Several times a year, after months of intensive study, a determined group of budding financial planners “sit” for the day-long exam to become a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™. It is a tense day and the culmination of a series of hurdles, yet only ~ 65 % will pass to become a CFP®. Beyond the exam, candidates must also pass rigorous coursework, hold a Bachelor’s degree, have relevant work experience, and pass the fitness screening process administered by the CFP® Board of Standards.
We are proud to announce that our advisor, Sonya Ziolkowski, has obtained her CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ certification!
Currently, 24% of the 96,000 CFP® professionals nationwide are female and that percentage is rising annually. With a primarily female team, HTG is unique in our industry in that seven of our ten advisors now hold the CFP® designation. In addition, our collective credentials, depth and knowledge are also rare for a firm of our size and demonstrate our commitment and dedication to serving clients with expertise.
Sonya’s accomplishment showcases her knowledge in the complex field of financial planning and elevates the standard of excellence within our HTG team.
Given this milestone, we decided to take stock and ask our CFP® professionals to comment on what it means to have earned the CFP® and how they think they help women to plan their future.
How has becoming a CFP® changed you, your outlook, and how you think about money?
Robin Sherwood: There is no question that my day-to-day work with people and money has had an impact on me. It has shaped my thoughts in many ways, but there’s one lesson that I have learned over and over. An individual’s financial situation, especially later in life, is largely the result of a million smaller financial decisions they have made throughout their life. This is both good and bad news—it means that it is not by chance or fate—it is within their control, but it requires discipline and direction.
Kerry Connell: Becoming a CFP® has definitely changed both my and my family’s approach to money. It has focused our attention on what we value – in our case, family time, travel, and experiences – and whether our spending habits and savings goals reflect our values.
Bianca Schuman: I graduated at the height of the Great Recession – this left a lasting impact on me. It highlighted the importance of being fiscally cautious and having a financial plan in place. Becoming a CFP® called attention to the significant headwinds millennials faced in making our dreams a reality. We encountered mounting future health care costs, skyrocketing housing prices, growing college tuition bills, and looming threats of reduced government benefits such as Social Security. As a CFP® I realize the importance of formulating a plan to make incremental changes in spending, savings, and investing that can allow my family to make the right strategic decisions.
What has been the greatest educational lesson you have learned?
Allison Donaldson: You are never too old to learn! I embarked on CFP® certification at age 50. While it was a great challenge, it has also given me a great sense of achievement. I now have more tools to build comprehensive plans for clients and navigate questions in their financial life.
Kerry Connell: I have learned that each client is unique and that there is no one size fits all approach to financial planning. One of the most important parts of the financial planning process is listening and understanding each client’s needs, wants, and goals so that you can provide relevant advice and a customized plan that the client appreciates and that you can help the client implement.
How has becoming a CFP® impacted you and your family?
Robin Sherwood: I’ve been a CFP® for over 30 years, so it’s hard to remember a time before. However, I know that my early CFP® training convinced me of the power of saving at a young age, starting early and saving often. I also learned the value of being aggressive with investing when you have long-term goals. As a result, I started saving and investing aggressively for college for my two daughters when they were toddlers.
Jennifer Nicasio: I joined HTG at age 50 and earned my CFP® designation a few years later. In the years since, I have worked with families who have been disciplined savers from early in their careers and others who are realizing the need to plan for their retirement with a shorter runway. As the mother of four adult women, I hope to instill in them the importance of having a thorough grasp of their finances, whether they are single or in a partnership. That understanding will make decisions easier and financial mistakes less likely. Putting one’s financial head in the sand can seem comfortable, but in actuality, working with the facts and a plan is much more comforting.
What qualities and skills do you think a CFP® should have?
Barbara Ollinger: A good CFP® must be attentive, persistent, passionate about their work, empathetic, and possess a solid mix of qualitative and quantitative skills. Knowledge in all areas of financial planning is a given.
Allison Donaldson: I’d say the motivation to collaborate is really important, both with the client and their other professionals, to find the best solutions for the client’s circumstances.
Robin Sherwood: While having a head for numbers and details is important, the longer I’m in this profession, the more I realize that being humble and a good listener are equally essential qualities for a financial planner.
Bianca Schuman: There are many qualities and skills possessed by good CFP®’s however I believe being a compassionate and attentive listener who can explain relate to clients and explain complex and confusing topics concisely is essential.
What challenges do you think women face in planning for their future?
Barbara Ollinger: On average, women earn less than men. This gender pay gap can negatively impact women’s ability to save and build wealth over their lifetimes. Women tend to outlive their male counterparts, which means they need additional resources to cover their longer lives. Women often experience career disruptions, which slow their ability to save for retirement, and they often shoulder a disproportionate share of caregiving responsibilities. All of this means that women need to start early and work diligently to ensure their financial future.
Jennifer Nicasio: Even after working diligently, events can happen that derail a plan in progress. Soon after receiving my CFP® designation, I worked with a client who was divorcing. Divorce is an emotional time that is made more daunting when the woman hasn’t been involved in the family finances. Developing a financial plan with an advisor can show a newly single woman what assets she is starting with, and what options make financial sense for her in terms of a need for income, type of housing, and level of expenses. This can be done at the beginning of the divorce so that she is negotiating from a knowledgeable position, or when the divorce decree is in hand and she has certainty as to what resources she has. This process isn’t particularly different than for a couple planning for retirement, but supporting a recent divorcee is very satisfying.
Kerry Connell: I think making sure that women have and take a seat at the financial planning table is one of the biggest challenges. Often couples divide up the responsibility for family obligations, and one spouse takes the lead when it comes to the family finances. When you are involved with managing your family finances, you have the opportunity to learn from your experiences – both good and bad – and this builds your financial knowledge base and confidence. When both spouses are involved in the family finances, then each of them will be more inclined to educate their children about personal finance and more confident if and when they are required to take control of the family finances.
In what ways does your perspective as a woman contribute to your advice-giving ability or influence your advice?
Allison Donaldson: Women, more often than not, take on the role of primary caregiver in a family. I believe this makes us especially attuned to listening to a client’s needs and concerns and able to deliver (sometimes tough) advice with a softer touch.
Jennifer Nicasio: At HTG, we generally work in teams of two advisors with each client. I find that women collaborate well, with less competition and more focus on what is best for our clients.
Kerry Connell: I think that women are more comfortable giving straight forward and jargon-free advice and that we take the time to ensure that our clients understand the reasoning behind it. Clients are more likely to follow our advice and implement their financial plan if we take the time to educate them about why we are recommending the plan of action.