They can be a protective lot, these financial planners. ''Anyone can call himself a financial planner,'' people who have had formal training in it like to say.
Formal training in financial planning is not that easy to come by. For one thing, the profession in its modern form is fairly new; some of the most experienced people doing full-time financial planning have been at it only about 10 years. For another, there are not many schools that have a formal financial planning program. And for another, getting into these schools usually requires some experience in a related field.
In some ways, the financial planner is comparable to a football quarterback. He can't perform all the tasks required of the other people on his team, but he knows what is expected of them. At the same time, he coordinates their efforts.
For the financial planner, this means a strong background in insurance, taxes and tax shelters, investments, accounting, and estate planning. With this background, the planner examines a client's financial and personal goals and tries to develop a savings and investment plan to fit those goals. Then, he or she will often place business with specialists such as lawyers, accountants, and brokers.
Fees for this service can vary from zero for a plan designed by someone who works for a related firm, like an insurance company, to possibly $10,000 or $15, 000 for a fee-based plan drawn up for a client with perhaps more than $250,000 to invest and substantial assets in other areas. There are also computer-based planning services, under which clients of more modest means spend relatively less time with a human planner and pay from $100 to $300 for the service.
Other planners receive relatively small fees but get commissions for selling stocks, bonds, mutual funds, or insurance policies.
Most financial planners get into the field because they have been involved in some related work, like insurance, accounting, or pension planning, and want to expand their clientele. To do this, and to broaden their knowledge, they often apply to one of the schools offering financial planning programs.
The oldest and largest of these is the College for Financial Planning, a Denver-based correspondence school that awards a certified financial planner (CFP) designation. It was started in 1972. The CFP title is exclusive to this college; other schools use other titles, such as the American College in Bryn Mawr, Pa., which calls its graduates chartered financial consultants.
An important criterion for getting into the College for Financial Planning, president William L. Anthes says, is a job ''working with the public in some type of financial planning or service activity.'' Besides people in insurance, accounting, and tax work, this could include bank trust officers, lawyers, and mutual fund account executives.
In most cases, Dr. Anthes says, the college requires two years' experience in one of these fields and a bachelor's degree, or one year's experience for someone with a master's.
The cost of the correspondence program is $995, which consists of a $170 application fee and $825 for tuition. Financing can be arranged to cover the tuition, at 11.97 percent. This comes out to 18 monthly payments of $50.30.
Each student receives course materials for the five-part program. The courses include an introduction to financial planning; risk management; investments; tax planning and management; and retirement and estate planning. Each is followed by an examination given at various colleges or other locations around the country.
Dr. Anthes says the amount of time needed to complete the program depends on the student, but it usually takes 18 to 24 months.
The American College's chartered financial consultant (CFC) program grew out of the existing chartered life underwriter school it has for life insurance agents, says Robert Cooper, dean of the college's Huebner School, which runs the two programs.
Dr. Cooper also prefers candidates for the CFC program to have about three years' experience in a related financial services field. Because of the school's CLU program, most students at this point come from the insurance industry, but there are also accountants, stockbrokers, and tax planners.
Instead of an overall tuition, the college charges $150 for each of its 10 courses. But if a student takes two at once, the cost is $135 each. Even these rules have some flexibility, Dr. Cooper says, which can lead to ''a lot of options.'' There is also an $18 study guide for each course. For many of the students, there are no out-of-pocket expenses, since the companies they work for pay the tuition and fees. For those who do pay their own way and pursue financial planning as a career, the costs are tax-deductible, as they are at all other financial planning schools.
The CFC program typically takes 21/2 to 31/2 years, Dr. Cooper says. In some cases, students can skip certain courses, but not the test. ''If a person has already had economics or has an insurance background, all he needs to do is take the exam,'' he said.
In addition to these schools, financial planning programs are offered as regular courses at Adelphi University in Garden City, N.Y.; Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah; Boston University; and San Diego State University. In most of these cases, prior experience in a related field is not required, and tuition costs are the same as those for the college in general.