More colleges adding financial planner programs

Apr 29, 2012 @ 12:01 am

By Jason Kephart

The growth in the number of colleges that offer financial planning as a major is giving financial advisers who are looking for new hires a lot to cheer about.

The number of colleges that have registered with the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. to offer approved planning programs has grown to 130, up 20% from two years ago, and dozens more schools are in the process of registering, said Charles Chaffin, manager of academic programs at the CFP Board.

The growth in interest is largely being driven by job growth in the advice industry, he said.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the number of financial services jobs to grow by 32% over the next 10 years.

“Colleges are having to look very pragmatically at programs that are going to place students into lucrative and growing careers,” Mr. Chaffin said.

Kansas State University, Texas Tech University, the University of Georgia and Virginia Tech University are among the notable schools that offer a planning program.

Texas Tech and Virginia Tech may be especially familiar to advisers who regularly attend industry conferences, including those sponsored by The Charles Schwab Corp., the Financial Planning Association and the National Association of Fee Only Financial Planners.

Ruth Lytton, professor of financial planning at Virginia Tech, said that attending conferences is one of the ways that the school tries to connect students to the industry.

Advisers also are regularly invited to the campus to talk to students, do presentations or even stage mock interviews.

“Students need to learn and be exposed to advisers,” Ms. Lytton said.

For the most part, the programs are paying off, according to advisers.

Financial planning majors are generally better suited to the industry than students who simply major in finance or other business-oriented courses of study, they said.

Two main reasons are because the students are trained in using financial planning software such as Money¬GuidePro and Morningstar Advisor Workstation, and be¬cause they have a solid base of planning knowledge.

Richard S. Kahler, president of Kahler Financial Group Inc., said that he was struck by how complete the education of financial planning majors actually is.

He was used to hiring finance graduates or those with a master's degree in business administration, but it would typically take years to train them to get up to speed on planning.

“They're woefully unprepared for a career in financial planning. They need to know about IRAs, wills, trusts, and other things that aren't covered in finance courses,” Mr. Kahler said.

“Sometimes it's as simple as just knowing the difference between a Roth IRA and a traditional IRA,” said Laurie Belew, a senior financial planner at Fox Joss & Yankee LLC.

STRONG FOUNDATION

Because graduates with a planning degree already have the basics down, it lets the hiring firms focus on the more important aspects of the job from Day One.

“We're not having to spend time training them on software,” Ms. Belew said. “We're training them on our process and how we deliver it to clients.”

Some advisers are even picking up a trick or two from their new recruits.

Jean Mote, a partner at Mote Wealth Management LLC, hired an intern from the planning program at Iowa State University.

The intern would sit in on client meetings and afterward on the rides back to the office — Ms. Mote makes house calls — they would discuss the meeting and he would ask questions.

After one meeting that dealt with Social Security-claiming options, the intern brought up a strategy Ms. Mote hadn't thought of, and after doing her due diligence to make sure it would work, she ended up using it.

Because the intern had just been studying for the CFP exam, the strategies were fresher in his mind, she said.

“It's been a long time since I took the exam,” Ms. Mote joked.

Although being immersed in planning studies does make it easier to hit the ground running, the students said that they get the most benefit from actual experience.

Allison Perdue, a 20-year-old from Whitehall, Md., graduated from Virginia Tech's planning program in December and promptly landed a job as a planning associate at The Kelly Group near her hometown.

“It's funny looking back at plans I wrote just a month ago,” she said. “There's only so much you can learn in school, but being able to apply it in the real world really helps.”

jkephart@investmentnews.com

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