Aside from my very real prospects of becoming a professional magician, Financial Planning is the only profession I have ever wanted to enter. Answering the question “why did you get into this field?” is going to be different for everyone.
If you approach this question by looking at data and tracking trends, you can find an answer quite quickly. Around $30 trillion in wealth is going to transfer over the next 30 years, this industry is currently populated more than 50% by advisors over the age of 50, and, by pulling The Bureau of Labor Statistics into the matter, we can note that job openings for Financial Planners are expected to jump by almost 30% by 2022.
But I don’t really think any of the aforementioned data points have anything to do with why people become Financial Planners.
I think it all starts with the desire to help people, to build relationships, and to be happy.
Finding Happiness by Helping Others Find Theirs
Some say that there is a secret to happiness, which is this: the key to finding happiness is to focus on making others happy. A majority of financial planning articles and career posts are about professional or academic topics: reading, investing, or general career development. One can spend hours pouring through articles about how young planners can differentiate themselves, receive equity or inexpensively launch their own practice. However what often gets lost is why people are in this profession to begin with, why financial planning is consistently listed as one of the most rewarding professions while only 3% of financial planning professionals are in their 20s.
Financial Planning at its core is the navigation and development of balance between life and money, frugality and spending, delayed gratification and living in the moment. It is successfully developing the skills needed to identify the line that communicates to people that it is ok to trade some time in your 80s and 90s for more fun in your 20s and 30s, to an extent. The goal of this career is to help people live the lives they want through proper management of their financial resources. At the end of the day, I see this profession as the means to make others happy.
Whether or not money can buy happiness, it can buy freedom, and that’s a big deal. Also, lack of money is very stressful. In almost all ways, having enough money so that you don’t stress about paying rent does more to change your well-being than having enough money to buy your own jet. Making money is often more fun than spending it, though I personally have never regretted money I’ve spent on friends, new experiences, saving time, travel, and causes I believe in.
- Sam Altman, president of the Y Combinator
Helping Ask The Right Questions
The best Financial Planners focus not only on client’s finances, they also encourage them to think about their personal lives. One of the allures of money is its association with mortality, happiness, and time. Carl Richards, author of The Behavior Gap, shared two tweets that resonated with me a great deal in December of 2014. First he wrote “What if you beat the index every quarter for your entire life … and didn’t meet your financial goals? Would you be happy?” He followed this up with “What if you never beat an index, but you reach every one of your financial goals… are you happy then?”
This drives home the point that a Financial Planner is there to ask clients the tough questions. Not “what type of asset allocation do you want,” or “how much do you want to spend in retirement.” Those are simple. It’s the “why?” that is challenging: Why do this? Why retire? Why maximize one’s finances? Why bother? The answers to these questions will likely change over time, but they are a starting point. Ultimately, financial planning is about trade-offs. Maybe the answers to these questions involve accumulating the biggest investment portfolio one can, but maybe they don’t. Any financial plan that focuses solely on the dollars and cents is missing the forest for the trees.
The appeal of this profession has little to do with pure math, or even dollars and cents for that matter. Financial Planning is not about managing money, it is about managing behavior. And the enjoyment is derived from helping individuals understand the effectiveness of proper allocation of resources; helping individuals live what they consider to be a meaningful life. Financial Planning, unlike other professions in the field of finance, doesn't consist of the professional pitching their strategies and plans to a board room held accountable to millions of stockholders spread across the world. Rather, the people you are helping are right in front of you. They each have their own story, their own hopes and aspirations, and their own set of problems that you have spent your career studying how to help them overcome. The scope of people you surround yourself with may be more finite, but that tends to lead to increased satisfaction and reward overall.