Mary Beth Franklin is the 2022 Investment News Pioneer winner. This prize is awarded to InvestmentNews’ own innovators and coincides with the 11th anniversary of Franklin’s establishment in these pages as the industry’s leading analyst and commentator on Social Security policy, practice and pragmatism. His incisive analysis permanently changed the industry’s understanding of social security programs as a cornerstone of financial planning and income security.
Change is rarely easy, usually scary, and often rewarding. In my case, it was all three. After more than three decades as a financial journalist, I decided to pursue a Certified Financial Planner certification, and I’ve never looked back.
I’ve been based in Washington, DC, for my entire career, and have always written about money in one form or another, from federal tax and budget policies to personal finance issues for a mainstream magazine in foreground. But the 21st century has brought major changes to the media industry, including the birth of the 24-hour cable and Internet news cycle and the death of many newspapers and magazines.
When my employer, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine, sold its flagship headquarters – a 10-story building across the street from the White House – and moved its staff across town to a floor of rented office space, I knew that it was time for Plan B.
In my many years of interviewing financial experts for magazine articles, I have often been impressed by financial advisors who have earned the CFP designation. I thought, “I could do that.” When the University of Virginia established a satellite campus a mile from my home and offered a CFP program, I took that as a sign that the universe was onside with me. At the time, my goal was to become a better financial journalist.
STUDYING FOR A DEAD END?
I signed up for the seven-course program, which I took in the evenings after work over a three-year period. I received my CFP certificate in mid-2013. It cost about $10,000 in tuition, fees, and books. Then the really hard part started – preparing for the 10 hour CFP exam in November. I signed up for a CFP review course, shelled out an extra $1,200, and spent several months studying review books, making flash cards, and working my way through 1,500 test bank questions. in preparation for the exam.
The reward was sweet. I passed the CFP exam on the first try. The national pass rate for the November 13 CFP exam was 63%. It was a huge accomplishment that culminated three years of study and a substantial financial investment.
Although I appreciated the knowledge I had gained through my financial planning courses, I didn’t think I could ever qualify as a CFP due to the Certified Financial Planner Board’s narrow definition of qualifying work experience. of Standard at the time. The board required three years of full-time experience, or the equivalent of 6,000 hours, to meet the work experience requirement. Apparently, my 30-plus years as an award-winning personal finance writer hasn’t matched three years of qualifying personal finance work experience. Short of quitting my day job and signing with a wealth management consulting firm, I didn’t see how I could get past that final hurdle.
BROADER CRITERIA LEAD THE WAY
But the universe was on my side again. A year later, the CFP Board expanded its definition to include “support activities”. In a press release dated December 30, 2014, the CFP Board of Directors stated that it would “from now on review activities and responsibilities reflecting financial planning knowledge and skills that indirectly support the financial planner and/or the financial planning process”.
I submitted documents showing that I spend an average of 35 hours per week advising consumers and financial advisors on Social Security claim rules, Medicare enrollment, and tax-efficient retirement income strategies, in more than writing weekly columns and hosting in-person and online seminars on these topics. The CFP Board concluded that I had met the requirement of 6,000 hours of work experience since my arrival Investment News in January 2012.
On July 15, 2015, I received an email from the CFP Board that read, “Congratulations! You are now a Certified Financial Planner. I was thrilled.
As I honed my expertise in Social Security, Medicare, and tax-efficient withdrawal strategies, I realized that the CFP designation brought added gravity to my credentials. I was writing and talking to finance professionals — and they were listening — in part because of my training and in large part because of the highly visible platform InvestmentNews gave me.
DIVERSITY DRIVES THE CUSTOMER BASE
The financial planning profession has often been described as “old, masculine and pale”. It desperately needs to become more diverse and inclusive. There is a strong business case for expanding advisor ranks to reflect an increasingly diverse customer base. Mid-career people like me can be part of the solution, but onboarding mature candidates requires help in the form of awareness, mentorship, updated compensation models, a supportive work environment, and, in some cases, financial assistance.
I am proud to call myself CFP. It was hard. It was tiring. It was expensive. And it was worth it. If I could do it, so can you.
(Any questions about the new Social Security rules? Find the answers in Mary Beth Franklin’s 2022 ebook at MaximizingSocialSecurityBenefits.com.)
InvestmentNews Presents Trailblazer Award to Mary Beth Franklin
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