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Want to help people? Consider a career in financial planning

If you were asked to list the caring professions, you might come up with teaching, nursing, or social work - but if you want to make a real difference in people’s lives, have you considered a career as a financial adviser?

Financial planning may include talk of bank statements and investment strategies – and those aspects are important ­– but at the core of it, financial planning is all about helping people to achieve financial freedom.

A financial adviser can help people to alleviate financial stress in the short term, and to plan for the future they want in the longer term.

Whether you’ve trained in financial services and want to find a more human side to your work, or if you’re coming from an entirely different field, it may be worth thinking about post-graduate studies in financial planning.

Deakin University offers a range of post-graduate courses that can get you there, including graduate certificate, graduate diploma and even the PhD.

Dr Campbell Heggen, Senior Lecturer in Financial Behaviour and Decision Making at Deakin University, says it’s a common misconception that financial planning is all about spreadsheets and making wealthy people wealthier.

“That’s not why most of the advisors I work with are in it,” says Dr Heggen. “It’s about working with everyday Australians to help them improve their personal financial position in order to achieve their goals. It’s about wanting to help people get from where they are to where they want to go.”

Within the field of financial planning, there is a range of options, so you can choose a specialty that suits your interests, or you can be an all-rounder.

“Advisers might specialise in estate planning, risk management, personal insurance, aged care, or social security, for example,” says Dr Heggen. “Alternatively, some advisers are generalists who act a little bit like GPs do in medicine. They work with people first to help them identify what they want, and what steps are required to get there – that includes both the person’s identified goals, and also helping them to see any blind spots they may not have considered – then they might also refer them on to specialists if that’s what they need.”

The key to being a good financial adviser, says Dr Heggen, is being a good listener, and getting to know people.

“It’s a very personal relationship,” he says. “It’s about getting to know the person across the table from you on a more meaningful level than just numbers on a screen. It really is helping people uncover where they want to go.

“I would say that interpersonal skills are the highest level requirement in terms of the day-to-day activities of a financial advisor. Of course, you do need to have the technical knowledge of how you devise and implement any particular strategy, but it’s mostly about working with people.”

Dr Heggen says post-graduate studies in financial planning usually attract two main cohorts:

  1. People with a financial background who want to help people more, and
  2. People from disparate backgrounds who want to transfer their current skills into the financial arena.

“We get a lot of people who are accountants, or who are working in retail banking, or an investment management role or something like that,” he says. “And they decide that they just want to work with people and help them make better financial decisions. There’s just something missing in their current role. And being a qualified financial adviser enables them to have conversation with clients that they really want to have.”

The second group can come from all sorts of careers and backgrounds.

“I have had students that were nurses, hairdressers, social workers, engineers, pilots, that have just said, ‘Actually, I want to do something else’,” says Dr Heggen. “And you would be surprised how many transferable skills there are for someone who is used to working with people.”

There is a range of pathways available if you’d like to pursue a post-graduate degree in financial planning, but Dr Heggen says every application is considered individually.

“We genuinely look at applications on an individual basis, and we consider their collective experience,” he says. “The main thing we consider for applications into a postgraduate course is, are they capable of completing the course?” he says.

Want to learn more? Head to Deakin University’s If you’d like to learn more about Deakin University’s Financial Planning page for more details on the courses available and how you can take the next step in your financial planning career.

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