I have known what the CFP® designation was since I was 12 years old. My parents had set me up a meeting with their Merrill advisor because I thought I wanted to become “an investor.” He was patient with me, taking time to methodically answer my questions and describe his day-to-day in great detail. I look back fondly on that meeting remembering how it made me feel, someone as busy as him taking a substantial chunk out of his day to throw time at someone as young and uninformed as myself. Having recently passed the CFP® exam himself, the importance of this accomplishment was made evident to me. This was something that set him apart from his peers, a signal to others that showed not only competence in the profession, but his commitment to uphold a rigorous ethical standard. He educated me about the future opportunities in this industry due to a disproportionate amount of older advisors versus younger advisors seeking out the certificate. (Even today the most recent board published demographics show roughly 3% of CFP® professionals being in their 20s). To a self-proclaimed “student of investing,” helping others achieve their financial goals and make smart decisions with financial resources was an open door I chose to fixate on.
After that meeting in 2005, over a decade ago, I knew that this was the field I wanted to enter.
Throughout high school I worked as an oyster shucker at a local restaurant so I could accumulate funds to invest. My parents opened up a custodial account where I could deposit the several hundred dollars I had saved and start investing. This often led to problems as, more often than not, quarterly announcements would be made while I was in school, and as a result, I was frequently getting into trouble for skipping class to make trades.
While working at the restaurant I began to develop relationships with customers who worked for an RIA headquartered in town. They were frequent patrons and were happy to satiate my seemingly endless financial curiosity. My borderline obsession with the industry helped to earn their respect and led to a job offer as an associate on the investment team.
After my junior year of high school, I began working full-time at the same RIA while attending night classes at a local community college to fulfill my high school senior year requirements. Ultimately, I ended up transferring and commuting an hour each way to SUNY Alfred, a State University offering bachelor’s degrees in Financial Planning. I worked at the RIA for four years, all through college, developing skills and learning my craft. Upon graduation I used a young financial planner recruiting service called “New Planner Recruiting” to locate a job at a RIA in San Francisco, California. I gave away practically everything I owned, loaded my car with books and vinyl and drove across the country.
That move was in January, 2015. Last week, at the age of 22, I successfully passed the CFP® examination.
My study plan was undoubtedly one of the more challenging things I have undertaken. The new city, job, friends and slew of exhilarating adventures stimulated every corner of my brain, and felt as exhausting as several jobs combined. The decision to start the study process was one I never hesitated on, but very quickly made me come to the realization that I was going to have to create a routine like none I’d ever implemented before.
Towards the beginning (6 months prior to the test) I simply tried to spend an hour a day reading the material. This was slow going and incredibly daunting. I felt as If I was blindly stumbling down an ally, slowly feeling the walls and allowing the picture to fill itself in, only to then turn a corner and realize there was another street I had never seen before, let alone known existed.
“The more I learn, the more I realize, the less I know”
Day by day the walls started to fill themselves in, the universe shrunk and things started to become more manageable. I was at least starting to recognize the edges of the CFP® universe.
About 6 weeks prior to the exam I deleted all social media off my phone. For someone such as myself who is very connected, this was a challenge as I have been using social media for my entire adult life, not to mention much of my youth. I would spend two hours in the morning (5-7am) studying and two to four hours after work (4-7pm). Social sacrifices were initially hard to make, but as you get used to not being available, the people you surround yourself with become used to it too. People stop asking. It is just part of the plan.
The biggest struggle for me was always setting expectations. I wanted to know everything right away. I wanted to wake up one morning and think to myself “ok, I am good.” Even towards the end that never happened. The more you know the more you realize you don’t know, and the more you crave to learn. This test requires an individual to be familiar with a very broad range of topics, and for someone who likes to dive 10,000ft on a single topic, this was a challenge.
Being subjected to the classic case of exam induced insomnia the night before, combined with a complete lack of exposure to standardized testing, did not have me feeling confident the morning of the test. But after a hard run and a long train ride in deep thought, both my body and mind were ready to execute. I sat down at the computer, answered the first three questions, took a deep breath, let the adrenaline kick in, and as I like to say, “played the tape.”
The most exciting thing about the past 6 months for me wasn’t necessarily the fact that I had successfully passed the exam. It was making the decision to extensively study my craft, learn my trade, and pay my dues. For me, this was an unprecedented level of commitment to a specific goal. Similar to moving across the country to a place I knew no one, it proves that these seemingly daunting tasks are actually quite attainable. This has now raised the bar for future goals.
I am now here, at a coffee shop outside of Mission Dolores Park in San Francisco, sitting and thinking of what the next challenge is. I struggled to climb to the top of the largest mountain I could see, only to be standing on the top, seeing hundreds of different, taller mountains that are calling for me to ascend them as well. Studying for the CFP® examination involves following a set curriculum. Topics and concepts are laid out for one to learn, and it is more or less clear what content you are expected to know. I am now tasked with developing my own methods and curriculums in an attempt to constantly ascertain personal deficiencies and improve upon skills. Not being satisfied is a good feeling.