"I would imagine that a good percentage of people in the industry have come from somewhere else," says New York-based Jeffrey M. Franklin of Life and Wealth Planning, who started out as a chemical engineer.
Franklin is right. Only 11% of advisors told Cerulli Associates last year that planning was their first career. While 26.8% had previous careers in other financial fields, the rest started elsewhere. Many had multiple jobs in different occupations before turning to financial planning.
Initial career choices often turned out to be disappointing. Franklin's first job at an oil refinery was less than he expected. "The work itself was not that exciting," he says. As with many young people, he thought he would be given more responsibility and authority from the beginning. "We all think that we can take the world in one bite," he says. Instead, it was "pay your dues and wait your turn."
SWITCHING OFF FROM TV
Others find that the initial excitement of an early career choice begins to dissipate as conditions in that field change. Don Grant, now an advisor with Morgan Stanley Smith Barney in Wichita, Kan., says the TV broadcasting business he entered as a young man was very different from what it later became. "It's bottom-line driven," he says. Most local TV stations, Grant says, are owned by entities outside their communities. "Resources are stretched thin," he says. "Nobody has a beat anymore, so you have to become an instant expert."
Grant's transition to planning was a logical extension of the expertise he had developed over the years. In each market where he anchored a newscast or reported stories, Grant often covered business and finance. He created a weekly business-oriented program at many stations. "I could educate people on things that I think are very important," he says. "I believe that we are woefully undereducated as Americans about financial matters."
He tired of the broadcasting business in his early forties and wanted to stay in Wichita with his wife and two daughters. That's when he made the switch to planning. "I had some name value," says Grant, who had been on TV in the area for four years. But that didn't immediately translate into credibility as a planner.
"They would take my calls and they would give me the courtesy of listening because they knew who I was," he says. But the numbers were not encouraging. For the first two years, he says, he was a fifth quintile producer. He jumped to the first or second quintile when people began to realize he was serious about his career change and that he was "here for good."
Grant contends that because he had three dependents and was starting out in planning as a midlife career change, "failure was not an option." One measure of his success is that he now represents the profession as one of 27 CFP Board ambassadors.
TRYING ON MANY JOBS
Among career switchers, 4.2% of advisors come to the field from education, according to the Cerulli study. Atlanta-area planner Mark DiGiovanni of Marathon Financial Strategies was one of them. After college, DiGiovanni taught shop for five years. Although he enjoyed teaching, he says now that he realized that he valued "opportunity more than security."
DiGiovanni went back to school for an M.B.A. and took a job in the hotel business. "Hotel management taught me what I didn't want to do," he says.
He became an insurance underwriter. DiGiovanni also finished his M.B.A. and passed the CPA exam. Increasingly, co-workers at the insurance company were asking him for informal financial advice. He started to wonder if there was a way to make a living doing that.
"I really didn't want to be a CPA," says DiGiovanni, who likens that profession to being a referee at a sporting event. "I would rather be the coach than the referee," he says.
A relative through marriage who worked for a brokerage firm in Atlanta connected DiGiovanni with people who helped him get started on the road to financial planning. "It was a very good fit for me," he says.
Like many starting out in the planning field, DiGiovanni found the initial financial rewards were not that great. He realized that he probably would not have any net income the first year and that it would take five years to get back to what he was making before joining the planning world.