What Does a Financial Advisor Do?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

There are many paths to becoming a financial advisor. Discover the varied roles of these professionals who work to find the best way to achieve their clients’ financial goals.

[Featured image] A financial advisor in a wheelchair sits in front of a computer with a stack of financial reports in front of her.

A financial advisor is a professional who recommends products and strategies to achieve a client’s financial goals. Advice ranges from setting up budgets for clients to choosing investments and recommending tax-advantaged accounts for education or retirement savings.

Financial advisors typically work at investment firms, banks, and insurance companies, but independent financial advisors choose to be self-employed in their own advisory firms. If you like the idea of teaching others how to make better financial decisions, researching investment options, and building relationships, consider a career as a financial advisor.

What is a financial advisor?

There are many different types of financial advisors. Here are some common examples:

  • Asset manager

  • Certified financial planner (CFP)

  • Chartered financial consultant (ChFC)

  • Financial coach

  • Financial consultant

  • Financial planner

  • Investment advisor

  • Personal banker

  • Wealth advisor

Financial advisors with a designation like CFP or ChFC must complete the requirements to earn the title. This typically includes finishing an education program, passing a test, and agreeing to follow guidelines that govern their practice.

What do financial advisors do?

A financial advisor helps clients decide how to manage their money. They assess their client’s financial health and determine their long- and short-term goals before making recommendations to meet them. 

Financial advisors help invest their clients’ money in the stock market and other types of investments, recommend products like life insurance, or offer assistance with tax planning. Financial advisors may also educate their clients about their financial health and habits that can help them build their wealth. 

In addition to working directly with clients, financial advisors spend time marketing their services. Many financial advisors may spend considerable time establishing and building relationships with their clients.

Essential skills for financial advisors

Being a successful financial advisor requires more than an interest in finance and an aptitude for numbers. As a financial advisor, you may need to brush up on these workplace and job-specific skills.

  • Financial aptitude: Financial advisors should have a good understanding of financial products and a broader knowledge of how the world of finance operates to make the best decisions for clients.

  • Customer-first mentality: Putting clients’ needs first is a hallmark of a good financial advisor. If you become a CFP (Certified Financial Planner) or CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) you’ll be responsible for acting within a code of ethics.

  • Marketing yourself: Part of your job will likely include building relationships with clients and seeking out new business. Maintaining contacts, building a social media presence, and creating a website for yourself will be useful.

  • Presenting: You may be presenting personalized plans for clients or speaking to a group about financial products and how your services can benefit them. Good verbal and written communication skills will be necessary.

Why pursue a career as a financial advisor

If you like working with spreadsheets, calculating figures, and tracking investments, you may consider a career as a financial advisor. However, there’s more to this field than numbers. You also have an opportunity to help people navigate what can be an opaque industry to many. 

Financial advisor jobs offer plenty of variety, and you can choose a specialty that aligns with your interests and skill set. Some financial advisors specialize in an area like retirement planning or wealth management. Others work with a specific type of client—like teachers—and offer general financial advice. Others specialize in a product, such as life insurance.

Working as a financial advisor can be a rewarding experience. Not only do you help clients build and manage their wealth, but you also have an opportunity to improve their lives as you show them how to develop financial confidence. The job outlook for financial advisors remains positive with a 5 percent growth projected through 2030, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) [1].

Read more: 7 Finance Entry-level Jobs + How to Get One

How to become a financial advisor

The path to becoming a financial advisor can vary depending on the type of work you eventually want to do. Here are a few options for getting started.

1. Consider a bachelor’s degree or certificate. 

Financial advisors typically have a bachelor’s degree, with 74 percent of professionals holding a bachelor's and 12 percent holding a master's degree [2]. Many financial advisors have a degree in finance, economics, business, or accounting. If you decide to become a Certified Financial Planner, you’ll need to complete a CFP Board Registered Program, which could be a certificate program or an accredited degree program.

Read more: How to Get a Bachelor's Degree

2. Get licensed.

While there isn't a specific license for financial advisors, if you want to sell products like bonds, mutual funds, and securities, you need a license from FINRA, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. The Series 65 exam lets you give clients financial planning and investment advice. Alternatively, the combination of the Series 7 and Series 66 exams allows you to sell securities as an Investment Adviser Representative (IAR).

3. Self-study. 

You don’t necessarily need formal training to work as a financial coach who teaches people healthy financial habits (though it’ll certainly build credibility). It’s possible to learn the skills you need by taking online courses or reading books about the subject. Here are a few to get you started:

Next steps

Build a foundation for a career as a financial advisor by earning certificates or your degree. Consider the course Personal & Family Financial Planning offered by the University of Florida. Study online and at your own pace with options like the Bachelor of Science in General Business from the University of North Texas or the Online Master’s of Accounting (iMSA) from the University of Illinois.

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Article sources

1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Personal Financial Advisors, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/personal-financial-advisors.htm." Accessed August 30, 2022.

2. Zippia. "Finance advisor education requirements, https://www.zippia.com/finance-advisor-jobs/education/." Accessed August 30, 2022.

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