Event Recap: 2023 Personal Financial Planning Career Night

UC Berkeley Extension
12 min readMar 23, 2023

A welcome return to in-person discussions on building client trust

In March, current and prospective students of our Personal Financial Planning certificate were excited to meet in person for our annual Career Night. Members of the certificate’s advisory board and those of the Bay Area’s professional financial planning community-many of whom are hiring!-joined the audience to hear four distinguished panelists talk about their journeys to becoming certified financial planners.

The common theme: It’s all about serving clients and the rewards that can bring.

Come meet our panelists and read what they said during this lively event.

Panelists

Josh Weaver, CFP®
Private wealth adviser at Northwestern Mutual

Ariana Alisjahbana
Associate adviser at North Berkeley Wealth Management

Umberto Leone, CFP®, CAP®, AAMS™
Financial adviser at Edward Jones

Jason Terhune, CIMA®, CFP®
Senior financial adviser at Capital Advantage Inc.

Moderator

Eric Flett
CEO and Principal of Concentric Wealth Management

Introductory Remarks By Tim Kochis, Founder of Kochis Global

I have been in this profession for 50 years. The movement from it being a solution for the pent-up demand for information to a formal, very serious educational program took a little while to develop. But the first example of a serious, organized education in financial planning happened here at UC Berkeley Extension in 1981. It was the very first program that was approved by IAFP, the Institute of Advanced Financial Planners.

I helped create the first curriculum here and had the privilege of teaching in this program for the first 18 years-occasionally they coax me back into teaching! [Laughs]

Teaching is really one of the most rewarding activities that I have ever done-not only sharing my knowledge, but also an enthusiasm for the subject matter.

Around the world today, there are more than 200,000 certified financial planners, and even more of them are situated outside of the United States. Now, 200,000 practitioners sounds like a big number, but compared to the 9 billion population on Earth, it’s seriously inadequate. There’s so much more need for people who are ethical and competent to provide financial advice. Today, only about 20 percent of all financial planning practitioners are women, but women are at least 50 percent of the world’s population so there’s a real mismatch there. We also need many more people of color within our profession.

One of the things that I have recently been involved in is an initiative by the CFP Board called the Center for Financial Planning and its purpose is to further enhance the body of knowledge of financial planning. It’s mostly about expanding the pipeline of people coming into the profession-not only in terms of the numbers, but also in diversity.

Ariana, how did you get in this business?

I graduated from the program in 2021 and became a financial planner in 2022. So I will bring the perspective of somebody who recently made a career switch. I was in technology marketing and got to a point where I could not imagine doing that job or being in that industry for another year. I wanted to find a career that I could be in for a very long time, ideally until I retire. So I went on a journey of self-discovery. I remember meeting a CFP at a party and that was the first time I heard of this type of role. I remember asking him, “You get paid to do this? How do I become you? You seem so happy, I really want that.” He replied to go to the UC Berkeley Extension program, take the survey class and go from there. So I did the first class and then the second class, and I graduated in 2021 and finished the CFP® Exam.

At North Berkeley Wealth Management, I am an associate adviser, which is a typical entry-level role for people in the independent registered investment advisers space. The firm has about 15 people, 300-ish client households and about $500 million of assets under management with nine advisers. And I think at least four colleagues graduated from this program.

My instructor, Catherine Bradford, had this special way of making sure that you are completely prepared-not only what you’re presenting, but the way you talk, the way you look at the camera, the way you manage questions from your classmates who are pretending to be clients, the way you manage a conversation. At North Berkeley, that is such a big part of the client experience.
-Ariana Alisjahbana

Same question for you, Josh.

After college, I worked on the New York Stock Exchange for three years and then moved out here in 1999. I worked for Robertson Stephens, an investment bank, and then JMP Securities and then another investment bank.

I started thinking about switching careers when I was 39. I was looking at age 40 and thought, “I don’t want to be an employee for someone. I want to be in control of my own future.” So I got my CFP.

I’m a fiduciary. I’m here to do what’s in your best interest. It’s very fulfilling. My conversations with clients end with a thank you. We have about $500 million under management and five people on the team. We’re affiliated with Northwestern Mutual as we are built for service, but we have the scale behind us. The insurance portion is very important and differentiates us in the marketplace because we do a lot of estate planning and business planning.

Jason, you have a different path than Josh and Arianna.

