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How to Be a Successful Financial Advisor

Amy Irvine October 5, 2023

Female Gen X Financial Advisor

Ask 10 successful financial professionals how they achieved their success, and you’ll likely get 10 different stories and a lot of different advice. My own path certainly wasn’t straightforward—I like to call it a long and winding road. However, I do believe there are some traits that can help you decide if financial planning is the career for you and some specific steps you can take to find success.

Key Traits for Financial Advisors

Over the course of my career, I gained experience by working in a variety of financial services positions. There are a few things I believe have helped me build the business I have today.

Compassion: When it comes to the most important characteristics of financial advisors, I believe compassion rises to the top. There is a ton of emotion associated with people and their money. By creating a safe space, financial professionals can help their clients feel comfortable talking about subjects such as how they were raised, how they got into the work they do, and the nature of their familial relationships—all highly personal topics that impact their finances. While the analytical side of finances is important, you first have to be able to think compassionately about the person.

Analytical Thinking: As someone with a love of numbers, it’s not surprising that I was drawn to work in this field. To create an effective financial plan, a skillful advisor must possess the capability to assess the ever-changing aspects of risk and return associated with a variety of financial strategies. But number crunching aside, being analytical also plays a role in solving for ways to help your clients achieve their goals.

Honesty: Another trait that benefits financial professionals is honesty—especially in the sense that it allows you to be transparent with your clients. For example, I began my financial career working for a trust company which was a very nurturing environment in which to learn. I was surrounded by colleagues who knew more than I did, and it gave me the confidence to be able to tell a client that maybe I didn’t know the answer to their question, but I would research it and let them know.

And I want to stress that it’s okay to not know everything! It’s so much better to recognize what you don’t know and understand the steps that are needed to find out. Building this type of transparent relationship with clients goes a long way to developing trust. I think it’s so important that I’ve taken pains to ensure the same kind of nurturing environment for the advisors who have come to work for me as my business has grown.

Curiosity: The final trait I want to talk about is curiosity. One way curiosity manifests in me is that I love learning. I approach financial planning with a spirit of continuous improvement. I’m always looking for the next area in which to grow my knowledge.

Curiosity also plays a role in wanting to learn more about your clients and discovering what they need from you to be successful in their financial lives. It feeds the passion of getting to know clients—continuing to ask deeper questions that get to the bottom of setting financial goals and helping clients meet them.

Steps on the Path to Becoming a Successful Financial Advisor

Beyond the traits that best serve me and others who want to work in financial planning, let’s shift gears to some specific steps I recommend to build your success.

Specialize: Having a niche or specialty provides direction on what types of clients to pursue. I got my start focusing on Gen X women. As a Gen Xer myself, I felt like I was a part of an often-overlooked cohort—advisors were focused on Baby Boomers and their needs in retirement and on the up-and-coming Millennials who are poised to inherit from those Baby Boomers.

Whatever niche you pursue, specializing gives you a place to start when building your client base. As a professional, Gen X woman, I knew there was a service gap in that market, and I quickly found clients who were looking for financial planning advice. This focus gave me an opportunity to consistently work with the type of client I most enjoyed helping.

Marketing: Having a niche is also helpful when it comes to marketing your services. In addition to a website, social media provides an excellent opportunity to connect with the types of clients you want to work with. For me, content marketing was especially valuable. I created a podcast and started blogging right away. These channels provided the perfect way for me to share my expertise and begin to build my client base.

Strategic Partnerships: When I got my start, there were no turnkey financial planning platforms like the XY Planning Network and ONYX Advisor Network that supported the type of fee-only financial planning I wanted to do. It was up to me to figure things out based on my experience and a lot of trial and error. My advice now is to look for those potential partners out there that provide a template for the business model you are hoping to launch.

Community Involvement: This is something I’m particularly passionate about. If you have the ability and capacity to do volunteer work, it’s an excellent way to build your reputation while benefiting your community and profession. In addition to serving on several boards, I serve as a mentor to other women in the profession, I previously sat on the national board of the National Association of Personal Financial Planners (NAPFA), and now I serve as a Trustee on the NAPFA Foundation, as well as volunteer for two pro-bono financial planning organizations.

Investing in Yourself: In the spirit of the curiosity and continuous improvement I discussed earlier, I want to emphasize the need to invest time and resources into your skill set. As your business evolves and grows, constantly look for areas that need improvement as these efforts will have a positive impact on all aspects of your business.

Define Your Success to Achieve It

Success means something different to everyone. Just as the definition of a successful financial plan may vary wildly from client to client, what you hope to achieve with your business will be unique to you.

And as I mentioned earlier, my path to success was certainly not a straight line from point A to point B. Keep in mind that no matter how meticulously you plan, there will always be unforeseen circumstances that can derail you.

That’s why I’d like to end by mentioning that adaptability and passion are key to embarking on any new venture. Having a genuine passion for finance will keep you motivated and excited, but the constantly changing finance industry means a successful advisor must also be ready and willing to adjust when necessary.

It’s really exciting to see where our profession is going and I’m looking forward to the ride!

DISCLAIMER: The eMoney Advisor Blog is meant as an educational and informative resource for financial professionals and individuals alike. It is not meant to be, and should not be taken as financial, legal, tax or other professional advice. Those seeking professional advice may do so by consulting with a professional advisor. eMoney Advisor will not be liable for any actions you may take based on the content of this blog.

The views and opinions expressed by this blog post guest are solely those of the guest and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of eMoney Advisor, LLC. eMoney Advisor is not responsible for the content, views or opinions presented by our guest, nor may eMoney Advisor be held liable for any actions taken by you based on the content, views or opinions of the guest.

Image of Amy Irvine
About the Author

Amy is the founder of Rooted Planning Group, a fee-only financial planning practice. She has a master’s degree in financial planning, and her professional designations include Certified Financial Planner®, Enrolled Agent, Certified College Financial Consultant, Master Planner Advance Studies®, Certified Divorce Financial Analyst®, and Certified Financial Therapist-Level I™ Professional. Amy is the author of Uncork Your Finances and hosts a podcast called Wine and Dime, which she created as a way to blend two of her passions. In 2014, she co-founded the Southern Tier Women's Financial Conference, which is an annual event that promotes collaboration, networking, and financial education for women. She also serves as a Trustee on the NAPFA Foundation and volunteers for two pro-bono financial planning organizations.

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