What It Means & What It Takes to Become a Certified Financial Planner

Nate Levinson Life with Money

Although Park Piedmont focuses primarily on providing investment advice, our advisors also assist clients with broader financial planning work. Financial planning is the process of evaluating a client’s financial situation and developing a roadmap to help them meet their short- and long-term financial goals.

The CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ designation is one recognition of expertise in financial planning. A number of our Park Piedmont team members hold this certification, and I am currently working toward becoming a CFP professional as well. We thought it might be interesting for you to get a look “under the hood” of the CFP certification process, while I’m going through it.

There are four requirements for attaining a CFP certification, which are known as “the four E’s”: education, exam, experience, and ethics.

The education component involves taking several courses that each cover a specific area of financial planning. The topics covered in the coursework include investing, retirement planning, estate planning, insurance, income taxation, behavioral finance, and more. Depending on the educational program, each course usually takes about two to four months to complete and is followed by a test that must be passed to move on to the next course in the sequence.
Certified Financial Planner
Once the education piece is completed, the candidate begins studying for the official CFP exam, which integrates knowledge from each of the educational courses. The exam consists of 170 questions and is taken in two three-hour segments.

Next, the CFP Board requires that candidates have 6,000 hours, or approximately three years, of experience engaging in some form of financial planning work. This can include one or multiple aspects of putting together a financial plan, from gathering client information to identifying their needs and goals to implementing plan recommendations.

Finally, the ethics requirement involves signing a declaration, attesting that a candidate will adhere to the CFP Board’s Code of Ethics and Standards of Conduct. These documents specify CFP professionals’ duties to their clients, employers, etc. and outline what it means to act ethically in the context of financial planning. A primary emphasis of the Code of Ethics is that CFP professionals have a fiduciary duty to their clients, which involves acting in the client’s best interest, avoiding conflicts of interest, and maintaining client confidentiality. We at Park Piedmont have served our clients in a fiduciary capacity since our founding – so the expectations for CFP professionals are closely aligned with our own. Due to all the requirements and steps in the CFP certification process, it typically takes about three years to become certified, assuming the experience piece is completed concurrently with the education component.

Between the required months of studying, years of practicing and applying knowledge, and stringent ethical standards, the CFP certification process prepares advisors to craft plans that are individually tailored to a client’s needs and goals. Our colleague Sam Ngooi, who spent two years studying for the CFP exam during evenings and on weekends, and received her CFP certification last summer, told me:
Certified Financial Planner
“Having knowledge in each of the CFP subject areas enables me to put together the various puzzle pieces of a person’s financial life and help them develop a plan that is holistic and comprehensive. And because clients entrust us with details about their lives and their money, CFP Board’s stringent ethics and education requirements are also important for building trust and providing clients with peace of mind. Not everyone in the financial service space is required to put a clients’ best interest before their own, and it’s meaningful to be able to say that we do.”

Personally, I decided to begin the CFP certification process because I knew I wanted to pursue a career in the financial services industry, but I felt I lacked much of the knowledge I would need to be successful. I had majored in Economics in college, but the classes I took focused on theoretical principles and models, as opposed to real life applications and personal finance. My classes certainly did not touch on anything related to investing, a topic I was particularly interested in learning about. Straight out of college, I worked at an insurance company for about two years, so that was the only financial planning topic I felt I had a strong grasp of going into the CFP certification coursework.

I started the education component of the CFP certification in January of 2022 and am currently almost done with the final course. I went into the process with the most excitement about the investment and retirement planning courses. I believed that these would not only be the most interesting topics, but also the most practical for my role at PPA, and in many ways that has been true. And although I wasn’t as excited for the courses on estate planning and income taxation, I found those to include some of the most engaging material. For example, during the income tax course, I realized that income tax is at the core of what PPA does, and a person cannot advise on any investment or retirement matters without a deep understanding of how the US income tax system operates. I also found the section on behavioral finance, or the study of investors’ psychological biases, to be particularly fascinating because it presented a more “human” side of financial advising that I had not previously encountered.

Overall, I have found the CFP certification process to be vital in my day-to-day work at Park Piedmont. It has provided me with a range of very specific financial planning knowledge, like how to calculate a client’s required savings rate to meet a specific goal and the tax implications of selling various investments, as well as more general financial topics, like the tools of monetary and fiscal policy and the factors that impact one’s credit score. I plan to take the exam in July of this year, and I have about one year of experience to go before I can become officially certified.

CFP certification is a significant time commitment and has taken up many of my weeknights and weekends since the start of 2022. But I have learned more in that time than I ever thought I would. Even after I complete the CFP certification process, I plan to continue learning about investing and behavioral finance, along with many of the other topics the CFP certification has covered.

Read “Is Your Financial Advisor a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™” in the Piedmont Exedra.