Written by: Ethan Peyton

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How to Become a Financial Advisor

Interested in becoming a financial advisor? Let’s take a look at the different specialties, certifications, and career progressions available to you.

Cartoon man holding a financial advisor sign

Pick Your Specialty

A skilled financial advisor is a valuable part of both individual and corporate financial teams and can help their clients make the most of their financial assets.

If you enjoy helping clients establish and work towards financial goals, you’ll be happy to know that you could soon be on your way to becoming a successful financial advisor.

In this How to Become a Financial Advisor guide, we explore whether financial advising is a good career, delineate the different types of financial and wealth management advising that exist, and break down the steps for getting started.

Becoming a Financial Advisor

Does becoming a financial advisor sound like the right path for you? In order to get started, you will need to complete the following three steps:

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

Financial advisors almost always have a bachelor’s degree; this is usually in finance, business, or a related field.

Many additionally continue to study finance as part of a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) program. While not a legal requirement in order to become certified as a financial planner or take other licensing exams, almost all financial services companies expect their financial advisors to have completed a four-year degree program.

What Should I Study to Become a Financial Advisor?

You can study any discipline to become a financial advisor, but the most common academic backgrounds include:

  • Finance
  • Accounting
  • Business
  • Economics
  • Mathematics

If you do not plan to major in one of these fields, you should at least take classes in these departments to make sure that you have the knowledge that you need to excel as a financial advisor. Look for classes that are available in the following areas.

  • Financial planning
  • Finance and investments
  • Estate planning
  • Taxes
  • Risk Management

Do not forget to practice writing and speaking. A large part of a financial advisor’s day is spent talking to current and potential clients, which requires strong communication and marketing skills. As a financial advisor, you can expect to meet in-person with clients to discuss their goals, craft emails to outline recommendations, and network with new individuals and companies in order to grow your client roster.

Do Financial Advisors Need to Complete Internships?

Internships are not a mandatory requirement to become a financial advisor, but they are highly valuable for gaining hands-on experience and networking within the financial services industry. By engaging in an internship, you can immerse yourself in the practical aspects of financial advising and learn vital skills.

We recommend starting your internship search by consulting with your university advisor or counselor, as they may know of existing partnerships with local companies. You should also not hesitate to reach out to any company that interests you directly to inquire about available opportunities.

Both current students and graduates can benefit from their school’s alumni network, which can be a rich source of expertise and information on internships.

Keep in mind that internships often pave the way to full-time job offers, especially if there’s a strong mutual fit between you and the sponsoring organization. Should you need to take certification or licensing exams, your new employer may even assist you with the costs. Remember, some positions within financial services firms, companies, or organizations might require specific licensing or certifications.

Step 2: Certifications for Financial Advisors

You will likely need to take some certification or licensing exams to work as a financial advisor. The exact requirements will vary depending on your specific role within your company, as well as on if you will be working with securities. These are the most common certifications and licenses for financial advisors:

  • Securities Licenses for Financial Advisors (SIE, Series 6, 7, 63, 65, 66): If you plan to market and sell securities, the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) requires that you be licensed. This means that you must pass multiple exams and be sponsored by a firm, company, or organization that is a member of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA)
  • Securities Industry Essentials (SIE): This prerequisite exam covers the basics of the securities industry and is required before you are able to move on to any of the licensing exams. You are not required to be sponsored by a Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA)-member firm, company, or organization to take this test
  • Series 6 License: This formal title of those with a Series 6 license is Investment Company and Variable Contracts Products Representative. It is most commonly obtained by insurance sales agents and financial advisors who include grouped securities as part of their offered products. You must be sponsored by a FINRA-member firm, company, or organization to register for this exam
  • Series 7 License: This license is required for many financial advisors. It is officially designated for General Securities Representatives. It is the most comprehensive FINRA licensing exam available and allows licensees to market and sell the widest range of securities-based products. You are required to be sponsored by a FINRA-member firm, company, or organization to register for this exam
  • Series 63 License: This state exam is required by the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA). It covers the state regulations and requirements for broker-dealer representatives and is most commonly taken by those who need the FINRA Series 6 license. You do not need to be sponsored to register for this exam
  • Series 65 License: Another NASAA exam, the Series 65 is required for investment advisor representatives. It is also a state exam. You do not need to be sponsored to register for this exam
  • Series 66 License: This exam, known as the Uniform Combined State Law Examination, covers the material from both the Series 63 and 65. In order to have a Series 66 license and operate as an investment advisor representative, you must also have an active Series 7 license

