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The new hot job: financial planner
[June 23, 2008]

The new hot job: financial planner

(Newsday (Melville, NY) (KRT) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Jun. 23--Earlier this year, Jamie Ferrel-Epps, 31, a client manager with a major financial services firm, had an "Aha! moment" after hearing a colleague speak of a financial planner certificate program he had just completed at Hofstra University.

"You know what? I think I want to do that," Ferrel-Epps said, and signed up the next day for the six-course program -- with subjects such as investing, insurance, taxes and employee benefits -- with an eye to moving into an estate-planning role.

Attending evening classes adds to the length of her day, but Ferrel-Epps, of Baldwin Harbor, said she doesn't mind.

"I learn something new every night," she said. "It's worth the time and effort." Plus, the financial planner credential "is a good vehicle to have if you want to chug along and get further and more marketable," she added.

With people called on to cover the ever-increasing cost of college educations, figure out financial issues for aging relatives and manage their own retirement investments, the need for financial planning services is rising. At the same time, more people are going into the profession, with the number of those receiving the "certified financial planner" designation rising by 6 percent a year, according to the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards in Washington, D.C.

When it comes to passing the 10-hour exam and meeting other requirements to merit that optional but highly regarded designation, Carol Lee Roberts, managing director of education and examination for the standards board, said she sees especially fast growth in the 30- to 39-year-old age group. Of the close to 60,000 planners with such credentials nationwide, at least 20 percent fall into that age range.

Still, despite the increasing need for financial planning services, the field may become more competitive as more people enter, said Gary Huth, labor market analyst with the New York State Department of Labor. On Long Island the number of personal financial advisers is expected to grow from 2,220 in 2004 to 2,670 by 2014, according to the state labor department, which also indicates that the average annual salary for those entering the field was $39,520 as of last year. Experienced planners were earning an average of $118,870.

Also on the rise is the number of expanded educational programs that train planners. The board of standards reports there are now 74 U.S. colleges and universities offering bachelor's degrees in financial planning and 36 offering master's programs, including Molloy College's new MBA program, which has a financial planning concentration. There are even three doctoral programs at Texas Tech University.

As John Patafio, 44, an attorney in Rockville Centre, sees his clientele and their parents age, he said, he's been getting more questions related to estate planning, Medicare and nursing homes.

"Lawyers are not trained to answer those questions, but they do come up a lot," Patafio said. "A lot of these problems are not legal exclusively or financial exclusively," he noted, which is one reason he's enrolled in Molloy'sprogram. That training, he said, will dovetail nicely with his legal practice.

Just as there is a need for more planners, there is an accompanying need for more people to serve as their support staff. To that end, this past spring Hofstra initiated a five-week certificate program for financial planner assistants, covering the basics of planning, insurance, taxes, retirement and investments. Already, Jack Chite, a financial planner in Sayville and coordinator of Hofstra's financial planning certificate programs, said that because he saw such a variation in students' expertise he's developing a second, more advanced segment of classes for assistants who already have work experience.

Seeing both healthy demand and income prospects, many career changers are eyeing the financial planning field. Mike Quinn, a New York City firefighter, said that for some time he's been interested in the field, as he is often the one called on to give "firehouse advice." But it was after Sept. 11, 2001, that he saw a real need, as he helped colleagues' widows find financial advisers to guide them. While Quinn, 40, of Long Beach, said he saw a few shady characters, he also encountered plenty of well-meaning advisers just "giving bad advice."

So in spring 2007 he signed up for Hofstra's financial planner certificate program, perhaps to establish a part-time business or ease into that field as he approaches retirement. Quinn said he sees a market for helping other city firefighters, as well as police officers, since he already is familiar with their pension/401(k) programs.

Indeed, career changers come from a wide range of backgrounds, among them teachers, dentists, even airline pilots, Roberts said.

But Louis Cino, director of continuing education and professional development at Molloy, which also offers a financial planning certificate, said career changers should be aware that it's not just a matter of taking "a quick few courses, and, presto change-o, I'm a financial planner." For those pursuing the certified financial planner designation, there's also the 10-hour, two-day exam, which has a 50 percent to 60 percent pass rate. He said he's heard plenty of people say "How bad can it be?" But, of those he's spoken with, "not a single person came out feeling confident," he said.

Indeed, some people start worrying well in advance.

"Already my hands are sweaty just thinking about it. ... I think it will be a challenge, but I'm up for it," Ferrel-Epps said about the test, which she won't take until after she finishes her final two courses in the fall. "I just don't think I'll see much of my family in the couple of weeks prior to the test."


Rising numbers of certified financial planners nationally

1999 -- 34,656

2002 -- 40,375

2005 -- 49,117

2008 -- 57,978

Source: Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards

Ages of U.S. financial planners

30.29% Ages 50-59

28.85% Ages 40-49

20.28% Ages 30-39

14.12% Ages 60-69

2.94% Ages 20-29

2.13% Ages 70-79

--No age given; 1.18%


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