Financial planners find many paths lead to their 'sheepskins'

Have you ever wondered how all the financial planners interviewed in these pages got where they are? Generally, not quite the same way you would embark on other professional careers. Because financial planners need ''judgment born of experience,'' as Christopher Croft of Bailard, Biehl & Kaiser puts it, they generally don't go into this work directly out of college.

Besides a solid technical background and good counseling skills, a planner needs to have ''a feel for what can go wrong'' in an investment, he says. ''Unless you've lived a lot you're not as apt to focus on the downside.''

Craig Litman is a financial planner at Bailard, Biehl, & Kaiser. A lawyer with an undergraduate background in business, he got interested in financial planning when he began making enough money to feel he should be managing it more wisely.

He embarked on the CFP program but then put it aside for a time and earned an MBA in financial planning from Golden Gate University in San Francisco instead. The MBA program, he felt, ''was more extensive, more in-depth.'' The CFP is a ''good basic program, but not enough.'' He expects he will eventually complete his work for that designation, and he sees the CFP program gaining in terms of rigorousness and credibility.

Most financial planners started out in one area of the financial industry - accounting, banking, insurance, investments, tax law - and then decided to branch out into planning to provide fuller service to their clients.

Sam Marinella, president of Torchmark Financial Services Inc., whose Waddell & Reed financial planning subsidiary trains its own people, largely ''second career'' types, says his firm has been successful with a wide variety of backgrounds, ''but particularly with people in professions where they are helping people.'' Schoolteachers, he notes, are well represented among the ''Pacesetters,'' his firm's designation for rookie planners who do well.

The CFP - certified financial planner - designation is awarded only by the College for Financial Planning in Denver, which has been in operation since 1972 . For two years now the American College in Bryn Mawr, Pa., has been offering a ChFC - chartered financial consultant - designation, which is similar but, its partisans would argue, possesses more depth. The CFP program requires candidates to have either a broker's license (or similar credential) or two years' experience in the financial industry; the ChFC curriculum requires three years' experience. Candidates for both programs generally work on a home-study basis and then sit for exams. Neither designation is a college degree, but rather an equivalent to the CLU or CPA designation.

You don't have to have either a CFP or ChFC, though, to practice financial planning. Torchmark, for example, encourages but does not require its planners to work toward these and trains its own people.

Financial-planning programs tend to be found in continuing-education departments. Brigham Young University, however, offers it as an undergraduate major.

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