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Becoming a Financial Advisor

Financial Advisor Career: Quick Facts

Median Salary


Education/Skills Needed

Bachelor’s Degree

Communication and Relationship Management Skills

Recommended Securities Exams and Licenses


Series 6

Series 7

Series 63

Series 65

Series 66

Becoming a Financial Advisor

Financial advisors help individuals and institutions plan for and achieve financial goals and dreams. Their clients range from modest, “mom and pop” and small-business investors to the wealthiest of individuals and institutions. Clients often consider the services of financial advisors indispensable and trust them through the best and worst financial times of their lives.

The services financial advisors provide can be comprehensive or specialized. Some advisors develop financial plans that prescribe wholistic, life-stage solutions involving a full menu of financial products and strategies. Other advisors specialize in one of many financial advisory niches, including:

  • Investment selection and management
  • Retirement planning
  • Estate planning
  • Tax planning
  • Eldercare
  • Legacy planning and charitable giving
  • Insurance planning and risk management
  • Employee benefits planning
  • Budgeting and debt management
  • Real-estate planning
  • Small-business planning

Where Do Financial Advisors Work?

Financial advisors are known by various titles and are found in numerous business environments. Many are employed by or contract with financial institutions and have offices in banks, credit unions, insurance agencies, brokerage firms, and investment advisors. But a large percentage – estimated at about 40% – are self-employed with their own advisory firms or agencies.

>Common job titles in this profession include financial advisor, financial planner, financial consultant, registered representative, investment advisor representative, insurance agent, and wealth manager. The title often aligns with the license or registration needed for the area of specialization.

How to Prepare for a Career as a Financial Advisor

Financial advisor was ranked as one of the top 10 best jobs of 2018 by US News & World Report. Succeeding takes hard work and a commitment to staying in the know about constantly changing financial markets, products, and regulations.

If you’re interested in this career path, follow the steps below to get started:

1. Earn a bachelor’s degree

A degree in finance, accounting, or business builds skills in financial-product knowledge and strategy. But other educational backgrounds are also highly applicable and just as important. A background in education, communications, coaching, religion, or psychology helps with developing soft skills. Since most practitioners agree that 80% or more of the job is about relationship development, recruiters like to see backgrounds in these transferable communication and critical-thinking skills as well. Some universities offer financial planning and insurance majors, which can provide a competitive advantage, but what’s more important is that you go for a bachelor’s degree rather than an associate’s degree in a financial field.

2. Find a financial internship, sales assistant, or junior planner role

Many experienced financial advisors welcome the chance to train someone in a supporting role. A role like this is one of the best ways to learn the profession. Plus, if the experience is good for both parties, this may result in a continuing role in a well-established practice. A junior role of this type can be perfect for individuals who prefer not to “cold-call” to build a book of business.

3. Obtain securities and insurance licenses

Securities and insurance licenses are necessary for selling financial products. At a minimum, you’ll need to pass the Securities Industry Essentials Exam (SIE), followed by the Series 6, Series 7, Series 63, Series 65, and/or Series 66, depending on the firm you associate with and the breadth of securities and services you’ll offer. Insurance licenses are also important to address the full spectrum of financial needs and for addressing risk management in a portfolio or financial plan.

Anyone 18 or older is permitted to take the SIE Exam, which tests foundational knowledge of the securities industry and its regulations. This credential is a great resume builder and can help you jump ahead as a candidate for a desirable financial position. After the SIE, you will need to pass additional exams, but most can only be taken after you are associated with a firm or practice.

4. Commit to professional development and certification

The financial world is highly dynamic, so to keep your licenses up to date, you’ll be required to fulfill various continuing education requirements. You can also distinguish yourself by adding credentials like the Chartered Financial Planner (CFP), Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC), Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA), Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU), Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor (CRPC), and Chartered Investment Counselor (CIC). The list of available certifications for your continued development is long. Choose a well-known and rigorous credential program, and it will enhance your credibility and reputation in the field.

How Are Financial Advisors Paid?

Financial advisor compensation varies by employer and type of practice.

    • Compensation can be fee-based, meaning the advisor is paid a percentage of the assets in each account under management.
    • Commissions for products sold can be all or part of the compensation package. When paid on commission, the advisor receives a specific percentage of the transaction amount.
    • Hourly consultation or plan fees can be charged. This style of compensation is just like fees charged by attorneys or tax professionals. Hourly charges for services such as plan design may be charged in addition to fee or commission-based compensation.
    • A salary with a bonus compensation model may be in place. Large brokerage firms and bank investment departments often follow this compensation format. Usually, the advisors in these roles offer general advice. More sophisticated and specialized advice is typically offered through boutique investment advisory practices.

US News and World Report stated that the 2017 median salary for financial advisors was $90,640. The top quartile of advisors made $162,680, while the lowest-paid 25% made $57,380.

The outlook for the financial advisory field is strong.According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall employment of financial analysts and personal financial advisors is expected to increase 7% between 2018 and 2028, faster than the average for all occupations. A large market opportunity exists for advising individuals with moderate incomes and financial resources, in addition to the high-net-worth clients that have always been the sweet spot of this profession. The need for retirement advice for the “silver tsunami” of baby boomers moving into retirement has also compounded the need, particularly for advisors who have expertise in retirement income planning.

Get Ahead of the Game

If you want to show initiative and improve your chances for hire as a financial advisor, put the SIE Exam on your list of things to do. Preparing for this exam will help you learn the foundation and language of the industry and make you a stronger candidate for lucrative positions in the financial advisory field. Turn to Knopman Marks for the industry’s best guidance on how to pass the test the first time. We will guide you through the study process and give you valuable assistance every step of the way.

Marcia Larson is Vice President, Faculty, at Knopman Marks Financial Training, New York, NY. She has extensive experience in financial licensing and regulatory training, having authored, developed and presented courseware for numerous securities and insurance exam preparation and continuing education and compliance programs. Before joining Knopman Marks, Marcia was Director of Annuity Products and Business Development at CUNA Mutual Group, where she developed and marketed industry-leading annuity products and retirement solutions and implemented distribution relationships. She was previously VP, Securities Products for Kaplan Financial, managing securities training products and subsequently, international training and businesses development. Marcia has trained thousands of financial industry exam candidates throughout their careers, and also college students as an adjunct professor. Marcia was a summa cum laude graduate of Wartburg College with degrees in Business Administration and Piano Performance. Marcia also holds the designations of Chartered Financial Consultant® (ChFC®), Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU®), Certified Employee Benefit Specialist (CEBS), and Fellow Life Management Institute™ (FLMI®). She currently teaches the SIE, Series 6, 7, 24, 50, 52, 63, 65, and 66 exams.