Industry view: The alternative profession

By Bill Saunders, head of financial planning, Acumen Financial Planning Limited

When young people setting out in life think of the “professions” it is likely that two will immediately come to mind – accountancy and law. Irrespective of age, these two disciplines are upper most in most people’s consciousness. Both are broadly respected, and regarded as a sound career choice and for good reasons.

That said, there is now a third, younger and, dare I say it, more exciting alternative, namely that of financial planning. Like accountancy and law, professional qualifications are at its heart, with the titles Chartered Financial Planner and Certified Financial Planner being seen as pinnacles of professional excellence.

Bill Saunders

For those with preconceptions, it should be made clear that the role of a professional financial planner is a world away from the many who worked in the old financial services world, who were effectively no more than salesmen for insurance companies.

So what is financial planning? It is multi-faceted, but can best be described as a process:

• Establishment of an individual or family’s goals in life – short, medium and long term
• Assessment of all current assets and liabilities
• Evaluation of current financial position – how close are you to achieving your goals?
• Development of a plan – creating a roadmap for achieving your different goals
• Implementation of the plan – make changes and make it happen
• Monitor and review of the plan at least yearly and adjustments made where needed

In order to be able to implement this process competently, a wealth of knowledge is required. In-depth understanding of taxation, investment knowledge and legislation pertaining to pensions and other relevant areas, as well as lifetime cashflow modelling are all prerequisites. Equally, if not more important is the ability to truly understand a client’s circumstances and goals in life, to be able to listen effectively and above all, to gain their complete trust.

A career in the financial planning profession would be a great choice for a bright young person for a number of reasons. Firstly, primarily because it is a relatively new profession, there are not enough highly qualified financial planners to go around, there is a real gap in the market, and the average age is over 50 – we need new blood! Also, there is a high degree of job satisfaction in that by simply doing your job; you really can improve your clients’ lives. By making the most of what they have, and by utilising cashflow modelling, many clients find that they can retire early, or live the life they really want to, safe in the knowledge that they can never run out of money.

Financial planning is still under the radar in many respects, and only a handful of UK universities offering designated degree courses. That said, most working in the profession do not hold a financial planning degree. While being a graduate will always be advantageous, the bulk of the work required in order to qualify as a practicing professional will be in the form of professional exams. This is best done in the workplace, ideally training in a support role within a forward looking financial planning firm.

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