Happy Anniversary To Me!
I received my CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ practitioner designation twenty years ago, on October 6, 2003, and what a long, strange trip it's been.
During the Tech Wreck from 2000 to 2002, I attended a Morgan Stanley Branch Manager's conference where a speaker shared how his dad told him to improve himself during difficult times when business was slow and markets were in turmoil. At the time, I was managing the Morgan Stanley office in New Haven, Connecticut. When I returned from the conference, I offered to pay for the CFP® training for any advisor who wanted to obtain the designation. Initially, twelve advisors, including me, started the program. I contacted a professor at Albertus Magnus College who agreed to teach us every Tuesday morning. Our first lesson was a crash course on handling the HP 12c calculator efficiently because if we could become proficient with it, we could save precious minutes on the exam.
After we finished our first course and exam, several advisors quit, and we lost more after the second one; we only had three remaining after the third test. The professor could no longer come to our office because of dwindling attendance, and that's when we lost the final advisors. I was alone on my CFP® journey. Two years after my calculator course, I registered for the July 2003 exam.
During the spring of 2003, I transferred to Austin, Texas, to manage Morgan Stanley's office. My wife and I relocated to the Live Music Capital of the World with our five-year-old daughter. I was working in a new office in a new city, living in a new home. In addition to managing the Austin office, I oversaw the College Station and Temple locations. I had little time for studying and spent many hours in meetings and traveling as I navigated the lay of the land, so I studied late at night and on weekends. It was a long, exhausting stretch.
The test was a written exam covering two days. My family joined me in San Antonio, and we turned my exam weekend into an adventure. Since it was a written test, my fate was uncertain for several weeks. I routinely checked the CFP® website to see if I had passed, and I finally found out about six weeks later that I had. I remember the evening well because my parents were visiting from Los Angeles, and I was glad they could join us in celebrating my two-year voyage.
The CFP® is demanding and difficult. Of the 1,963 individuals who sat for the exam, only 1,123 passed, or 57%. I remember my professor telling me that if I felt like I failed the exam, I likely passed. He added that those who were overconfident and thought the exam was easy probably failed, and he was right based on my straw poll.
When I launched my career, I was unaware I could become a planner because most training programs offered through major Wall Street firms focused on product sales, with little emphasis on investments and even less on planning. Initially, I concentrated on selling stocks, bonds, and mutual funds and thought I had everything figured out until I started studying for the CFP® exam. It opened my eyes to everything I did not know, like insurance, estate, and tax planning. I was venturing into new territory, and it was thrilling.
The fun began after I earned my designation because it felt like I was starting a new career. Financial planning is a unique field full of twists and turns, engulfing every aspect of a family's life from birth to death and all points in between. To complete a successful plan, a planner must wear several hats to help clients achieve their financial goals – investments, insurance, estate, taxes, education, etc. It's a long, thorough list. In addition to the financial aspect, I sometimes feel like a psychiatrist, marriage counselor, and confidant.
The CFP® profession is celebrating its fiftieth year, and currently, there are 97,575 professionals, a far cry from the original 35 members who launched the industry in 1973. But we still have a long way to go, especially regarding minorities. Currently, less than 10% of planners are minorities. However, the CFP board is excellently advancing the industry and designation, strongly focusing on pro-bono planning, ethics, continuing education, and diversification. They are proactive in elevating our profession.
I'm glad I started my planning certification journey more than two decades ago, and I look forward to celebrating my fiftieth anniversary in 2053 at age 88!
Financial planning is like navigation. If you know where you are and where you want to go, navigation isn't such a great problem. It's when you don't know the two points that it's difficult. ~ Venita VanCaspel
October 2, 2023
Bill Parrott, CFP®, is the President and CEO of Parrott Wealth Management in Austin, Texas. Parrott Wealth Management is a fee-only, fiduciary, registered investment advisor firm. Our goal is to remove complexity, confusion, and worry from the investment and financial planning process so our clients can pursue a life of purpose. Our firm does not have an asset or fee minimum, and we work with anybody who needs financial help regardless of age, income, or asset level.
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