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Texas Tech FPA Challenge team golf outing
The winning Texas Tech team: (L-R): George Allen, Caleb Hoopes and Christopher Olsen

What Is the FPA Financial Planning Challenge?

Inside the college competition that gives students a taste of the challenges advisors face.

A three-student team from Texas Tech University clinched first place at the Financial Planning Challenge hosted by the Financial Planning Association, Ameriprise, and the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards. The annual competition serves as a national stage for students enrolled in CFP Board-registered financial planning programs nationwide to showcase their expertise and financial planning abilities.

Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, won the 2023 competition, as it has done four times since 2017. In the most recent contest, held in September, two dozen colleges and universities fielded teams of students preparing for careers in financial planning. The Texas Tech team beat out groups from institutions such as second-place winners The University of Akron and The University of Arizona, which came in third.

The Challenge

The Financial Planning Challenge aims to promote the financial planning profession as a vibrant community and viable career choice for undergraduate students. Now in its 13th year, the competition provides students with a holistic financial planning learning experience and actively engages them to join the financial planning community. Through the competition, students can forge valuable connections, explore diverse career paths and enrich their knowledge of the profession.

Given the shortage of financial advisor recruits entering the profession, the Financial Planning Challenge gives the profession a much-needed boost by spreading awareness of the profession.

Much work must be done to attract and retain a sufficient number of new financial planning recruits. That’s the conclusion of the latest “Asset and Wealth Management” report from Cerulli Edge. Within the next 10 years, 37% of financial advisors who collectively control $10.4 trillion, representing 40% of total industry assets, expect to retire, according to the report. This wave of pending retirements makes it imperative for firms to attract and retain the next generation of advisors who can carry on these existing books of business.

Three Phases

The competition is tailored for undergraduate financial planning degree programs registered with the CFP Board at colleges and universities. Three rigorous phases make up the Financial Planning Challenge.

In the first phase, all student teams prepare a comprehensive financial plan in response to a case study prompt detailing the particulars of hypothetical clients. Judges review these written plans and advance the eight teams who submitted the most outstanding plans to the subsequent phases of the competition.

In Phase 2, the finalist teams present the plan before independent financial planners, much like advisors present them to real-world clients. The teams are judged on the content’s rigor and the presentation’s quality. Phases 1 and 2 mirror the CFP Board’s Financial Plan Development (Capstone) Course requirements.

In Phase 3, the teams competed in a game show-style financial planning knowledge contest called “How Do You Know?” that tests specific knowledge in areas such as estate planning, insurance and taxation (see Can You Pass the Financial Planning Challenge?). The team that buzzes in the fastest with the correct answer wins points. 

The Team

The winning team in 2023 consisted of three students—George Allen, Christopher Olsen and Caleb Hoopes—enrolled in Texas Tech’s School of Financial Planning. Associate Professor Michael Guillemette served as faculty advisor and coach.

Winners of the FPA Financial Planning Challenge receive more than bragging rights. The college fielding the first-place team receives $10,000. In the case of Texas Tech, the prize money is divided among the team members to offset their tuition.  

On top of the financial reward, winners get a significant career boost. Sometimes, the first-place winners receive job offers during the competition. “From a recruiting perspective, advisories would be insane not to take a close look at the winning team,” Guillemette said. 

After graduating in December, Hoopes, a senior from Stillwell, Kan., planned to join Creative Planning as a paraplanner. “I believe participating [in the FPA Challenge] allowed me to stand out from other students. The experience gives me confidence that the things I have learned [at Texas Tech] will help me tackle challenges during my career,” he said.

Olsen, originally from Boerne, Texas, added, “I believe that the competition has helped me stand out slightly more amongst my peers and allowed me to interview for positions that I might otherwise not have had.” 

After receiving an undergraduate degree in personal financial planning, Allen will receive an accelerated Bachelor-to-Master’s program and graduate next year. His plan is to take the CFP exam in November 2024 and pursue a career with an RIA in Dallas/Fort Worth.

The Skills

“To get truly superior teams, you need analytical students who master several skill sets and can present well,” said Guillemette. In other words, successful financial advisors display the same skill sets. 

Ideally, Guillemette said, the advisor’s job is to organize the team, make sure it has the resources it needs and help it stay on track. “I never read the case (the detailed hypothetical client profiles in response to which the teams prepare their financial plan),” he said. “I focus on giving feedback on the quality of the presentation to ensure it is more indicative of a real-world client meeting.” Sometimes, Texas Tech alums also provide feedback as the team rehearses its presentation. 

Guillemette also knows the importance of recreation in team building because a lot of pressure is put on the students to perform well. Before competing in the Financial Planning Challenge in Phoenix, the advisor treated his team members to a round of golf. 

“The way FPA, CFP Board and Amerprise have constructed the Financial Planning Challenge gives it a real-world feel that is well focused on preparing the next generation of financial planners,” Guillemette said.

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