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What is a Financial Advisor?

A financial advisor guides their clients in choosing the best insurance, mortgages, investments, retirement plans, and estate planning. Financial advisors also give guidance on financial management and taxes.

Fully qualified financial advisors have taken the Certified Financial Planner exam. If they plan to sell stocks, mutual funds, or bonds, they will have to pass the FINRA examination.

To carry out your daily responsibilities, you will need to use specific skills, such as analytical, people, and sales skills. Your overall goal is to help your clients improve their financial and investment picture. You’ll examine and manage the cash flow for either private organizations, government organizations, or individuals. You’ll use specific accounting tools and concepts to help your clients make the best decisions possible.

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Steps to Becoming a Financial Advisor

To enter into this business field, financial advisors need at least a bachelor’s degree in economics, finance, or even business. You’ll also take part in an internship before graduation, then undergo on-the-job training under an experienced financial advisor.

Once you are hired as a financial advisor, you will have to obtain either a certification or license that allows you to work with clients. Such certification helps your clients to trust your financial advice.

  • Step 1: Start Your Degree

  • Step 2: Choose Your Major/Focus

  • Step 3: Earn Your Degree

  • Step 4: Gain Experience


Step 1: Start Your Degree

Request admission to the school of your choice. Once you know you’re in that school, begin to study the curriculum requirements and the courses you have to take. You’ll be required to take between 120 and 128 credit hours for a finance diploma (this will be a combination of your general education, business core, university electives, major area, and electives). Learn what the academic requirements are so that you move smoothly toward graduation with no hitches.

If you choose to focus your education on one specific aspect of financial advising or planning, make sure you know which additional classes, if any, you need to take. Maintain the required GPA for your major—doing so will make it a certainty that you’ll graduate on time. If you are unsure about the finance specialization you want to pursue, you can start with a two year associates in finance.

Step 2: Choose Your Major/Focus

Learn about the requirements for becoming a financial advisor. You’ll have to enroll in a university finance or economics major to learn what it is to be a financial advisor and be able to carry out the daily, required tasks for your clientele. At a minimum, you should earn a bachelor’s degree in either finance, economics, or accounting.

Depending on your elective, you may choose to focus your financial advisor career on investments, financial planning, risk management, financial management, insurance, or even banking.

Step 3: Earn Your Degree

Use your courses to learn exactly what you’ll be doing when you enter the working world. These include applying financial and economic theories that will help you to create, evaluate, and manage finance and security portfolios.

As a financial advisor, you’ll be preparing, analyzing, and interpreting financial information. You’ll begin to apply basic principles of security markets in your decision-making. You’ll learn how to describe the legal and regulatory implication of the market to clients.

As a financial advisor, you should be skilled in collaboration, communication, leadership and influencing within the organization that hires you, so you can help to achieve the goals of your employer. Through all of your classes, you’ll learn how to collect, research, synthesize, and interpret data by using technology tools you will be introduced to.

Finally, financial advisors will be making use of market principles and entrepreneurial skills. Financial advisors identify business opportunities, then develop and implement them in your daily work.

Step 4: Gain Experience

Look for internship opportunities that, once you graduate, may lead to employment. For instance, financial advisors may work with companies such as Deloitte, Grant Thornton, Deloitte Consulting, KPMG, or Protivi.

Within these companies and internships, you’ll be assigned to work at specific roles and duties so that you learn the daily responsibilities of a financial advisor. If your work impresses the company officers or your internship supervisor, you may receive either a job offer or a job recommendation.

Whether financial advisors are competing for an internship or a job spot, it is important to be prepared by studying the general qualifications required. Prepare yourself while you are still in school by ensuring your GPA is as high as possible. Develop skills such as customer service, written and verbal communication, problem-solving, teamwork, and leadership.

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What Does a Financial Advisor Do?

Before you become a financial advisor, you need to know what they do every day at their jobs. Financial advisors help clients to make investments, handle their mortgages, manage their savings, decide on insurance and providers, deal with estate planning, and set up retirement accounts. In short, a financial advisor will take care of all the frustrating, confusing, and intimidating details that their clients may not know how to handle. You may also provide tax and financial advice to your clients.

Going into more detail, you will:

  • Research investment opportunities for clients
  • Meet with your clients and go over their financial goals
  • Monitor the financial accounts for your clients and mark any that may need changes
  • Educate your clients on investments they should make, then answer questions about risks they face
  • Assist in planning for upcoming circumstances (retirement, college planning, or the death of a spouse)
  • Make recommendations on investments; you may be asked to select investments for some clients

Needed Skills to Acquire

As a financial advisor, you will be working with the public every day. A financial advisor will work in an out-facing job where contact with people outside the office will be one of the biggest things to do. As a financial advisor you need to be able to connect with your clients on a personal and professional level.

Your time in college math and accounting classes will help you to develop your math skills to a high degree. Knowing this, financial advisors should learn as many accounting and math materials as you can. Learn the theories and equations until you are confident that you know everything you can.

You’ll be analyzing large amounts of information as you study the different financial products that you plan to recommend to each client you work with.

In working as a financial advisor, you need to have a specific skillset. These include:

  • Analytical thinking
  • People skills
  • Sales skills
  • Accounting and math skills
  • Ability to explain financial terms to layman

Alternative Education and Career Paths

If you decide to change your career path to financial advising, consider this: any financial advice, guidance, and suggestions that a certified financial advisor or planner gives holds a lot of power. Financial advisors hold the financial lives of people in your hands. These people may be just starting out, nearing retirement, or may be contemplating the end of their lives.

