How to Become a Financial Counselor

By Alison Green
Happy Young Couple Discussing With Consultant
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Financial counselors help individuals, groups, families and organizations develop sound financial strategies. They advise clients on issues such as saving for retirement, decreasing debt, managing investments and income tax preparation. An academic background in accounting or finance and superb analytical skills are some of the tools prospective counselors need to get started in this profession.

Getting the Education

The road to becoming a financial counselor begins with earning a bachelor’s degree in finance, mathematics, accounting, business or economics. These programs cover several financial units, including insurance, corporate investment, risk management, financial analysis and retirement and estate planning, all of which are good preparation for aspiring counselors. Although individuals with a bachelor’s degree in law can also enter this profession, those who complete short-term courses in finance are more suited for the job.

Mastering the Skills

Excellent analytical, communication, attention-to-detail and math skills are essential for financial counselors to thrive in the job. When advising a property developer who wants to invest in a real estate project, for instance, the counselor must evaluate the client’s financial documents, and factor in potential regulatory changes and industry trends to determine the soundness of the project. Financial counselors use math skills to make accurate calculations, and speaking and writing skills to effectively share their advice with clients.

Getting Licensed

The type of license or registration financial counselors hold depends on the services they are offering. For example, counselors who are looking to give investment advice must be registered by their state’s regulatory board. The requirements for registration include paying a fee and passing an exam that is administered by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. Counselors advising clients with an asset base that is worth $100 million or more must register with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The Center for Financial Certifications -- or Fincert.org -- offers a range of certifications, including the Certified Personal Finance Counselor, which financial counselors can obtain to enhance their employment prospects or ability to attract new clients. Other organizations offering relevant certifications include the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education, and the Credit Union National Association.

Getting Employed

Qualified financial counselors can find jobs in banks, credit unions, insurance firms, health care facilities, brokerage firms and financial consulting companies. Counselors can obtain a master's degree in business administration or finance to boost their chances of becoming financial managers. Others can move into self-employment by establishing independent financial consulting companies. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of financial advisers will grow 27 percent from 2012 through 2022, significantly faster than the 11 percent average for all jobs.

About the Author

Based in New York City, Alison Green has been writing professionally on career topics for more than a decade. Her work has appeared in “U.S. News Weekly” magazine, “The Career” magazine and “Human Resources Journal.” Green holds a master's degree in finance from New York University.