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Qualifications That Every Financial Advisor May Need


Becoming a financial advisor is a chance to positively impact the lives of the clients you work with. In addition to being emotionally rewarding, it can be a lucrative career path as well, particularly if you opt for an independent business model. But what financial advisor qualifications are required to start or build a practice? And how do you obtain them? Learn what qualifications can help an advisor become successful.

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Understanding Financial Advisor Qualifications

The term “financial advisor” is a relatively broad one that refers to someone who provides financial services in a professional capacity.

Some of the titles or designations financial advisors may use include:

  • Investment broker-dealer (IBD)
  • Registered investment advisor (RIA)
  • Certified Financial Planner™ (CFP®)
  • Chartered financial consultant (ChFC)
  • Chartered financial analyst (CFA)
  • Wealth manager
  • Asset manager or investment manager
  • Financial coach

Financial advisors may hold multiple credentials or designations, versus limiting themselves to just one.

What Do You Need to Become a Financial Advisor?

What you need to qualify as a financial advisor depends largely on the type of services you plan to offer. At a minimum, financial advisor qualifications include:

  • Education
  • Experience
  • Hard skills and soft skills

Professional licenses, certifications and designations can round out the picture. Which ones you’ll need to secure will again depend on the services you want to offer and the type of clients you hope to serve. Here’s a closer look at what you’ll need to become a financial advisor.

Education Requirements for Financial Advisors

At a minimum, you’ll typically need at least a four-year degree to pursue a career as an advisor. Ideally, your degree should be in finance or a related field, like business or accounting.

Holding an advanced degree doesn’t hurt, either. If you plan to start an RIA, for instance, having a master’s in business administration would likely prove useful in launching and growing your firm.

Experience Requirements for Financial Advisors

Experience working in a financial setting or directly with clients is a requirement for obtaining certain professional licenses and designations. Having some experience can also be helpful if you’re already working as an advisor and are seeking a new position with a different firm.

Internships can be an excellent way to get some experience under your belt while you’re still in school or if you’ve recently graduated. New grads may also consider working in a support role at an advisory firm to gain some experience as they begin their careers.

Hard and Soft Skills

A large part of what you do as an advisor centers on working with people, be they clients or members of your staff. Honing your soft skills can help you communicate with the people you interact with more effectively and foster stronger relationships. Examples of soft skills include:

  • Teamwork
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Time management skills
  • Conflict management skills
  • Organizational skills
  • Leadership skills
  • Adaptability and flexibility
  • Attention to detail

Hard skills are also important, especially with the growing use of technology in financial services. You don’t necessarily need to know how to write code, but you should be able to navigate essential advisor software, such as customer relationship management (CRM) programs and compliance software.

Professional Licenses and Credentials/Designations

Earning professional licenses or credentials is necessary to offer certain types of services as an advisor. Obtaining them typically involves completing an exam, at minimum; there may be other requirements to meet, as well.

The Securities Industry Essentials (SIE) exam is a prerequisite for advisors who wish to work in the securities industry. Individual securities licenses also have exam requirements. Some of the most common licenses advisors pursue include:

  • Series 6
  • Series 7
  • Series 63
  • Series 65
  • Series 66

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) oversees rulemaking for securities licensing and administers some of these exams.

Separate exams are required to earn professional designations, like the CFP® mark or a ChFC credential. For example, the CFP® Board administers the CFP® exam to those hoping to become Certified Financial Planners™.

In addition to exams, professional designations may have other requirements for education and professional experience. Once you earn a professional credential or designation, you’ll need to keep up with continuing education requirements to maintain it.

Qualities of Successful Financial Advisors

Financial advisor qualifications span a range of skills, educational backgrounds and experience.

What sets successful advisors apart from the crowd? Having the right credentials or professional experience can help, but there’s more to it than that.

Top advisors often possess qualities that can’t be measured by a degree or a test score. The most successful advisors are often:

  • Authentic
  • Passionate about finance
  • Empathetic
  • Intellectually curious
  • Analytical
  • Disciplined
  • Determined

These advisors understand the importance of making themselves relatable to their target client base and delivering their messaging in a way that feels genuine. They take time to understand who their target clients are and what they need most from their advisor.

Successful advisors enjoy talking about finance and applying their knowledge and expertise to help their clients achieve their goals. They embrace problems rather than viewing them as obstacles, and use their analytical skills to consider all possible outcomes for their clients.

Advisors who grow thriving practices are strategic in their planning and commit themselves to following through. They also know when to compromise or pivot if the plan they’ve put together isn’t working. And they don’t shy away from utilizing technology to make their lives and their clients’ lives easier.

Finally, successful advisors know when to recognize their limits and delegate tasks to someone else. For example, if advisor marketing is an ongoing pain point for you, then you might consider how you can outsource some of it. Partnering with an advisor marketing platform, for instance, can help you generate a steady stream of leads while leaving you free to focus on serving your clients.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What Makes You Qualified to Be a Financial Advisor?

You’ll need a securities license if you plan to sell securities, and you may need one or more professional designations, depending on the kind of services you plan to offer. Aside from that, financial advisors need to have relevant education and a combination of both hard and soft skills.

What Degree Is Best for a Financial Advisor?

A four-year degree in a field related to finance is often a good place to start if you hope to become a financial advisor. Advisors may hold degrees in accounting or business. You may also consider advanced degrees in those subjects or law, depending on what your career path might look like.

How Hard Is It to Be a Financial Advisor?

Becoming a financial advisor can be a lengthy process if you’re working toward specific licenses or designations. The job itself can be exceptionally demanding and many advisors struggle with achieving a suitable work-life balance. However, becoming an advisor can be worth it if you’re interested in a career that allows you to work with people to make a positive impact in their lives, and you want a job that’s also financially rewarding.

Bottom Line

Advisors researching financial advisor qualifications to help expand their skills and grow their firm.

Financial advisor qualifications span a range of skills, educational backgrounds and experience. If you’re just getting started, it’s helpful to research the various licenses or designations you might pursue. If you’re already running your own financial advisor business, continuing your education and honing your hard and soft skills can help you gain a competitive advantage.

Tips for Growing Your Advisory Business

  • Outsourcing is a strategic move that can pay dividends for your business if you’re delegating the right things. For example, partnering with SmartAsset AMP for marketing can help you generate more leads for your business while leaving you free to serve your clients. You can schedule a free demo to learn how the platform works and what it might be able to do for your business.
  • Going independent as a broker-dealer or starting an RIA has some additional considerations, beyond the qualifications mentioned above. For example, you’ll need to know what’s required to register as a broker-dealer or investment advisor, what’s required to form your business under state laws, and how much you’ll need to cover your startup costs.

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