Forum Spotlight: Q&A with Personal Financial Planning Department Head and Certified Financial Planner™ at Kansas State University, Martin Seay
As we prepare for our September Forum, we sat down with Dr. Martin Seay from Kansas State University to discuss some misconceptions about financial planning, how to find the best jobs that fit your personality, and the importance of CFP® certification. One of the creators of the 12 Tribes model, Seay is also the moderator for our September Forum, “Building Careers in Wealth Management — Traditional Careers.”
The upcoming Forum is taking place Tuesday, September 12 from 2-3 pm ET. The virtual event is free to attend and will dive into the traditional careers segment from the 12 Tribes of Financial Planning model. Register to attend here.
How did you get into the wealth management industry and what first attracted you to the space? And why did you stay?
I was one of those students who got lost in college. I famously came to college with 32 credit hours and still took 4 1/2 years to graduate. I was a math major at one point but really struggled to find the passion in the classroom and a career that math degrees offer.
The semester before I found financial planning, I had a 1.33 GPA, and I was wandering around trying to figure out where to go because I needed six credit hours to stay eligible to continue being a student athlete at the University of Georgia. I wandered into the advising office and met with an advisor who asked what my passions were. I told them that I always had a passion for people, numbers, and teaching. They said I should check out the financial planning degree program and honestly, it was love at first sight. It was a mix of what we say now — “a head for business and a heart for people.” It was that interaction and the opportunity to teach and help people meet their goals that really attracted me to financial planning, but also pulled together with the analytical data side of financial planning.
I went from nearly washing out of college at the undergraduate level, to getting a PhD, then on to a job as a professor. While I was originally planning to complete my master’s degree and enter the industry as a financial professional, somewhere along the line I realized my professors were teaching, which I loved, and they were doing financial planning, which I also loved, so I chose to follow their path.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions about traditional careers?
We are over 50 years into the financial planning profession, with the CFP® designation planning to celebrate its 50 years, but a lot of our notions about what it is to be a financial advisor, what it is to be a financial planner, stem back to the roots of how financial planning was performed prior to it being a profession — which was more as a sales tool for the delivery of product. No matter where you’re entering the industry, financial planning is serving as the hub for advice, but you still hear that in these traditional careers it’s all about sales and building books of business. While there certainly are places among traditional careers that this approach is still in place, we see more and more team approaches, with opportunities to collaborate and learn. There are a number of these traditional firms that are specifically looking for CFP-eligible students who can come in and provide advice first and then grow into a lead advisor role over time.
One of the things that is a leading misconception among students is that selling is a bad thing. But for those students who think that, here is the deal – you may never sell a product in your life, but you still have to get a client to take your advice, and you have to get them to think you are worth paying for that advice. So you have to embrace the fact that relationship development contains a sales component whether you want to call it that or not. This is true in all of the career paths that involve relationship building in the 12 Tribes Model. What is also true is that in the traditional path, those sales skills are probably going to be valued more and valued earlier in the career path than some of the other paths.
What characteristics or traits do you commonly see among successful advisors and brokers in this part of the model?
It’s always interesting bringing successful practitioners to class, because students become completely enamored with how polished the practitioners are. The students think, “wow, I could never be that.” One of the things I always tell students is that it is not necessarily that these professionals are better or more special than you, it is that they have just done it for a while, and we are seeing the results of their experience. I always try to convey to students that what they are seeing is a lot of hard work – it comes down to gaining experience by putting in the time.
In terms of traits that we see among successful advisors, in relationship building it is knowing how to collaborate and understand what a client is thinking, learning to fully listen to clients, and paying attention to detail but not getting buried in them. It is also about having the work ethic to keep going toward your goals. It is not about how smart you are or how flashy you are, but about the time you put in and the number of reps you get in terms of building a financial plan or having conversations with the clients. This all contributes to building a skill base for the future.
What’s your advice for those considering a career in this sector?
The world is your oyster.
There are so many different career paths, but each of those paths is going to require a slightly different personality to fit in those slightly different jobs or roles. You owe it to yourself to really understand your own personality. A lot of my students at Kansas State University think they are going to go out and be a lead advisor right away. The reality is that many of them will be lead advisors over time, but they would fail miserably if they started in that role right away. It is just so hard to be in that role without experience. So, if you are considering a career in this portion of the 12 Tribes model, you first need to understand yourself – your strengths and what motivates you. Then you need to do your homework about the career opportunities that will use your strengths and motivations and allow you to grow. Realize that you have power in this landscape, especially if you are graduating and eligible to sit for the CFP exam. There are a lot of companies that are going to want you, so you need to take your time and do your due diligence. Don’t jump at the first shiny object that is presented to you. If you understand what your strengths are and how that aligns with the firm and the role they are looking to fill, you will find the best opportunity for you that will allow you to learn and grow. It is likely that your first job won’t be your last job, so find out which job offers you the best learning and development opportunities in order to develop the skill sets for whatever comes next.
What do you see for the future of traditional careers?
The wealth management industry is really embracing the CFP marks. Looking on campus, the types of firms that are engaging specifically with our students are across the spectrum and the number of firms is massive, so financial planning is winning. Financial planning is going to become the core of the financial advice industry, which gives amazing power to the students that are coming out of financial planning programs. While it has historically been a business driven by people that can drive new client relationships, there’s going to be a lot more opportunities for folks who want to be technical specialists, or who want to just to develop plans, or who want to be more relationship managers than relationship developers. But it is important to realize that the money is always going to flow more to folks that can build new relationships and attract clients into the firm. So the traditional career opportunities will always be attractive and a driving effect for students and individuals in the profession that are able to do that work through building their skills related to these positions. Keep in mind that students who are coming out of financial planning programs now are going to do well in their careers over the long term, due to their technical and developmental skills building.
Martin Seay, Ph.D., CFP®, is Professor and Department Head of Personal Financial Planning at Kansas State University, where he oversees the CFP Board registered undergraduate, graduate certificate, M.S. and Ph.D. programs. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of the CFP Board of Standards, which is charged with overseeing the CFP® marks. He previously served as national president of the Financial Planning Association® (FPA®) in 2020, the largest membership organization for CFP® professionals in the country.
Dr. Seay’s research focuses on borrowing decisions, how psychological characteristics shape financial behavior, and methodology in financial planning research. His work has been published in the Journal of Financial Counseling and Planning, Financial Services Review, Journal of Consumer Affairs, Journal of Financial Services Professionals, Journal of Financial Planning, and Journal of Financial Therapy among others.