Sunday, January 8, 2012

Thoughts on the Undergraduate Personal Financial Planning Program Degree

The Certified Financial Planner(tm) designation has become the most recognized designation in the minds of consumers who are seeking financial advice.  This is not to take anything away from other designations.  For example, the CFA certification requires extensive study and the passage of three exams, and is widely acknowledged to be a tougher (albeit different) certification to achieve.  The AICPA (CPA/PFS), IMCA (CIMA, etc.), and other groups also offer worthwhile designations.

To obtain the CFP(r) certification has, for several years now, required (generally speaking) a 4-year college degree, completion of certain coursework in the topical areas of financial planning, three years of experience in financial services, and passage of the CFP(r) exam.  There are various other requirements, and exceptions to the requirements, which are detailed on the CFP(r) web site.

If one already has a 4-year college degree, many CFP(r) certificate programs exist which provide the requisite course work (7 courses, if one includes the financial plan requirement recently adopted) necessary to sit for the CFP(r) exam.

But if you don't possess a 4-year college degree, there is a real opportunity available to you - obtaining a Bachelor's Degree in Personal Financial Planning.

There are some commonality of the college programs with the various "certificate" programs.  They both seek to accomplish all of the learning objectives established by the CFP Board, for example.  Some of the textbooks utilized are the same.  But there, largely, the similarities end.

Each four-year college program has its own emphasis.  Some programs, for example, focus on the theory which underlies financial planning.  Others appear to possess a focus on investments.  Still others focus on "client counseling" skills.

To a large degree each program reflects the faculty who teach there.  Lead faculty who enter teaching directly after graduate school, with Ph.D.'s in hand, are likely to be well versed in the theory of financial planning, or they may emphasize knowledge of consumer issues which arise in the financial planning area.  Lead faculty who possess a background in psychology or related disciplines are more likely to emphasize client counseling in their curriculum.

At Alfred State College, one of the "Technology" colleges within the SUNY system, nearly all of the professors in the Business Department have worked in the business world.  As a result, they emphasize not only attainment of the learning objectives for the curricula in which they are involved, but also the relation of that knowledge to "real-world" scenarios.  For students of financial planning, in my view, this is a decided advantage.

I have often heard practitioners remark that students emerging with undergraduate (or Master's) degrees in financial planning often are not trained in real-world applications.  I have sometimes heard professors respond with their view that "our job is to train them in the theory, the practitioner's job is to train new practitioners as financial planners."  Or professors may take the view that "my job is to train them to think, and to instill basic (or fundamental) knowledge in them."  There are nuggets of truth in these views, but I have another view.

I believe that, at certain colleges (such as Alfred State College) the mission of the program can be to prepare students for the "real world" - as well as to achieve a base level of knowledge in all areas of financial planning.  In this regard, the largest benefit of having professors who have worked (and continue to work) as financial advisors, such as Professor Stolberg and myself, is that we can bring our current experiences into the classroom.  We are better able to see the connections between the knowledge and "what's really important" to clients.  We bring in readings, and forms, and literature, which are actually used or seen in our own practices, to supplement the standard materials.

Also, since four-year colleges such as Alfred State have eight semesters of time with the student, much more can be taught in related disciplines.  For example, at Alfred State students receive all-important instruction in macro- and micro-economics, as well as how our monetary system works.  In addition, the advanced investment planning course and Capstone course touch upon counseling clients who are concerned about the macro-economic environment.  All of these courses are mandatory, and go well beyond the CFP(r) curriculum's base requirements, due to our view that most clients of financial planners will need - from time to time - assurance of macro-economic conditions, and the financial planner of today should know how to explain economic concepts to clients (and temper clients' fears, in the process).

Other courses at Alfred State College emphasize (as electives) entrepreneurship, with the view that students, with a little experience, should be equipped to open their own financial planning firm within a few years after graduation, if they so desire.  Of course, running a professional practice requires much more knowledge that that taught within the CFP(r) core curriculum.

I often encourage financial planning students to take elective courses in public speaking, as well as psychology.  A Professional Business Seminar at Alfred State College seeks to enhance students' networking skills, as well as to prepare them for interviews.

And the enhanced education Alfred State College provides to its Financial Planning Program students does not just exist in the classroom.  Frequent field trips are undertaken to Financial Planning Association (FPA) Chapter luncheons and to local firms each semester.  Guest speakers - usually practitioners - are frequently invited to address students.  We are also scheduling visits to a one-day conference for practitioners put on by the Northeast Region of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA). This Spring we hope to expand our visits to include two local Chartered Financial Analyst societies.

In addition, each Fall we hope to take Financial Planning Program seniors to a 2-3 day conference, where they connect with their future peers, learn of different approaches, and engage in interest discussions in the hallways and in the Hospitality Center for the conference.  This past Fall of 2011 ten students attended the NAPFA Practice Management and Investments conference in Brooklyn, NY, along with a subsequent visit to Merrill Lynch's downtown Manhattan main office, and presentations from their top wealth management team.  For many they learned that there are many varied perspectives about financial planning, the many benefits of discussing practice methodologies and marketing tips with practitioners, and so much more.  Needless to say, it was a very popular happening for the students.  Already we have our eyes set on an early Nov. 2012 3-day conference in Baltimore, for our students to attend.

Unlike many programs, Alfred State College requires each of its Financial Planning Program students to complete a one-semester full-time internship with a financial services firm.  With our faculty's substantial connections to alumni. financial planner organizations, and the greater financial services community, we are usually able to generate multiple opportunities for each student to choose from.  Being centrally located, we are about a day's drive from approximately 2/3rds of the U.S. population.

For students transferring from community colleges with an Associate's degree in Business, our Financial Planning Program is structured so that often the transferring student can complete the program in only two more years.  (Of course, an evaluation must be made of each student's transcript; with certain community colleges Alfred State has established agreements which facilitate this process.)

An added bonus of Alfred State College is the relatively low tuition (even for out-of-state students), the fact that most students reside on-campus (thereby aiding in building a real campus community), the small class sizes, and the open-door policy and dedication of the faculty members.

In summation, I think the big advantage of a four-year program focused on "real world" instruction is not only that of time - the ability to provide a much more diverse education and more in-depth in many areas - but also of preparation to "hit the ground running."  Many other advantages exist, including better connecting with practitioners (including the many alumni who lend their time and wisdom in support of the program and its students).

If you:

  • are in college now, or desire to enroll in college;
  • are interested in pursuing financial planning as a career;
  • have a strong desire to assist and counsel others;
  • possess a passion for investments, retirement planning, tax planning, or other subject areas of financial planning; and
  • you desire a "hands-on" education designed to enable you to hit the ground running as a financial planner,
then check us out, or drop me a line.  I can be reached by e-mail at

I also encourage you to check out the resources found on:

Thank you, and enjoy the day.


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