The year was 2005 and the light bulb had gone off - I was pretty, kinda, almost positive that my destiny laid in financial planning.
After making a few blind wrong-turns early in my career, I wanted to make sure. I cold-called financial planners for informational interviews. I did a bunch of online research. I read books like "So You Want to Be a Financial Planner".
And when I was 95% sure of my decision, I took the last leap and spent $3,395 for my CFP coursework materials.
What's a Certified Financial PlannerTM? It's the most well-respected and well-recognized designation in personal finance. It is the gold standard of financial planners.
One of the requirements is passing a rigorous educational program. It covers in-depth - and I mean bottom-of-the-ocean depth - knowledge of:
- Professional Conduct and Regulation
- General Principles of Financial Planning
- Education Planning
- Risk Management and Insurance Planning
- Investment Planning
- Tax Planning
- Retirement Savings and Income Planning
- Estate Planning
Fun stuff, right?
For the next 18 months, I spent every second of free time studying for the CFP exam which is a 7-hour test of your knowledge and application of your knowledge. I'd study in conference rooms at lunch. I'd get home from work and study for 3 hours every night. I'd spend 8 hours every Saturday and Sunday holed up in coffee shops.
It was brutal. I had majored in finance at the University of Texas, but college finance programs focus on corporate finance, not personal finance. It was like learning Spanish by sign language.
After 18 months, I passed all six courses and could have taken the exam. But I didn't because you also need 6,000 hours of experience. Even if I had passed the exam, I wouldn't officially be a CFP® professional for at least 5 more years.
Instead, I decided I'd start my practice and reinforce what I learned by actually using it.
6,000 hours came and went. I was neck-deep in my own personal hell while I built my business trying to figure out how to pay SF rent on $1800 per month. Passing the CFP exam was not on the priority list.
Once I was through the worst of it, I was then laser-focused on going independent and starting The Financial Zen Group.
And after launching May 2016, it was all-hands-on-deck while I transitioned clients and got my business up and running and dialed in.
After 12 months, it had come together. I had done the (nearly) impossible and successfully launched my own financial planning firm.
But after all those accomplishments, I still didn't have "CFP®" after my name. I felt incomplete.
Only things with deadlines get done. So last May I forced my hand. I paid the nonrefundable $595 exam fee and scheduled my exam date. I then paid $1100 for the capstone and review courses.
I studied 3 hours after work and 8 hours every Saturday and Sunday for 3 months.
Finally, the day arrived - July 18. I went to the testing site with my financial calculator in hand, and 7 hours later I emerged victoriously.
It's taken another 3 months to jump through the administrative hoops, but my certificate arrived last week.
$5,190. 21 months of intense study. 6,000 hours of experience. And 12 years in the making.
The loop is closed, and I feel complete. Not only have I established my own financial planning firm, but I can now proudly say I am the gold standard of financial planners.
I am a Certified Financial PlannerTM.
-Rick Valenzi, CFP®