The Professors Revolutionizing Financial Planning | Lord Abbett

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Practice Management

Educators in CFP Board-registered degree programs are spearheading a classroom upheaval. Will they ultimately reshape the industry?

This Practice Management article is intended for financial advisors only (registered representatives of broker/dealers or associated persons of Registered Investment Advisors).

After six years of working as a financial planner, Andrew Head was frustrated. He believed firms had lost touch with what clients really wanted and were not giving advisors the support they needed to meet client needs.

“I came to the conclusion that rather than just sitting on the sidelines and complaining for the rest of my career, that maybe I could be involved in helping change the way things work,” Head says.

“It seemed like the best way would be to be regularly in front of the next generation of financial planners.”

Head is now co-director of the financial planning program at Western Kentucky University. He also founded the school’s Center for Financial Success, a hub for financial literacy programs. While teaching has allowed him to shape future planners the way he had hoped, his work at the center opened up even more avenues for change.

“I am continually inspired by my students and have never been more optimistic about the outlook for the financial planning profession,” Head says. “Nearly every student that joins our program cites a desire to help others as a primary motivator for their choice.”

While all professors help to shape students and, by extension, the vocation itself, Head is particularly influential. Even while teaching and leading the center, he remains a practicing planner working with individual clients. That means his hands-on advising experience directly influences his coursework and has real-life, real-time implications.

Head isn’t alone. Across the country, planners fed up with what they see as flaws in their profession are going back to school. This time, they go as educators.

With their real world skills and client-focused approach, they are uniquely positioned to help shape the next generation of advisors.

At the same time, their influence is pushing educational standards, and thus the planning profession, toward a more standardized set of skills and knowledge.

‘Building a profession’
The CFP Board applauds what it sees as an evolution toward a uniform set of proficiencies.

While the board has been registering academic programs for 30 years, degree programs in financial planning are growing and becoming increasingly influential.

Fostering these degree programs is a top priority of the CFP Board, according to CEO Kevin Keller. “We think [degree programs are] the future,” he says. “It’s because we’re building a profession, and I think that’s based on building a degree in financial planning.”

Of the 310 board-registered programs, 164 (53%) are degree programs, according to the board, which has registered 11 new degree programs in financial planning this year.

While all CFP Board-registered programs, including certificate programs, teach courses that fulfill the educational requirements for students to sit for the exam, professors have a unique and influential role.

‘Like a gymnast on the beam’
Like other professors who are also active practitioners, Head says balancing the demands of students and clients is difficult, but helps to better inform his work.

“While there are definitely days and periods where one of these roles is taking more of my attention than the other, on the other hand there’s a synergy I’ve found,” he says.

“I feel like keeping professionally active has kept me more relevant in the classroom,” Head adds.

Pursuing both tasks at once can be daunting, but also a welcome challenge, says Nandita Das, founder of the new financial planning program at Delaware State University, where she is an associate professor.

“It’s a real balancing act,” Das says. “I feel like a gymnast on the beam. But I have two passions: One is teaching and one is practicing as a planner. I’ve been told endless times I could make more if I stop teaching, but it’s a two-way street for me. What I bring as a practitioner to the classroom is very unique.”

Having access to both sides makes her lessons stronger, Das says. “I take my class way outside of the traditional classroom environment, bringing in real life cases to my students and getting them involved in whatever activity helps them—whether it’s shadowing financial planners or attending conferences that are valuable to them,” she says.

To navigate the time crunch caused by wearing two hats, Hyrum Smith, a professor in residence at Utah Valley University and owner of the fee-only firm Financial Planning Office, is seeking partners to help manage his practice while he teaches full-time. But the burden has been worth it, he says. Smith has been able to turn his position as a professor into a recruiting opportunity for his own practice.

“I’m a solo practitioner with one employee,” Smith says. “The employee is a student I hired from my retirement planning class who was exceptional. I see that as one advantage for practitioners working as professors—to interact with students, see the ones who are capable and work them into their practices.”

Location, location…
Since the CFP Board does not require programs to be based in business schools, planning courses often are found elsewhere on campuses. That means students and professors alike can benefit in some surprising ways.

Take Kansas State University, for example: KSU’s program is housed in the school’s College of Human Ecology and features coursework in family studies and human relationships, financial counseling and financial therapy. The close proximity gives students a grounding in real-life issues.

It is also a boon for professors who enjoy stretching their professional muscles: Those with experience and training outside the traditional B-school curriculum can shape the conversation about financial planning.

“I think [professors] with human science backgrounds have different perspectives on holistic planning than those in a finance department would,” says Stuart Heckman, an assistant professor at Kansas State University and a planner at CGN Advisors, an independent fee-only firm also located in Manhattan, Kansas.

Heckman has a doctorate in family resource management studies. “It’s helpful,” he says.

“Overall, I think when people of various backgrounds are thinking about these issues, [it] just enriches things, for sure,” Heckman says.

Building a bridge
As degree programs for financial planning become more widespread, the roles played by Heckman, Head, and other teachers will take on even greater significance.

“I think there will be a mandatory degree in financial planning if you want to be a CFP,” says Nathan Harness, financial planning program director at Texas A&M University. “A day will come that you may need a degree, maybe a master’s degree.”

For degree programs to thrive and grow, they will need to attract the attention of firms seeking new hires, according to Dave Yeske, director of the financial planning program at Golden Gate University and managing director of San Francisco RIA Yeske Buie. Having practicing advisors on campus can only help.

“The average age of financial planners is in their 50s, and there are a lot of people who need to think about that [succession planning] sooner rather than later,” Yeske says. “Recruiting new hires from formal degree programs is the way to go. They still need the experience and you can’t replace that, but they show up with such a solid foundation.”

Increasing visibility
Yeske Buie hires from degree programs exclusively, he adds. But the onus is on educators to make sure they’re doing everything they can to increase their students’ visibility, Yeske says.

Harness notices that many firms still recruit out of Texas A&M’s general finance programs instead of its financial planning program.

And since the profession is relatively young, he adds, many recruiters still look to hire from other professions, rather than turning to academic programs.

“There are still a lot of people who think the way in is from an outside channel,” he says. “The industry hasn’t embraced academic programs fully. We haven’t done as good of a job as we could at proving our students are better than career changers.”

The solution may be as simple as getting more practitioners involved with these programs, according to Scott DuMond, an assistant professor at Alfred State University.

“Our students are looking for jobs. Those who have embraced our programs have gotten a head start on everyone else,” DuMond says.

“Come and teach a class. Be a guest speaker. Mentor a student. Do mock interviews,” he adds.

Deeper ties
Forging deeper ties between the academic and practice communities is vital for improving the financial planning profession, Yeske says.

“There is beginning to be more professionalization on the academic side, but there’s also now more of a dynamic interchange in real time between the communities of practice,” he says.

“Some of that is transmitted from the work of adjunct faculty and practitioner academics; some of it comes just from financial planning practitioners and firms forging deeper connections to academic programs for strategic reasons for the purposes of recruiting,” Yeske adds.

Head agrees, stressing that the relationship must grow to ensure that “what each side is doing is valid and valued.”

“Not only do educators help grow and refine talent pools from which the profession increasingly draws, but we are also actively engaged in the refinement of knowledge at higher levels,” Head says.

-by Maddy Perkins
Maddy Perkins is the Assistant Managing Editor for Financial Planning, Bank Investment Consultant and On Wall Street.


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