If you are determined to become a financial advisor without returning to school, the best option you have is to learn all you can at the elbow of a certified financial advisor. Once they deem you ready, take the Series 65 Certified Financial Planner (CFP) exam. Because, even though you will not be gaining your knowledge from a professor, you still are required to be certified or licensed. Just be aware—several states require those planning to take the exam to meet an experience requirement before they are allowed to apply for examination.

Begin networking and getting professionals on your side. These are the people who, when you are ready, will be hiring you.

Today’s financial advisors are, themselves, in the Baby Boomer demographic. They are getting near retirement and this means they will be retiring and leaving a large number of open slots for new, incoming financial advisors. If you complete your training early enough and take your Series 65 exam, you can be one of those hired to replace them.

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Career and Salary

Where Might You Work?


When you graduate or complete your training, you will have several fields in which you may find employment. This list includes personal financial planning, corporate finance, real estate, investment banking, asset management, and commercial banking.

This is only a partial list, but it can give you a good idea of where a financial advisor can find gainful employment. You may also work for the government (local, state, or federal). It just depends on your knowledge, specialization, and skillset. If you want to have the widest range of opportunities, then you should take as many additional classes as you can in statistics, math, liberal arts, accounting, and economics.

If you are interested in business administration with a concentration in finance, you’ll be able to become skilled in financial accounting, investments, risk assessment, and capital and money markets.

Financial advisors may find a position as a securities, commodities, and financial service sales agent. In this role, you are responsible for introducing buyers and sellers to each other within the financial markets. You’ll sell securities to individuals, give financial advice to companies looking for investors, and conduct financial trades.

As a personal financial advisor, it’s your job to give financial advice to your clients. You may also look at their taxes and investments, and delve into their insurance decisions, then help them to make better choices with their money.

Potential Career Paths

Do you know where you want to work as a financial advisor once you graduate? Or is this still something you’re figuring out? If you haven’t pinned down a career, it’s worth reviewing them so you’ll be able to make a decision prior to graduation. No matter which financial field you choose, your days will be fast-paced and hectic.

If you study and achieve high grades, then you’ll be able choose where you want to work. Focus on a few career areas, such as commercial banking, corporate finance, insurance, investment banking, hedge funds, private equity and venture capital, or financial planning. While these jobs have you working in an office environment, they are never boring.

Financial Advisor
This type of financial advisor will work with clients, who can be individuals or companies, to help them reach their financial goals. They can do this by helping them plan for long and short-term goals, like a child going to college or a business making a large purchase and also by explaining relevant tax laws.

Financial Planner
Financial planning has an intense certification process. They take the clients through an in-depth process assessing their current and future income before making any plans.

Investment Advisor
These professionals are concerned with all things dealing with investments, whether large or small, low or high risk.

Personal Financial Advisor
Personal financial advisors usually only advise individuals. That doesn’t mean they aren’t prepared to deal with a high-wealth client, but they focus in on investments that are the right size for your individual needs.

Financial Controller
These professionals work with businesses and keep an eye on their books from day-to-day, including conducting internal account audits and closing out each month of bookkeeping.

Financial Director
Financial directors work much like personal financial advisors that work only for companies, specifically the company that has employed them. They know everything about company finance and make unique decisions for where the company is in relation to their goals.

Financial Advisor Careers Salaries

Occupation Entry-Level Mid-Career Late-Career
Financial Managers $59,000 $97,000 $89,000
Securities & Commodities Stock Brokers $46,000 $70,000 $100,000
Financial Analyst $55,000 $69,000 $75,000
Financial Examiners $47,000 $79,000 $80,000
Actuaries $62,000 $109,000 $151,000
Accountants/Auditors $53,000 $64,000 $77,000
Business Analyst Consultants $64,000 $82,000 $96,000
Economists $59,000 $94,000 $124,000

**Salary info provided by PayScale

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Career Outlook

Whether you work as a registered investment advisor, financial advisor, in financial planning, as a registered representative, or as a money manager, you want to ensure that the career outlook for your specialty is good. You want a stable job that lasts through your entire working life, or at least as long as you’re willing to stay.

One source says that this career field will grow by about 15% between 2016 and 2026, which is much faster growth rate than other professions. In fact, this growth rate is about twice the national average.

Our baby boomers are retiring in numbers that are larger than other demographic groups that came before them. As the people in this group get closer and closer to retirement, they will need you, as a financial advisor, to help them figure out how they are going to manage their funds and ensure that they have sufficient retirement funds, apart from Social Security, to support themselves.

Fewer than half of Americans over the age of 30 are able to tell you what a retirement account is. They may have a vague idea, but they may not know how to obtain one, much less maintain it. This is where you and your fellow classmates come in. With your specialized financial knowledge, you will be able to show them how to manage their money, post-retirement.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) points out that replacing traditional pension plans with IRAs will only continue rather than going away. These days, retirees won’t receive pension payments, which are going away at increasing rates every year. This means it’s now on the worker/retiree-to-be to save and invest for their future retirements.

Advancing From Here

Once you have reached the top of your field, you may want to transition into another area of finance. This may mean a career move upward for you.

Options include:

  • Financial Examiner
  • Securities, Commodities, and Financial Services Sales Agent
  • Financial Manager

Keep your eyes open for those advancement opportunities.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What does a financial advisor do?

A financial advisor is someone who advises clients on facial planning when it comes to savings, budget, insurance, and tax strategies.

How much do financial advisors usually make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, on average financial advisors make around $90,000 annually. 

What is the job outlook for the financial services industry?

Jobs in the financial services industry will increase by 4% by 2030.

Do financial advisers need a college degree?

You do not have to have a college degree to become a financial advisor. You may want to look into earning a certificate or alternative education because most states will require that you pass a licensure to work as a financial advisor. 

What skills do you need to work in financial planning?

Financial advisors must have a deep understanding of investing and accounting, as well as good communication and listening skills.

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