When I think back on it, I took one step forward, two steps back, sideways, every way I could go and somehow still made it to where I was trying to be. I started as an unlicensed personal banker at Chase Bank in 2010. I didn’t know anything other than that I wanted to be in this business and eventually become a financial adviser.

Slowly over time, I tried to learn more and more about the business, and realized, “Oh, banking is related to insurance and investments and financial planning.” In 2014, I was a private client banker and learned what a CFP was and started looking for ways to become a financial adviser and become a more meaningful part of my clients’ lives. Around 2016, someone told me about the UC Berkeley Extension program. The power of the brand, along with an obviously very qualified education in a field was a tremendous value. I took one class at a time over three years while working full time.

Once I took that first survey class, there was nothing else in the world. Everyone I met in the program was aspiring to become advisers, and many of whom I still keep in contact with. I took and passed the CFP® Exam and have worked for big banks and broker dealers like J.P. Morgan and Chase and Charles Schwab. Today I’m with an RIA, Capital Advantage, and we have just a hair under $1 billion and about 15 employees. Shameless plug: My firm is hiring financial planning associates!

Umberto?

I started as a football coach: four years with the Cleveland Browns and then one year with the [then Oakland] Raiders. In 2010, when I was finished with the Raiders, I went back to Cleveland. My brother is a financial adviser at Edward Jones in Cleveland. My light bulb moment was when I went to my brother’s holiday party: He had about 100 different clients attend and I got to experience who his clients are-they come from all different demographics, different places in their careers, different stages of life, but they all had an affinity for and trust in my brother.

That was my moment. So as opposed to coaching football, I can coach finances to help individuals capture something they wouldn’t be able to capture without me. I decided to move back to California to work for Edward Jones, started my practice in Concord and have built it up during the past four years. The firm provides significant support-investment guidance, tax planning-and we partner with Ernst and Young for some of our clients’ tax-planning needs. We have slightly more than 200 households, and we’re managing slightly less than $200 million.

Have a mentor whom you really connect with so that you become the best version of yourself, because that’s what it takes to build trust with your future clients. And this is very simple: People don’t care how much you know, but how much you care. I encourage you not to forget that.
-Umberto Leone

What part of your job as an adviser do you really love?

Umberto: Advising on retirement, investment and tax planning. There’s a purpose behind every investment. But the element that clients notice is my stage of life, my youth, because they want to be with the same adviser for 20, 25 years. They appreciate knowing that they can go through their different stages of life with the same team. My favorite part is knowing that they’re going to trust you in a multitude of things for a multitude of time.

Josh: Behavioral finance: Study this because people make really inefficient decisions when they’re under stress. If you want to build a business, you have to learn to overcome rejection. They look at you as that trusted adviser, of being the calm in their storm. Our clients look at us and feel like we’re partnering with them. We know everything that’s going on in their lives and their stresses-that relationship over time is special.

Related: Owning Your Financial Decisions and Behavioral Finance Podcast Episode

Ariana: We are directly using our knowledge to help people in their lives; you’re there at every stage of their life. You can’t get that level of closeness in any other profession.

Jason: I’ll share a quick story. My largest client relationship-who I’ve been working with for about six years and they had followed me from my old firm to my current one-we’re at a wine bar celebrating the birth of their third grandchild. They also have a lot going on with their business right now. We were talking about what’s going on with the regional banks and everything that’s happened with Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank and almost First Republic. And they pause and say, “Jason, we hope you know that you’re more than just a financial adviser; we consider you to be a true friend-kind of like family.” That moment was the exact reason why I do this and why I enjoy it so much. This business is all about relationships. If you can maintain those relationships-even through tough markets-they will be clients forever, and I value that.

Josh, what are some of the things that you learned in the PFP program that you use the most in your day-to-day work?

I really appreciated all of the different modules. It was amazing to be able to learn it in the classroom and then practice it that week. The program prepares you to do your job.

Ariana: I liked the capstone course the most and then survey second. In capstone, you bring all the different modules together to create a financial plan and present it to your fellow students and to the instructor. My instructor, Catherine Bradford, had this special way of making sure that you are completely prepared-not only what you’re presenting, but the way you talk, the way you look at the camera, the way you manage questions from your classmates who are pretending to be clients, the way you manage a conversation. At North Berkeley, that is such a big part of the client experience.

