Tuesday, September 21, 2021
Sept. 21, 2021

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A sunny future for financial planners

Economic uncertainty, and changing life circumstances and demographics forecast

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The Job: Personal financial adviser.

Description: Advise clients on financial plans using knowledge of tax and investment strategies, securities, insurance, pension plans and real estate. Duties include assessing clients’ assets, liabilities, cash flow, insurance coverage, tax status and financial objectives to establish investment strategies.

Average wage: $40 per hour.

Employed in Clark County in 2007: 175.

Employed in Clark County in 2017 (estimated): 252.

Cumulative growth rate: 44 percent projected through 2017.

Source: State Employment Security Department

Money doesn’t flow as freely in Clark County as it once did, with unemployment above 14 percent, flat salaries, rising health care costs and depressed real estate values. It may come as a surprise, then, that one of the county’s fastest growing occupations is financial planning, an industry that sells advice on how to best spend or save cash.

Though the industry remains small, the number of financial planning companies in Clark County has almost quadrupled in the past 10 years, according to the Washington Employment Security Department. And the pace of the sector’s growth has accelerated with the global recession, rising from 12 firms in 2000 to 33 in 2008 and 42 by September 2009.

At this pace, the ranks of financial planners in the county are projected to reach a cumulative growth of 44 percent through 2017. That’s higher than the 30 percent growth the occupation is expected to achieve nationally within the same period and higher than the average growth for all occupations in Clark County, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Hard times and uncertainty, it seems, lead more people to seek professional help with their finances, from managing retirement and savings accounts to tax strategies and estate planning. The stock market crash of 2008, in particular, caused individual investors who had been managing their own portfolios to throw up their hands. That event will resonate in investors’ minds well into the future, fueling demand for planning services.

• The Job: Personal financial adviser.

• Description: Advise clients on financial plans using knowledge of tax and investment strategies, securities, insurance, pension plans and real estate. Duties include assessing clients' assets, liabilities, cash flow, insurance coverage, tax status and financial objectives to establish investment strategies.

• Average wage: $40 per hour.

• Employed in Clark County in 2007: 175.

• Employed in Clark County in 2017 (estimated): 252.

• Cumulative growth rate: 44 percent projected through 2017.

Source: State Employment Security Department

“A lot of people got burned and said, ‘I can’t do this on my own,’” said Scott Bailey, Southwest Washington regional economist for the state Employment Security Department. “When it’s a bull market, it’s pretty easy to make money, and in times like this, it is not. There’s much more uncertainty.”

Steady growth

The finance industry, which includes insurance agents as well as financial planners, isn’t a big employer in Clark County. At 3,500 workers in February, it measures about one-seventh the size of the county’s largest employment sector — government — and one-fifth of health care employment here. About 175 of the 3,500 are labeled personal financial planners.

The number of new financial advisors added to payrolls each year is likely to be small despite the growing demand for services, Bailey said. He said he expects the occupation to add about eight new jobs per year in the next decade, bringing the total to about 252.

But the industry, which manages hundreds of millions of dollars in personal and business assets, has an outsized community impact. The investment and life planning advice these newcomers give will help shape the financial fate of the county’s residents for decades to come.

In the long term, Clark County’s aging population will also help create a steadily rising demand for financial services, planners say. The older-than-60 crowd is expected to double to 127,000 people in the next 15 years, according to the state Office of Financial Management.

“It is a growing industry and will only continue to grow if you look at the demographics. Last year was the first year baby boomers started to retire,” said Dan Foster, president and board chairman of the Financial Planning Association in Portland and owner of Foster and Associates financial advisors in Vancouver. “Financial planning is similar to health care in that respect.”

Small firms lead

With only a handful of new jobs each year, much of the sector’s growth will be seen in increased revenues and expansion into new facilities.

A good chunk of the sector’s growth could come from large firms in Southwest Washington, Bailey said. Fisher Investments is expected to start construction this year on a $30 million complex of offices on 150 acres in east Vancouver. That firm employs about 200 workers in Clark County and 1,200 total throughout the U.S.

Community banks, too, are starting to offer wealth management services to their upper-tier clients and bring one or two financial advisors on staff. Roseburg, Ore.-based Umpqua Bank, with five branches in Clark County, and Vancouver-based First Independent Bank in the past year have added or beefed up divisions that cater to wealthy clients.

But the majority of employees in the profession work as independent consultants for divisions of national companies such as Prudential and Edward Jones, or for small local firms with 10 or fewer workers. Such companies, which include Vancouver’s Foster and Associates, a franchise of Minneapolis-based Ameriprise, will account for most of the growth in the profession in the next decade.

Foster is growing, with a 15 percent increase in sales in 2009, down slightly from a 20 percent jump in 2008, Dan Foster said. The firm moved two years ago from its rental office at the Vancouver Tech Center to a new $1.5 million, 4,200 square-foot office on Southeast Mill Plain Boulevard. It now employs five workers and manages about $100 million in assets for individual and business clients, he said.

Financial planner Chad Peterson of Thrivent Financial for Lutherans in Vancouver said he also saw his business grow in the last two years. In December, he signed a five-year lease for a 1,200 square-foot office on Southeast McGillivray Boulevard. The office is a new branch of Thrivent, a Minnesota-based insurance and financial planner with regional offices on Southeast Park Plaza Drive.

Peterson predicts the industry will keep growing even after the stock market stabilizes due to the lasting psychological effects of the economic downturn, the changing demographics of the area and the increasing complexity of modern life.

Thrivent, which employs 105 financial advisors in the Pacific Northwest and seven in Vancouver, plans to hire 22 more representatives throughout the region, said Doug Ruecker, a senior partner and regional manager of Thrivant Financial for Lutherans.

“People’s lives can be way more volatile than the stock market, whether it’s due to the uncertainty of work, family changes or divorces,” Peterson said. “But what gets all the headlines is market uncertainty; that’s what gets people in (the door) first.”

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