By Dolores Kong
The Boston Globe

A financial planner has the best job in America,
according to a new book rating 250 occupations based
on salary and job prospects.

Bolstering that image, the 2000 Occupational Outlook
Quarterly published by the US Bureau of Labor
Statistics last summer featured the field of personal
financial advisers as having a bright future.

This doesn't surprise the folks who run programs for
financial planners. "There definitely has been an
increase in interest," says Janet Brink, interim
director of the financial planning program at
Merrimack College, a private four-year Catholic
liberal arts institution in North Andover, where
financial planning courses have been offered for eight

"I think it's great. The amount of people out there
who need help is just growing," says Bob Glovsky,
director of the Boston University Program for
Financial Planners and president of Mintz Levin
Financial Advisors in Boston.

Career specialists and financial planners attribute
the growth in the field to the gains in the stock
market, aging baby boomers planning for retirement,
and increasing availability of investment information
on television, the Internet, and elsewhere. At the
same time, major financial service companies like
Charles Schwab and American Express have been adding
financial planning to their list of client services.

"There are people with more money out there," says
Brink. "They're realizing that they need an expert -
someone with more qualifications than they have - to
help them with their finances and their retirement

Financial planners help people meet their financial
goals, whether it be early retirement, paying for a
child's college education, or buying a home. Planners
take a comprehensive look at everything from
investments to insurance. They are paid on either a
commission or fee basis.

Good salary, a bright occupational outlook, and other
favorable factors help make being a financial planner
the No. 1 job, according to the recently published
"Jobs Rated Almanac 2001," by the editors of a Wall
Street Journal Web site, careerjournal.com.

While the average starting salary is about $28,000,
the mid-range is about $107,000, and the top about
$199,000, according to the almanac. That high
mid-range salary and salary growth potential as well
as the rosy outlook for the field - an estimated 40
percent job growth between 1998 and 2008, according to
the Bureau of Labor Statistics - put financial planner
at the top of the list of 250 occupations in the book.

There is no overall government standard or licensing
required, so almost anyone can hang up a shingle and
call themselves a financial adviser. Some estimates
say there are as many as 250,000 planners or advisers
in the field.

But industry groups concerned about public confidence
in financial planning have set standards, giving out
such designations as certified financial planner
(CFP), chartered financial consultant (ChFC), or
certified public accountant-personal finance
specialist (CPA-PFS) only to those who meet certain

One of the most widely known designations, the CFP,
requires learning a core curriculum including such
subjects as taxes, estate planning, retirement
planning, and insurance; passing a national exam;
adherence to certain ethical standards; and a set
number of years of work experience.

Just under 36,000 people now have the CFP designation
in the United States. The two-day national exam is
rigorous; only an average of 56 percent of those who
take it pass, according to CFP board statistics.

Despite the board's belief that its CFP mark
represents the highest standard, its Web site
(cfp-board.org) describes other financial planner
designations such as ChFC and CPA-PFS. The site also
gives consumers plenty of information so they can do
their own research on financial advisers, even if they
are not CFPs.

The only classroom programs in Massachusetts
registered to offer the CFP curriculum are at
Merrimack College, Boston University, and Northeastern
University. The programs typically offer the several
courses required by the CFP board and charge several
hundred dollars for each course.

Students usually have a bachelor's degree, and may be
young professionals in a related financial service
field, or older adults making a career change or
adding to their expertise. It's not uncommon to find
lawyers, stockbrokers, bankers, and insurance
professionals in the classes. Some of the students are
sponsored by their employers.

There are also online and self-study programs that
offer the CFP core curriculum and are registered with
the CFP board.

Other financial planner designations have their own
educational and professional requirements. More
information about the ChFC and other designations can
be obtained from the American College in Bryn Mawr,
Pa., while the American Institute of CPAs in New York
City offers information about CPA-PFS.

Most financial planners work up to 10 hours a day, but
the long hours are offset by a flexible schedule,
according to Jobs Rated Almanac 2001. Stress can come
from being in business for yourself, and from the
responsibility of managing client assets.

And while the job prospects are good now, that could
change with a crash in the stock market, although BU's
Glovsky says even if the market does crash, he
believes there will be a strong need for financial
planners."With a rising stock market you may say, `I
don't need much help or maintenance.' If the market
were to go the other way, or be more volatile, you may
say, `Maybe I do need professional help'."

For Glovsky, who's a CFP, a ChFC, and an attorney,
"It's a great career because it gives you the
opportunity to help people. It's very rewarding."