We are a learning organization: We continuously increase our awareness, knowledge and experience in order to provide the best practices in our profession.
The above is one of Singer Burkeâ€™s seven core values. Quite inadvertently, I recently put this core value to the test (or rather, this core value put me to the test) when I unexpectedly enrolled in UCLA Extensionâ€™s CFPÂ® Capstone Course for the spring quarter of 2014. As a 30-year licensed CPA, I was eligible to â€śchallengeâ€ť the CFPÂ® Boardâ€™s Certified Financial Plannerâ„˘ certification by taking the capstone course and sitting for the CFPÂ® exam. All the other CFPÂ® candidates in my UCLA class were taking the full CFPÂ® curriculum program at UCLA, which consists of nine courses. The final capstone course applies the lessons in the previous eight classes to the actual preparation of financial plans. Our chief compliance officer at SB Capital Management, Amitha Harichandran, who had taken the other courses in the UCLA CFPÂ® program, was kind enough to allow me to tag along for the final course.
Realizing a Few Truths
My first night in class, I realized a few truths:
- I enjoyed being back in an academic environment, and I felt as much a peer to my fellow classmates (who represented a wide variety of backgrounds, experience and ages) as I did to the CFPÂ® professional who taught the course (and with whom I became friends once we discovered we were almost neighbors and shared a passion for creative, alternative solutions to challenging financial planning problems as well as for golf).
- My 30 years of experience as a CPA would be a definite advantage when it came to preparing financial plans. However, not enrolling in the preceding eight classes in the CFPÂ® curriculum would be a definite disadvantage on the multiple-choice CFPÂ® exam questions because of the uber-specific and sometimes seemingly random body of knowledge the CFPÂ® Board decides to test to make sure everyone does their homework.
- Everyone who attended this course had something to offer, and if I was aware enough, I would eventually find out what I was there to learn from each one of them (and vice versa).
- Throughout the entire course, for every difficult tax question posed, the entire class would look to me for an answer.
The initial class and homework assignments were solitary in nature, and my inner academic overachiever came to life again as I began to rack up extra-credit points such that my average was in excess of 100%. Perhaps I was concerned about representing the CPA profession, or maybe these were just old habits resurfacing from my school days when I was attempting to earn admission to the best university possible.
Be that as it may, I quickly learned that while the Certified Financial Plannerâ„˘ certificate program doesnâ€™t provide as much in-depth study as certain traditional CPA areas of expertise, such as accounting, taxes and business consulting, the curriculum does cover a very broad range of topics, including retirement benefits, estate planning, Social Security benefits, investments, insurance, income and estate taxes, cash flows and financial statement preparation. We also calculated various present value/annuity formulas and mortgage principal/interest amortizations using a Hewlett-Packard 12c calculator (instead of Excel).
The amount of time I spent on the capstone weekly assignments and projects definitely exceeded what I imagined, especially on top of my full-time day job! However, the most rewarding moments occurred in the classroom, where I had the opportunity to share ideas and experiences relative to certain opportunities and/or challenges presented. Amitha and I shared our expertise and experience and, in turn, learned what others were confronting from their particular perspectives.
At the end of the class, a real bond had developed amongst our classmates and our teacher that has continued with periodic communications beyond the classroom. In fact, Amitha and I visited the fall-quarter UCLA capstone class in December to share our experience of taking the CFPÂ® exam in November. To clarify/confirm, Amitha and I both passed the CFPÂ® exam and are now full-fledged, licensed CFPÂ® professionals. We plan to return to UCLA for the spring job fair to speak to CFPÂ® candidates about potential careers in the industry and, specifically, with Singer Burke.
Achieving Better Results for Clients
One further anecdote: Not too long ago, I was in a meeting reviewing a fairly complicated financial plan with a couple of staff members. The staff accountant who had updated the financial plan using our proprietary, Excel-based financial planning software had prepared a couple of scenarios to demonstrate break-even points as a result of taking early distributions from a retirement plan vs. various life expectancies. I noticed that the projected results for a couple of the scenarios didnâ€™t quite make sense. On the spur of the moment, I pulled out my (now) trusted Hewlett-Packard 12c financial calculator, which had become my â€ślittle friendâ€ť leading up to the CFPÂ® exam. I proceeded to manually calculate the present value annuity formula for the scenario in question and proved that the Excel formula being used for this particular scenario had not been properly applied. With an ear-to-ear grin, I knew at that very moment that I had embodied one of our Singer Burke core values: We continuously increase our awareness, knowledge and experience in order to provide the best practices in our profession.
Embracing a Genuine Sense of Play
In closing, as we begin 2015, I wish for all of us a renewed reliance on our own expertise and experience, as well as a genuine sense of play. May we immerse ourselves in the more playful and fulfilling aspects of our lives and careers. And just maybe, one life at a time, we may transform our daily existence out of the realm of struggling for survival and into the realms of self-worth, meaning, connection to others, greater purpose and, of course, last but not least, play.
â€śYou must learn one thing:
The world was made to be free in. â€¦
Anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.â€ť
â€• David Whyte