Before coming to work at the University of South Florida, Dr. Laura Mattia was a personal financial planner, with her own firm in New York State.
"What I saw really was very upsetting," Mattia said. "I had a lot of people that would come to my office, 70-year-old women who, their husband died a couple years ago, had a million dollar life insurance policy, they come see me, there’s $100,000 left, ‘Now what do I do?’ It’s heart-breaking when you see these people that have gotten bad advice."
In many cases, she says, it was simply because the people giving the advice lacked certain knowledge.
"I thought that there were a bunch of unethical people," she said. "I’ve now since realized that it’s not that they’re unethical, they don’t even know what they don’t know."
Mattia hopes to help change that – and address a major need – as the director of the new USF Muma College of Business Personal Financial Planning program.
The program, which will first offer an undergraduate degree, was formally unveiled at an April event at the college, where potential students heard from a panel of financial planners who will serve as advisers to the program.
"We’re going to help mentor, we’re going to help people as interns and ultimately, we’re going to be the people who hire the students coming out of this program," said Geoff Simon, Senior Vice President of Investments for Raymond James and Associates.
Simon, who received his MBA from USF, says the demand for skilled planners is rapidly growing.
"The number of people who are working in this field now are aging, they’re getting older, they’re going to be retiring in a number of years, there are not enough young people with these skills to take their place," Simon said.
Figures show that the average age of a financial adviser is in the mid 50’s, with only three or four percent under the age of 30.
According to Moez Limayem, dean of the Muma College of Business, "What is making the situation more challenging is that there is no supply of talent, there are very few programs and even if there are, most of these programs are certificates and continuing education."
USF hopes to join other schools known for their financial planning degree programs, like the University of Georgia, Boston University and Texas Tech, where Mattia received her doctorate in financial planning.
Limayem says USF’s program will create what he calls a new breed of planner/adviser who first will understand the basic foundation of business accounting, finance and marketing.
"In addition, they will be technology savvy, they understand digital marketing and big data and analytics," Limayem said. "They will have all the human career soft skills necessary, and also, we emphasize ethics, because ethics is really important in a profession like this."
The program will also save students time, as they’ll be ready to take the exam to become a certified financial planner, or CFP, when they graduate.
"We’ve heard from many professionals who said, ‘I had to take two, three, four years, sometime five years of my life to pass that exam and to launch my career in financial planning and advising,’" Limayem said, adding, "They will not have to do that if they go through this degree."
That, in turn, will also save employers money they previously spent, training planners.
"The students win because they will be starting a very promising, fun, meaningful career where they change lives and they help people fulfill their dreams," Limayem said. "Businesses in this area will win because they will have access to the talent, and we will win because it helps us fulfill our mission of graduating great students."
And Limayem adds he’s heard from some potential students' parents who look favorably on the fact that a CFP makes an average entry level salary of $58,000 a year – as he puts it, “it gets the kids off the parents’ payroll quicker!”
But to some potential students, being a planner is less about the money and more about the service they provide. Anne Hays graduated from St. Leo University last year with a degree in English, but is now considering enrolling in the financial planning program.
"It emphasizes being able to help people, which is the reason that I originally shied away from getting a business major, so this definitely interests me to be able to help people with their money," Hays said.
Laura Mattia wants to draw more young women like Hays to the program, as only 15 percent of planners are female. She says that part of the problem is that, in general, women's financial understanding isn't as strong as men's.
"We need to encourage women to get engaged, they don’t need to know what stock options are," Mattia said.
"They do need to know where their stuff is, how it’s titled, who the beneficiaries are, is it in the right place or not the right place, am I signing the right contracts?"
"I want to encourage more women to get involved, and the way we do that is by providing role models. So, as we get more women in this industry, they will serve as role models, they will serve as confidants," she said. "I think women will help other women become a little bit more financially plugged in."
And, with the program's emphasis on the “personal” side of personal finance, Mattia adds that potential psychology and nursing majors could make good planners because they relate to people well.
"It’s more of almost like a liberal arts degree in business and it’s a lot of problem-solving, common sense, and it’s very transferrable to a lot of areas, a lot of occupations," Mattia said.
As many as 70 students could be admitted to the Personal Financial Planning undergraduate program when it launches this fall. Muma officials hope to have an MBA level program running in the the next year or two.