Jason: This almost sounds like a cop-out answer, but it’s the truth: There’s nothing that I learned in the PFP program that I don’t use. From the survey course to the capstone course, behavioral finance, estate planning, I was able to implement almost immediately. I took an estate planning class from a top-shelf estate planning attorney in the Greater Bay Area. My tax course was with a practicing enrolled agent whom I refer clients to; she is now part of my COI network for tax. The personal connections with teachers and other students is invaluable.

Is this a sales job?

Jason: I would argue that most things in life are sales jobs. If we talk to a stranger that we want to make friends with, you’re in a sales job. If you’re going on a first date, it’s a sales job. If you’re getting into this business and want to become a financial planner, you need to believe that what you are providing for that person or that family or that organization is invaluable. And if you truly believe that, then it won’t feel “salesy” to want to help them. This is a helping profession. What you’re doing will improve the outcome for your clients and their kids and their grandkids. It’s almost effortless to sell my service because I’m trying to partner with you, and I want you to have a better outcome than if you had done it alone.

Audience question: Early in your career, how did you handle difficult conversations with clients about performance?

Jason: Stay calm and be prepared. You’re going to have this conversation many, many times in your career, so be prepared with data, information, charts, et cetera. I usually say: “I acknowledge that you don’t feel good right now and you’re probably questioning your relationship with me. But in reality, you and I can’t necessarily pick the right moment to invest. If you and I continue to work together-and I hope we do-this will happen to us many times. This just happened to occur at the outset. And we can only improve from here and all I can offer you is my dedication to you. You’re getting a sample of how I’m going to help you through a difficult time right out the gate. And so I would like you to continue to walk this dream with me so that way, we can appreciate the better times in the market together.”

Umberto: Your clients care about what happened in the past, but they care more about what’s going to happen moving forward. As you continue to progress in those relationships, talk about your CFP knowledge or the goals you can provide. They’re going to stay with you for what’s to come, not what they experienced in the last six to nine months. Never underestimate the fact that you’re in front of them. That goes a long way, regardless of what the numbers on the statement show.

This almost sounds like a cop-out answer, but it’s the truth: There’s nothing that I learned in the PFP program that I don’t use. From the survey course to the capstone course, behavioral finance, estate planning, I was able to implement almost immediately.
—Jason Terhune

Audience question: Gut feeling is a result of your education, experience and professionalism. But it’s hard to explain. How do you explain a gut feeling to clients?

Ariana: I have not been in the business long enough to be able to do that, but I’ve seen colleagues do it. What I noticed is that it usually works if the adviser already knows a client very well. They know how to communicate that gut feeling to a client. But we can get into trouble if we say things, kind of using a crystal ball, and then it turns out to be wrong. Not all of our gut feelings are correct. I hear colleagues say, “This is what we predict might happen. Here’s an alternative that might happen.”

How do you regularly communicate with your clients through social media?

Jason: We send out newsletters, and our investment committee posts communications about why we’re doing what we’re doing, what we’re thinking about. We try to have as many different touch points as possible. The occasional client lunch or dinner is invaluable. You’ll build more connections with the client by not talking about money and investments.

Umberto, what can you learn from a face-to-face meeting that you can’t learn in a Zoom meeting?

Body language is really important for both sides, including eye contact. As a financial planner, you’ll get really good at making strong eye contact, particularly the intimate across-the-desk setting.

Final words of advice?

Jason: Always be curious. If I come across something that I don’t feel comfortable in, I will take time to research it. So the next time that question or that point comes across my desk, I am able to address it. Also, try to be infinitely coachable. It’s human nature to be defensive about things that we don’t know. But come at it with the attitude that we’re trying to help not just our clients, but each other. If someone wants to coach you on something, listen and try to implement what they’re saying.

Ariana: No matter where you are in life, I encourage you to constantly experiment with your career because you always need to innovate. The second is for people who weren’t thinking of entering this profession: I highly recommend signing up for the FPA externship program. It’s every summer for eight weeks; you can do it while you’re still working.

Josh: I go back to behavioral finance-not just to help you with business development, but with your own clients to nudge them to do what’s in their best interest even if they have a mental block against it. The human mind has an infinite capacity to delude oneself. Your job is to bring them back and let them know what the real risks are.

Umberto: Have a mentor whom you really connect with so that you become the best version of yourself, because that’s what it takes to build trust with your future clients. And this is very simple: People don’t care how much you know, but how much you care. I encourage you not to forget that.

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UC Berkeley Extension

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