Financial Planning: A rewarding career that lets you make a difference
Fred Zhou’s career as a financial planner has roots in his childhood. Growing up in Kamloops, B.C., Zhou would often serve as a translator for his mother, who did not speak much English. When he was eight, he and his mom met with a financial advisor who encouraged her to open a registered education savings plan for him and his brother. “If my mom had not met that person, she most likely wouldn’t have invested in an RESP,” Zhou says, “and that might have meant a completely different future for us.” Today, as a senior financial planner with TD Wealth, a division of TD Bank, in Kamloops, B.C., Zhou is following in the footsteps of that advisor who helped his family so many years ago. He is one of 17,000 Canadians, and more than 190,000 worldwide, who hold the Certified Financial Planner® designation, the gold standard of educational achievement in the field. Like them, he has discovered a career that not only pays well and is in high demand, but also allows him the freedom to choose his own path and his own style. Even more importantly, it gives him the power to support his community. “I grew up here in Kamloops, and it means a lot to be able to give back.”
What do financial planners do, exactly?
Many jobs involve giving advice about money – insurance agent, stockbroker, money manager, banker and others – but a financial planner is a unique professional trained to develop strategies to help clients achieve financial goals. This can include tackling debt, building an investment portfolio, or planning for big life events such as buying a home, having a child or retiring. Such tasks can be stressful and confusing, and Google can only help so much. A planner’s job is to work closely with clients – and sometimes with their families and other experts such as lawyers and accountants – to help them understand their financial situation and define their aspirations, then make a clear plan for their success. “You can have a direct impact on the lives of the people who choose to work with you,” Zhou says. “We are educators first and foremost, and our impacts can have a ripple effect on society that cannot be truly measured.”
What qualities make a good financial planner?
According to Christine Van Cauwenberghe, CFP®, who leads the financial planning division of IG Wealth Management, one of Canada’s largest financial advisory firms, the most successful financial planners have strong “soft” skills: communication, empathy, listening and curiosity. “After a doctor, a financial planner can be someone’s most important advisor,” she explains. “To have the most impact on their financial health, you need to care about people, and you need to be good at asking questions.” In Canada, the CFP® designation and Qualified Associate Financial Planner™ designation are granted and overseen by FP Canada™, the national body dedicated to championing financial wellness for all Canadians. Those who are certified by FP Canada are required to conduct themselves with the highest professional and ethical standards, and to have the skills and education needed to guide clients on their financial planning needs. Although they are held to the same professional standards, CFP professionals have achieved a more advanced level of education compared to QAFP professionals, so they’re able to tackle more complex financial planning scenarios. QAFP™ professionals are able to guide their clients on their everyday financial planning needs.
Does it pay well? What are the other benefits?
Those with a CFP designation can expect a healthy income and plenty of freedom to choose their own career path. According to FP Canada, over half earn more than $100,000 a year and a quarter earn more than $200,000. Employment and Social Development Canada estimated last year that demand for financial planners is strong, and banks and financial advisory firms continually expand their wealth management offerings. While full-time employment is one possibility, many financial planners run their own businesses as entrepreneurs. Either way, they typically enjoy a lot of autonomy in building and maintaining their own client bases and business relationships. As Zhou says, “every day is different.” When you talk to financial planners, it quickly becomes clear that their greatest rewards are not just job security and a good salary, but the satisfaction of helping people achieve their dreams. Jay Mallari, a QAFP professional and president of Cambria Financial Solutions in Burnaby, B.C., recalls working with a couple who had been in Canada for more than a decade and had rented all that time. He helped them understand how to leverage RRSP contributions to put a down payment on a condo. Today, they are proud homeowners who are building equity for their family’s future. “Helping people that way – you can’t put a price on that,” he says.