If there's ever a time when people are focused on finances, it's coming through a wrenching recession.
With their financial security shaken, some people want to know more about how to better manage their money. Others want to become professional money managers.
This fall, local universities are giving both ambitions a better shot at happening.
On Tuesday, UC Davis Extension launches a new session of its financial planning certificate program, designed for lay people and finance professionals alike.
At CSU Sacramento, the first "financial planning" majors started classes two weeks ago, part of an effort to give business students an option to become financial planners.
"If more people had taken classes like these, we wouldn't have had a financial crisis," said Chase Armer, a certified financial planner in Folsom who heads the UC Davis Extension financial planning certificate program, now in its 16th year. "They'd know if they could afford that house or handle retirement."
The eight-course program, taught nights by local professionals, is aimed at working or retired adults. Although designed for those who want to sit for the Certified Financial Planner exam, it's open to anyone with financial curiosity.
Enrollment typically falls into three categories: career changers seeking a new job path; those already in the financial services industry who want to increase their skills ; and everyday consumers who simply want to become more knowledgeable about handling their own finances.
The latter is what initially drew Lodi resident Don Bittner to the program. "My background is not financial at all," said the trained physicist. "I wanted to understand more details about my family's financial planning how to integrate all the pieces: estate planning, insurance, retirement, investing."
Although Bittner signed up for a couple of classes purely out of "personal interest," the program inspired a career change. After being laid off as a scientific consultant on government contracts, Bittner, 58, completed the certificate program this spring and plans to take the CFP exam in November.
Others, like Sean Harvey, vice president of communications for Hanson McClain investment advisory firm in Sacramento, is starting the certificate program this week because it's "a way to enhance my value to the company." With a background in writing and publishing, Harvey says the financial coursework will give him a boost "personally and professionally."
Nationwide, 336 universities offer some type of financial planning program, including undergraduate, master's, Ph.D. or certificate programs, according to the CFP Board of Standards Inc. in Washington, D.C., which oversees the exam.
California has 26 CFP Board-approved curriculums, including extension programs offered via the UC campuses at Berkeley, Irvine, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz.
A number of CSU campuses, including Sacramento State, incorporate CFP Board-approved coursework into their bachelor's degrees.
Nationwide, there's been a 22 percent increase in the number of registered CFPs in the last five years, part of an "ever-increasing demand" for the designation, according to the CFP Board. Nationwide, there are 66,798 registered CFPs.
"The Great Recession has certainly changed people's views in seeking financial help," said Kevin Keller, the CFP board's CEO, in an email. The increased demand is driven by consumers "looking for competent, ethical and skilled financial planners (to) help put together the pieces of their financial lives," he said.
At CSUS, an estimated 25 percent of the 200-plus finance majors are expected to graduate in the new "financial planning" track, said Eric Lin, CSUS assistant professor of finance. Some will become CFPs, he said, while others will choose careers in banking, insurance or retirement planning.
"People are becoming more aware of the need for financial planning, coming after the recession," said Lin. "For students, there will be a lot of demand for financial planning services by the baby boomer generation," particularly as they inherit financial assets or need to help their aging parents manage their finances.
For those seeking financial enlightenment, programs such as the UC Davis extension certificate are not an easygoing romp. There's a serious commitment of time and money.
"If they're just looking for a solution to a particular problem, this program is overkill," said director Armer, who has also taught some classes for three years. "Our program is for people who want to dig down into it who want to be a do-it-yourself financial planner."
But even for those who prefer to hire a financial planner, a tax preparer or an estate planning attorney, the classes "make you better prepared to ask the right questions," he noted.
The complete UC Davis certificate program costs up to $6,800, not including textbooks. Individual classes run about $845. Walk-in signups are still possible for this week's starting sessions.
"I've never seen anyone who thought it was a waste of time and money," said Jeff Lambert, a Folsom CFP who founded and directed the UC Davis program for 15 years. "If, because of the classes, they end up avoiding one significant financial mistake, it's going to pay off."
PERSONAL FINANCIAL ADVISERS
What they do: Assess financial needs of individuals and assist with investments, taxes, insurance and retirement decisions.
Entry-level education: Bachelor's degree
Median pay, 2010: $64,750/year; $31.13/hour
Number of U.S. jobs, 2010: 206,800
Projected job growth, 2010-2020: 32 percent, compared with 14 percent for all occupations
Number of registered certified financial planners in the United States, 2012: 66,798
UC DAVIS FINANCIAL PLANNING CERTIFICATE
What's offered: Individual classes or full certificate program in personal financial planning
What's covered: Fundamentals of insurance, retirement, taxes, estate and investment planning, as well as analytical tools for evaluating mortgages and real estate investments, understanding annuities, determining bond prices/yields, analyzing the stock market and employee benefit plans. The eight courses cover the content required for the national Certified Financial Planner exam.
Who it's for: Those planning to take the CFP exam; those looking for a career change; those seeking personal money management skills
Fall session: Starts Tuesday; walk-in enrollment
Where: UC Davis Extension classrooms, Sutter Square Galleria, 2901 K St., Sacramento
Tuition: Up to $6,800 for the complete 29-unit certificate program. Individual classes cost about $845 each. Textbooks not included.
For signups/details: UC Davis Extension, www.extension.ucdavis.edu
For details on CFP profession: www.cfp.net