Ask Stacy: Should I Become a Financial Advisor?


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This reader from halfway around the world is studying biology and medicine, but would rather pursue a degree in finance. What advice would you offer?

The vast majority of the traffic to this site comes from the United States, but not all. Today we’re fielding a question from a student in Australia. And even if you’re not interested in becoming a stockbroker, check it out anyway – in case you ever want to use one…

Hi Stacy:

I am a big fan of yours. I live in Australia. Therefore, some of the tips don’t work for me, but the majority are similar. I would like to thank you for all the tips and advice. They make my life easier. But Stacy, I need your advice.

Currently I am doing bachelor of Biomedicine at one of the most famous schools in Australia – Melbourne University. However, I find that a biology and medicine degree is not for me.

I am thinking of changing into finance, as I absolutely love reading financial news-  and most important, to be in control of my financial life.  The university that I want to enroll in offers 2 majors. I want to become a financial advisor, an independent investor in the stock market or a broker like you.  Therefore, I’d like your advice.  Apart from finance, I can choose between banking, accounting, business law, economics and marketing,

Please reply to my email, even a few words will help.

Regards,
Luke

Here’s my advice, Luke!

Lesson 1: Life is short, and you already lose a third of it sleeping. Don’t lose another third doing something that isn’t you.

When I was about 14, I was sitting at the dinner table one night when my father casually mentioned that one of his friends, a CPA, was making money hand-over-fist. He went on to suggest that accounting would make a good career choice for me.

Fast forward five years, and I’m a junior in college on my way to a philosophy degree – two short years until reality would hit me like a cold slap in the face.  What to do? I had taken an accounting class as an elective and found it easy and kind of interesting. So for no reason other than that – plus a fear of starvation – I changed my major, took more accounting courses, and graduated two years later with a degree.

My dad was right about one thing: Finding a job wasn’t hard. What he neglected to mention (and I neglected to consider) was that I’d have to do accounting eight hours a day, five days a week, 50 weeks a year. I hated it.

So soon after I earned my CPA license, I bailed. The three years I spent as an accountant weren’t wasted, and I don’t regret them. But I learned a valuable lesson: Don’t ever choose a career because your dad thinks it’s a good idea or because it will be easy to find work.  If you possibly can, find something you love. Do that, and you’ll never “work” a day in your life.

Lesson 2: Before you take a leap, study what you’re jumping into.

After my brief stint as an accountant, I chose a much more exciting career – investment advisor for E.F. Hutton. The appeal for me was similar to Luke’s. I liked and understood money, and I assumed that becoming a stockbroker would enable me to help other people and successfully invest on my own.

Wrong on both counts.

While “investment advisors” do learn a lot about stocks, bonds, commodities, etc., their job is more selling than advising.  During my first  interview at E.F. Hutton, the manager literally said, “I’d rather have a used car salesman sitting across the desk from me right now than a CPA.” Something to keep in mind the next time you’re sitting across the desk from an “advisor.”

And as for making money for myself with my vast knowledge of the markets? Having instant information, being constantly bombarded with “hot tips” from colleagues, and thinking I knew what I was doing all combined to make me a bad trader rather than a good investor. It wasn’t until after I left that business 10 years later that I started consistently doing well in the stock market.

Again, being a stockbroker wasn’t a decision I regret. It taught me valuable sales skills and set the stage for what I’ve been doing now for more than 20 years: something I truly love. The point is that in both cases – accounting and stockbroking – I committed without understanding what the job was really about. I should have done something simple, like actually talking to as many people as possible who worked these jobs before I made the leap.

And of course, that’s what Luke just did. Smart!

Stacy Johnson

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