Financial Managers and Consultants

Financial managers and consultants can take many forms, from Certified Financial Planners, who work with clients to help them make sound short-term and long-term investment, tax, and budgetary decisions, to Chartered Financial Analysts, who typically work with companies and organizations as managers of investment portfolios. To get yourself on the right track to earning either designation, you will first want to earn your bachelor's degree in finance, personal finance, or business from an accredited institution. Graduates of these programs can work as bankers, personal financial planners, investment advisors, or in other financial professions without a professional certification or designation, but there are preferred routes you can take to gain one of the most well-known financial consulting credentials.

What the public should know when they use a CFP [Certified Financial Planner] professional is that they are getting someone who has proven integrity, honesty, professionalism, and competency.

Dan DrummondDirector of Public Relations for the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards

The Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards features a list of more than 150 approved education programs. Completion of one of the approved programs – either a bachelor's degree or certification — will allow you to sit for the CFP examinations. The international CFA program is typically done in conjunction with or following a master's degree in business administration.

Getting Financial Credentials

Once you have completed your undergraduate or board-certified education, you can sit for a CFP examination to become a certified financial planner. CFP professionals must complete the "Four E's" before they can become fully certified: education from an approved college or university, examination by the CFP board, three years of experience in planning and consulting, and adherence to a strict ethics code.

Ethics violations are reviewed three times each year, and violation of the guidelines can result in anything from a letter of reprimand to a revocation of certification, meaning the violator can no longer use the CFP designation.

Dan Drummond, the director of public relations for the CFP board, said certified financial planners are set apart from non-certified financial planners because of their commitment to such high standards of practice. He said he hopes the public will recognize what it means for professionals to have those letters after their names.

"First and foremost, the CFP board advocates for regulation and recognition of the profession," Drummond said. "What the public should know when they use a CFP professional is that they are getting someone who has proven integrity, honesty, professionalism, and competency. The public knows the professional has a quality education, and adheres to a code of ethics, which is enforced. A lot of people see letters after a name without knowing what it means. Some designations come from a weekend workshop and a check. Not this one."

Becoming a CFA charterholder is similar to earning a CFP designation in that both require years of experience and require post-baccalaureate testing. The CFA program is done in three parts, each concluding with an examination. The program generally takes two to five years, according to the CFA Institute, but can take as long as a candidate needs to complete. To become a CFA charterholder, you'll need to have four years of investment experience, join the CFA Institute and a local chapter of the international organization, and pledge adherence to the CFA code of ethics and professional conduct.

Maintaining Financial Credentials

Once certified, your CFP credentials will need to be renewed every two years. To remain in good standing, you'll need to accrue 30 hours of continuing professional education every two years, and two of those hours must include studying and reviewing the board's ethics.

Drummond said continuing education is essential to maintaining certification because professionals need to keep up with the ever-changing financial world. Continuing education courses can focus on a variety of topics, such as taxes and investments. What the board hopes, Drummond said, is that professionals will seek far more than the required continuing education credits.

"Our continuing education focus is maintaining a minimum level of competency," he said. "Many people do far more. Continuing education is a form of recertification, so you don't have to retest and so you stay up to date on evolving financial planning issues. There's a continuing need to learn more."

With lifelong learning being one of its tenets, the CFA Institute maintains that continuing education is integral to remaining competitive in a quickly-changing global market. Local chapters of the organization provide education and it is also recommended to gain education in other ways to earn the self-regulated 20 hours of credit every calendar year, such as seminars and college courses.

There are several ways to meet continuing education requirements for each financial management and consulting profession, everything from seminars to education provided by a professional's financial firm, to college courses.

"It really depends on a person's learning style," Drummond said. "There are literally thousands of ways to do it. Financial strategy and tactics are always going through changes. Nothing's stagnant, and we recognize that."

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