What motivates people to become financial planners?

07 February 2023

Dr. Michelle Cull

Dr Michelle Cull is a leading academic in Financial Planning, with over 20 years’ experience in teaching both accounting and financial planning.

A key challenge facing the Profession is the recruitment of the next generation of planners. Central to recruiting more professionals is understanding what motivates individuals to become planners in the first place.  In a recent article titled “Factors influencing the Motivation to Pursue a Career in Financial Planning” published by the Financial Planning Research Journal, Michelle Cull, Csilla Skultety and Ryan Kumar from Western Sydney University undertook research to understand the answer to this question.

The last decade has seen much change in the financial planning environment, including widespread regulatory reform that has presented many challenges for financial planning professionals. These challenges have been widely debated in the media, including a potential shortfall in the supply of qualified financial planners, with the last few years showing financial planner loss to outnumber new entrants. Further, with the increasing needs of an ageing population, and increasing amounts held in superannuation assets, the recruitment of new financial planners is of significant concern to the profession.

To assist the profession in attracting new financial planners, a study led by Dr Michelle Cull of Western Sydney University titled “Factors Influencing the Motivation to Pursue a Career in Financial Planning” utilised surveys and interviews of financial planners and financial planning students in Australia to determine the factors influencing the choice to pursue a career in financial planning.

Informed by career choice theory, the study found that social learning through life experiences, along with the enjoyment of working with numbers and aspiration to help others are important factors influencing the choice to pursue a career in financial planning. In addition, the personality trait of ‘agreeableness’ was more likely to be found among financial planners than other personality traits of the ‘Big 5’ inventory.

Contrary to reports in the popular media, this evidence-based study highlights that the main reason people choose financial planning as a career is because they want to help people. Findings also highlight the uniqueness of financial planning as a career that fulfils both agentic (‘things’ oriented) and communal (‘people’ oriented) goals which allows financial planners to use their skills and interest in numbers to help people.

A notable finding was the influence of social experiences, including observing and/or experiencing financial hardship, as well as work experience, which provided the opportunity to discover the benefits of financial planning that could be afforded to others. Noticeably, no respondents indicated that their motivation to study financial planning was influenced by high school studies or high school teachers and only 2.7% of respondents were encouraged by their family to study financial planning.

Perceived competence in both numeric and people skills also influenced the motivation to become a financial planner. Extrinsic motivations such as working conditions and salary were found to be less influential, but a strong correlation was found between educational qualification and expected salary, suggesting that higher levels of study in financial planning may also be motivated by salary.

The study makes a valuable practical contribution to the development of financial planning by providing insights that may prove useful in recruiting the next generation of financial planners; particularly in Australia where demand exceeds supply. For example, promoting financial planning as a career that helps others may assist in breaking down traditional stereotypes where financial planning may be viewed as solely mathematical. Such findings also have important implications for careers counsellors, educators, financial planning firms, regulators, and the profession more broadly. Further, the study makes a theoretical contribution to the academic literature by providing a conceptual framework to aid in understanding the factors relevant to career choice, particularly in an emerging discipline such as financial planning where information on career choice is limited.

Implications of the study’s findings for various stakeholders are summarised in the table below.

Table 1: Factors Influencing the Motivation to Pursue a Career in Financial Planning: Implications for stakeholders

Source: Adapted from Cull, Skultety & Kumar (2022)

This article is a synopsis of a paper that appeared in the most recent edition of the FPRJ, Australia’s leading academic journal on research in Financial Planning. The full paper – along with the most recent edition of the Journal and all back issues – can be accessed via the FPA’s website https://fpa.com.au/financial-planning-education/financial-planning-research-journal/ . The research was assisted by a grant from the Financial Planning Education Council through its Academic Research Grant Scheme, sponsored by the FPA. Michelle and her team will also be participating in an FPA webinar on their findings, details to be made available in the near future.

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