Professional Financial Advisors Are In Demand: How to Start Your Career

In a troubled economy, investors increasingly need solid professional advice on how to protect their assets. This means heightened demand for financial analysts and advisors in both commercial and business sectors. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, opportunities for financial professionals is predicted to grow by approximately 37% between 2006 and 2016—and those for personal financial advisors is forecasted to grow 41% over the next ten years.

One of the reasons for this unprecedented growth is the millions of workers planning retirement over the coming decade. Retirement account returns have not done well in the past few years, and an aging workforce will increasingly need professional help to ensure a stable retirement. Add to that the fact that companies are replacing pension plans with retirement savings accounts and increased longevity among retirees necessitating planning for longer retirements, and you’ve got a mess that only a financial professional can sort out.

However, despite the increased opportunity, competition is fierce in the financial sector. Financial openings attract a large number of jobseekers, and companies increasingly look for strong academic backgrounds as well as experience in the field. If you’re interested in making a start in this demanding—and rewarding—industry, here’s what you’ll need to do.

Get a college degree. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to enter the field without a Bachelor’s degree. While it’s not necessarily required to have a degree in the subject, you’ll need to have taken classes in relevant subjects and many employers look for degrees in finance, accounting, statistics, business administration, or economics. Key knowledge for financial analysts includes proficiency in accounting policies, corporate budgeting and forecasting. For entry-level positions, your grades will matter—be sure to earn top marks in relevant courses.

Earn a Master’s. Most applicants for entry-level and more advanced financial analysis and advisement positions have Bachelor’s degrees—it’s a minimum requirement, but it won’t make your resume stand out. Because of this, an increased number of finance professionals also earn an MBA. You can earn a general MBA or one with a focus in finance—and many of these programs are available online.

Get licensed. Licensing is required by state and Federal law, and licensing programs are administered by the government. The license you need depends on your specialty within the finance industry. Most licenses require a company to sponsor each applicant, so financial professionals are typically not expected to be licensed before starting a job—and employees with licenses from previous employers typically have to renew their licenses when they start a new job. Most professional licenses are administered through the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).

If you’re a financial advisor and you’re involved in buying or selling securities, you’ll likely need to earn the Series 7 and Series 63 or 66 licenses granting you the right to perform as a registered representative of a securities firm and give financial advice to individuals.

Get certified. Certification is not required by law, although employers can choose to require certifications independently. In the financial services field, certification is becoming increasingly important as competition for jobs and clients increases and the economy falters—customers increasingly need to be reassured that their financial advisors know what they’re doing. A certification can help you increase your credibility to customers and to potential employers.

There are a range of certifications out there, including the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) certification for financial analysts and the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) designation for financial advisors. These certifications typically require a Bachelor’s degree and three or four years of work experience in a relevant field. The CFA certification requires applicants to pass three exams, and the CFP requires compliance with a strict code of ethics.

A career in the financial services industry can be rewarding and challenging. It’s difficult to establish yourself as a freelance advisor—most new firms close within the first year—so the majority of financial professionals seek out employment with companies. Employers are increasingly looking for applicants with a strong academic background—getting your MBA or Master’s in Finance isn’t overkill, and professional certification can also boost your chances of landing a job. Once you gain some experience and the right education, you should be in high demand.