For more information, have a look at our in-depth securities licensing page.

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Additional Financial Advisor Certifications

There are additional designations and certifications available which you can take in order to distinguish yourself as a financial advisor who specializes in particular financial markets. Highly regarded certifications in the financial services industry include the:

  • Certified Financial Professional (CFP): The CFP designation is given to those who complete the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standard’s program requirements. These include:
    • Bachelor’s Degree from an accredited university
    • Complete required coursework through CFP Board Registered Program
    • Pass 170-question CFP exam
    • Document 6,000 hours of financial planning experience or 4,000 hours of apprenticeship experience
    • Agree to uphold CFP Board of Standards’ ethics code
  • Personal Financial Specialist (PFS): If you want to work as a Certified Public Accountant who specializes in financial planning, you can become a credentialed PFS through the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA). You must be a licensed CPA, member OF AICPA, complete 75 hours of personal financial planning training, have at least two years of full-time business or teaching experience related to financial planning (i.e., on the job training), and pass a PFS exam. Passing the CFP exam will waive the PFS exam requirement
  • Certified Fund Specialist (CFS): This designation is given to those who complete a course through the Institute of Business Finance on mutual funds and similar assets that financial advisers frequently work with on behalf of their clients
  • Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA): If you want to work in investment analysis and portfolio management, completing the education to become a CFA through the CFA Institute is a good way to gain professional expertise and demonstrate your knowledge. You will need to pass three levels of CFA exams, submit records of your academic and professional experience, submit 2-3 reference letters from financial planning services professionals, and complete an application
  • Chartered financial Consultant (ChFC): The ChFC designation, awarded by The American College of Financial Services, is pursued by financial professionals seeking to enhance their expertise in comprehensive financial planning. By completing required coursework, passing a series of exams on subjects such as investments, insurance, and estate planning, and meeting experience and ethics standards, individuals earn a respected credential that signifies advanced knowledge in the field

Step 3: Find an Entry Level Financial Advisor Job

Once you have completed your required licensing exams, you will be ready to begin your career as a financial advisor.

If you were sponsored by a FINRA-member firm, company, or organization for your exams, you might already have an entry-level position waiting. Navigating to the right financial advisor career path can be a rewarding experience, providing opportunities to work with clients, gain hands-on experience, and begin building your professional reputation in the industry.

What Do Financial Advisors Do at Large Firms?

Most financial advisors begin their career at a large firm, such as highly recognizable, national-level banks and organizations. There are also smaller firms and local companies that cater to specific regions.

As a financial advisor at a firm, you will likely spend a lot of your time meeting with clients, performing analyses, corresponding through email and phone calls, and executing financial plans with the approval of your clients. You will also need to continually work to build your professional network and bring new business to your firm.

How Can a Financial Advisor Work for Themselves?

Some financial advisors with an entrepreneurial spirit start their own businesses. This can be difficult, especially if you are new to the financial services industry. Being an outstanding financial advisor does not automatically qualify you to be an effective small business owner.

Around 25% of personal financial advisors are self-employed and the majority of those began their career at established firms. Consider taking additional classes in business or building up a strong client base before venturing out on your own. Once you are an experienced financial advisor, it may be time to make the leap to entrepreneurship and start your own firm.

How Do I Become a Registered Investment Adviser?

