August 9, 2011
Filling a need: Ph.D. program teaches financial planners with passion to help middle class clients
Although it may sound counterintuitive, those who struggle to get their financial world in order often have a more difficult time finding a financial planner who can set them on the right course than those who have been successful accumulating wealth, according to a Kansas State University financial planning expert.
But John Grable, director of K-State's Personal Financial Planning Institute, says that may change as the financial world prepares to welcome a new crop of financial planners who have a passion for helping the middle class.
K-State has offered a doctorate program in personal financial planning for three years. It's a distinctive program not only because it's one of just two financial planning doctorate programs in the U.S., but also because of its hybrid nature. Students attend intensive on-campus sessions for 10 days every August, and complete the rest of the program online with seminars and speakers.
"I thought it would take students four or five years to get through the Ph.D. program, but they're going through it much faster," Grable said. "Next summer we will graduate our first students, who are fitting in a doctoral degree while having families and working full-time jobs."
Grable said the students' motivation is not driven solely by their large time and monetary investment, but by their interest in changing the way the financial planning business works.
"Typically, financial planning is focused on clients with a higher net worth," he said. "It can be difficult to work with a client making $30,000 a year. These students, however, have a passion for helping the middle class gain financial knowledge and creating a model that could help more people find financial success."
It may be a sign of the times, Grable said. In the current financial climate, some middle-class Americans have mortgages they are unable to repay or various other financial problems. In these situations, they may feel they have few places to turn for unbiased financial advice, creating a large need for financial planners with an understanding of their clients' unique financial behavior.
For many in this economic position there is very little financial education readily available and little knowledge about how to access what is available, Grable said. The first graduates from K-State's hybrid personal financial planning Ph.D. program will seek to help fill this information gap.
"Most students working to achieve this particular Ph.D. have a mind for business but a heart for helping others," Grable said. "The Ph.D. is a research degree, so before they can go help people, they have to understand more about them. They're asking, 'Why don't you know where to go?' then learning about how they can help."
Ron Sages, a doctoral student in the K-State program from Greenwich, Conn., said it's important to him and to others already in the financial planning industry to pursue advanced studies that emphasize not just finance, but behavioral finance, all while maintaining their businesses.
"Over the past 39 years as a financial planning practitioner, I have been intrigued by the behaviors of some of my clients and their family members as they pertain to their financial well-being," Sages said. "I want to better understand and research factors that contribute to both beneficial and less desirable individual financial behaviors."
Grable said for many students in the program, working toward a Ph.D. in financial planning is a life dream and a way to expand the services they can provide to clients and to give back to their communities, especially young people just starting out.
Since students in the K-State program don't have to leave their communities to expand their education, they can share their new knowledge with current and new clients as they learn.
"One of the outcomes will be a diverse group of highly educated and passionate professionals who can step up their services to clients," said Anita Dale, a personal financial planning student from Lebanon, Ind. "There is also a big opportunity to provide a new client base with competent advice and education from well-rounded individuals who have experienced life in their communities."
The program currently has 30 students, Grable said. The 10 students who are in their third year of the program will go to South Korea in May 2012 as part of the program's capstone class. They will tour financial planning firms and present research to government officials.