During the summer of 2014 I wrote down the goal of becoming a Certified Financial Planner. At the time I had been a wealth advisor for about five years and I was certain that I had found a lifetime career. I was compelled to take the next step in my business and attain the coveted designation of Certified Financial Planner, or CFP. To me, this was not only an investment in myself, but more importantly, an investment in my clients.
With the savings gap in America widening, it is more important than ever to have qualified, competent, and engaged financial advisors. One of the main objectives of the CFP Board is to arm professionals with the knowledge and skills to help with the ever-present needs of today’s American public. A CFP professional is equipped to provide individuals and families with comprehensive financial planning, help solve complex financial problems, and create strategies to achieve financial goals. With the rigorous requirements to become a CFP, I felt it was worth the challenge.
As with most achievements in life, my goal to become a CFP began as an idea, and it festered in my head until I wrote it down. As I got more serious, I began to research what it takes to get the coveted marks of a Certified Financial Planner. To qualify to sit for the CFP Board Exam, you must complete an arduous educational workload and meet the highest ethical standards in the business. I struggled with where to begin, so as the saying goes, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”
I started the first of six classes in November 2014. The average student will invest well over 1,000 hours to complete all six courses. The topics cover the financial planning process, insurance, education planning, investments, taxes, retirement planning, and estate planning. I could tell by the breadth and depth of each course that I would be challenged. Each course held several lectures a week and typically lasted 13-15 weeks. With the online format I was able move at my own pace, but with the guidance of the College for Financial Planning. At the end of each course I was required to take a comprehensive test, which required a passing grade to move on. One of the most frustrating aspects was having to take tests multiple times to master the material. This challenging cycle required perseverance and grit to get through.
As I started to share my journey with others, I heard good, bad, and ugly stories of other’s journey to become a CFP. One person went through the entire process of taking the CFP course curriculum only to fail the CFP Board exam, not once, but twice. Another professional told me they got through three classes, but gave up. While some told me it was not worth it, I found an overwhelming amount of industry veterans, both CFPs and non-CFPs, affirmed that earning the CFP mark would be one of the most challenging and rewarding professional experiences.
Balancing the workload of the CFP educational process with all other aspects of my life was yet another demanding proposition. I had lofty professional goals to achieve, ideas of starting a family, and desire to be a well-rounded person. Fortunately, the course schedule allowed me to take online classes in the evenings and take tests as my schedule allowed. Throughout my journey, I had many life experiences like getting married, buying a new home, and the birth of my first child. When I look back on the past three years I’m reminded that, so much can happen and yet, it is simultaneously so fleeting.
Finally, in late September 2017 I completed the sixth and final course of the CFP curriculum. Although this was an achievement , I now needed to focus my energy on the November CFP Board Exam. The next 7 weeks would be some of the most taxing of my life, testing my physical, emotional, and mental limits. I had a brand-new baby at home, a thriving business to maintain, and the biggest test of my professional life looming ahead. There were many moments of doubt, but I kept my focus on the goal I set back in 2014. Fortunately for me I had the support of a loving wife that kept this entire process in perspective. She would tell me even if I did not pass, I was doing a great job, but quickly followed that by saying “But you’re going to be pass!” At times I could sense her thinking, “when is this going to end?” I could understand her annoyance at the abundance of flashcards strewn around our home.
The day before the test, I stopped studying around 4 pm, realizing there was nothing else I could learn. In my heart I felt I had done enough, but my head told me I could have done more. I went through my flash cards one last time, then strode out of the library with an air of confidence. The next morning, I woke up feeling energetic and alive. It was the same feeling I have had before endurance races, monumental hockey games, or intense rugby matches. I took this intensity to the testing center where the anxiety and tension of others taking tests was palpable. I did not feel this same way, I felt confident and excited to get the test going.
The test itself is two 3-hour sessions comprised of 85 questions per session. You are required to take a 40-minute break between each session. The CFP Board exam has a dismal passing rate between 55-65%, on average. That meant that a large percentage of those testing with me would walk away unsuccessful. I was physically and mentally prepared for the endurance this test requires. I cleared my mind and started the final phase of my quest to become a Certified Financial Planner. After 3 years and countless hours invested, I passed the test!
Successfully passing the CFP Board exam was one of the proudest moments of my professional career. It was more emotional than I had anticipated. I was relieved to have this chapter in my life behind me and, at the same, time excited to begin the next. Attaining the coveted CFP marks is tremendously important to me. Not only do the marks signify my commitment to the industry, they also represent an enduring commitment to my clients.