An investment adviser, sometimes called an asset manager, investment counselor, investment manager, portfolio manager, or wealth manager, is someone who provides valuable financial advice about securities. The term investment adviser is a specific legal designation that requires the firm or the individual (investment adviser representative) to register with the SEC.

Registered investment advisers have a fiduciary responsibility to their clients, meaning that they are legally obligated to act in the best financial interest of their clients. Financial advisors not registered with the SEC are not obligated to do so by law.

Registered investment advisers who manage up to $100 million in assets are required to register with their state. After reaching that amount, the individual or firm has the option to register with the SEC. Registered investment advisers who manage more than $110 million in assets are required to register with the SEC.

Is Financial Advising a Good Career?

Financial advising is a multifaceted profession that can be a rewarding career choice for those interested in the financial sector.

The role often involves providing financial and investment advice to individuals or organizations, which makes it an engaging and dynamic field. With diverse opportunities and the potential for growth, financial advising can be a good career for those looking to make a meaningful impact in the financial industry.

When evaluating whether financial advising is the right career for you, it’s important to recognize that there are two primary paths to explore. These include choosing to work with individuals in helping them achieve their personal financial goals, as well as opting to collaborate with companies and organizations (focusing on corporate financial strategy).

Personal Financial Advisors

Personal financial advisors work with individuals to help plan their financial future. This can include everything from establishing upcoming financial goals (retirement, funding education, or specialty, such as retirement planners or asset management, but advise their clients on a wide range of others) to recommending investments. Personal financial advisors often have a particular variety of financial tools.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this field is expected to grow by 7% by the year 2028, which is above the national average. Pay averages around $87,850 annually, with the top-earning personal financial advisors working in securities, commodity contracts, and other financial investments. If you enjoy working one-on-one with clients on their personal financial goals in an in-demand field, personal financial advising would make a great career for you.

Corporate Financial Advisors

Corporate financial managers often perform similar work tasks to personal financial advisors, but focus more on organizational financial planning. When considering investments, they look at company assets and offer advice on a financial path that is the best fit for a secure future at their company.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects jobs for financial managers to grow by 16% by the year 2028, much faster than average. While the job prospects are greater, so is the level of responsibility. Corporate financial managers make around $129,890 annually, with the top earning positions in the professional, scientific, and technical services. If working in a fast-paced environment to make high level financial decisions is right for you, consider a career as a financial manager.

Final Overview: Becoming a Financial Advisor

The path to becoming a financial advisor requires academic study, professional experience, and licensing exams. One of the best ways to begin is to build a strong foundation through an undergraduate program.

Then, once you have studied the fundamentals and gained experience through an internship, you’ll be able to become licensed and begin your career as a financial advisor.

How to Become a Financial Advisor FAQ

How do I get started as a financial advisor?

The first step to becoming a financial advisor is getting a four-year college degree. While not required, majoring in a field like finance, accounting, or business will equip you with the knowledge that you need for a career as a financial advisor. For more information, see our How to Become a Financial Advisor article.

Is it hard to be a financial advisor?

Financial advisors must be detail-oriented, good with mathematics, and effective communicators. Because you will be managing money and making financial recommendations, it is also important that you have impeccable record-keeping skills. Finally, financial advisors must be ethical and adhere to strict professional conduct standards. If these qualities come easy to you, a career as a financial advisor will be both enjoyable and rewarding.

What is the difference between a financial advisor and a financial Planner?

A financial advisor is a general term that includes professionals like brokers, investment advisors, and bankers, who may have various certifications and licenses. In contrast, a financial planner specifically focuses on creating and executing long-term financial and investment strategies.

How long does it take to become a financial advisor?

Becoming a financial advisor generally takes four years to complete a bachelor’s degree, followed by obtaining specific licenses or certifications, like the Series 7 or CFP. These additional requirements may take several months to two years, depending on the specialization, making the entire process approximately four to six years in total. For more information, see our What is a Financial Advisor article.