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Financial Planning: From Sales Deception To Helping Profession

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Financial planning has struggled to emerge as a true profession. This is in part because some of the most powerful voices in financial services would still rather relegate the practice as a means to the end of product sales rather than advice as an end unto itself. Indeed, with the financial services industry cited as having some of the most “deceptive sales practices,” it’s not made it easy for financial planning to differentiate itself from, for example, the sale of life insurance, brokerage or banking products.

Yet with Financial Planning Month upon us, I think it’s worth acknowledging that we’ve still come a long way. I mean, heck, we actually have a month now! Maybe before too long, we’ll get recognized as the official profession of a minor sport—who knows?

But seriously, over the past 20 years, I have observed a number of notable evolutionary steps for what is still a relatively young profession:

  • There are now numerous options for college degrees in financial planning, including all the way through a doctorate degree. (I graduated in 1998 with a degree in Business Administration and a Concentration in Finance that didn’t include a single personal finance course.)
  • There are numerous, viable entry-level paths into the profession other than going to work for a major bank, brokerage firm, or insurance company. (In the 90’s and early 2000’s, while there were certainly true financial planning firms in existence, most of them couldn’t support bringing on entry-level advisors to be apprenticed. Most of us started out cold-calling and product-pitching at bigger firms until we had a base of clients we could bring to a firm to justify a professional salary.)
  • There is a recognizable credential in the Certified Financial Planner™, or CFP®, designation that seems to have ascended to the standard within the profession. (It’s not yet the barrier to entry that passing the bar represents in law or the CPA represents in accounting, but we’re getting there.)
  • There are substantial associations supporting the profession, such as the Financial Planning Association (FPA) and the National Association of Professional Financial Advisors (NAPFA), who are growing in influence.

Yet what has impressed me the most is not the statistics that resemble legitimacy, but the unofficial vibe that has risen up within the profession. Those who’ve taken on the mantle of leading this profession, both from its origins about 50 years ago through today, truly embody a spirit more like a helping profession than a hardened craft. And now the next generation is applying the power of technology to fuel a philanthropic project called Advisers Give Back.

Led by Executive Director, Matt Iverson-Comelo, and “supported by industry luminaries such as Nerd’s Eye View’s Michael Kitces, past President of the Financial Planning Association®, Frank Paré, and Duke behavioral economist, Dan Ariely,” Advisers Give Back is a 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to providing free financial planning to those who can’t afford to hire a professional.

Powered by partnerships with fin-tech companies, Steady and EarnUp, Advisers Give Back will pair pro bono clients with pro bono advisors supported by dedicated assistants for recurring engagements, all of them connected by a streamlined technology platform infused with the wisdom of behavioral finance (I got the walk through, and it’s stunning).

After concluding a pilot program in August of 2020 and onboarding their first wave of advisors in April of this year, their goal is now to raise $100,000 and inspire 100 new advisors to join the program in October, Financial Planning Month, which is to say, now.

Many times, I’ve heard successful, well-intentioned financial planners rightly bemoan, “It’s only a shame we can’t help more of the people who need it most.” Well, here’s an opportunity to do just that. Let’s take it.

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