, the limo’s correct, that you [rehearse] before… That way, you can really focus on your big day.”

What is a financial planner?

A financial planner is “the hub of a client’s financial network,” says Girgis. “They’ll put you in touch with investment advisors, accountants, etc. They help you make sure that all your [finances] are taken care of.”

Mills points to the six areas of financial planning on which Certified Financial Planners (CFPs) are tested:

  • tax planning
  • retirement planning
  • estate planning
  • risk management
  • financial management
  • and asset management

Mills says CFPs are “experts at seeing the big pictures—how all of these pieces fit together for an individual and how one decision in one area impacts other areas.”

Becoming a financial planner: skills and talents

While a strong grasp of finance is definitely necessary, Girgis says he believes personal skills and talents are also needed to be a good financial planner.

  • Communication skills: As a financial planner, you need to get your points across clearly and in the plainest, most understandable terms
  • Enthusiasm: Girgis says he genuinely enjoys working with numbers and money, and freely offers financial advice to friends
  • Time management and organization: Girgis drafts a daily to-do list and keeps it in his wallet all day, everyday

Above all, Girgis says a great financial planner is a great people person. Imagine if you were a client, he says. “You wouldn’t hire someone who can’t hold a conversation with you or make you feel comfortable. It’s more than just communicating properly—a planner’s dealing with your finances for the rest of your life. Not to mention, you have to see them on a regular basis. Wouldn’t you  [hire someone] you actually look forward to seeing?”

Education and certification

There are plenty of courses and programs designed to teach future financial planners. While there are online and continuing education courses designed primarily for those already in the industry, there are also college and university programs ready to take on students.

Potential financial planners should also consider CFP certification, especially if they’re interested in working for a financial planning firm. 35% of CFPs work for  firms, and the certification process and protocols members follow can certainly influence financial decisions made on behalf of clients, particularly in regards to ethics. For example, if dealing with an advisor at a bank, would the advisor offer plans that are best for the client or the bank?

A job in high demand

FPSC CEO Cary List calls financial planning “the profession of our generation,” saying that “demand for professional planners is expected to far exceed supply.”

He may be right. A 2007 study of 5.7 million near-retirees found that 71% received financial advice from at least one source. 50% of those studied received advice from a source in the financial industry and 25% said they did not understand Canada’s public retirement income programs at all.