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Why I bid a bittersweet goodbye to my CFP designation

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In January, I voluntarily relinquished my beloved CFP credential.

True, I haven't been a financial planner for a decade, but the decision was still an emotional one.

The journey began late 2007. After working at the main office of a broker-dealer/RIA for four years I was ready to take on more responsibility. I signed up for a certificate program for financial planning, an accelerated course that met for 12 hours every other weekend from January to October, and set my eye on the November 2008 exam.

I jumped right in, thinking financial planning might be a good eventual career path for me. I enjoyed the learning — particularly estate planning — and practicing time value of money problems on my treasured HP10bII calculator. I liked getting to know my classmates; studying and learning together is a quick way to bond and I'm still in touch with people from the cohort.

But prepping for the exam in October 2008 gave rise to second thoughts about working in financial services. On the first day of the exam prep cram course, the Dow dropped 8%. The following day the Dow closed up but not before another stomach-churning midday decline. Most of the investment managers left the course to go back to the office.

I made it through, studied every spare minute and took the two-day test.

Eight weeks later, I received a letter from the CFP Board saying that I’d passed (insert standard complaint here about how post-snail mail kids these days don't know how hard that wait was).

A 28-year-old Sonya Dreizler studies for the CFP exam in late 2008.

With my new CFP credential in hand, I started taking on clients — some of my own, and some from a small business I’d taken over. I kept my job at the BD while I built up my planning practice. Since I worked in both roles at once, it was easy to compare the two. On the BD side, I enjoyed supporting financial advisors and thrived on untangling complex business issues. On the financial planning side, I loved my clients — but didn't enjoy the work I did to serve them.

After a year of struggling to enjoy what I thought I had wanted to do, I stopped. I found another advisor for my clients and went back to putting all of my effort into my BD/RIA role. Eighteen months later I became COO and got that extra responsibility I had been looking for.

Sometimes, we have to try out new opportunities before realizing they aren’t a good fit. Those years of trying things out were particularly challenging, but in retrospect I can see that those uncomfortable moments positively shaped the direction of my career.

"I don't need outside credentials to bolster my credibility," says Sonya Dreizler. "I have my own."

Although I never practiced financial planning again, I maintained my CFP certification for 10 years — each year paying the annual fee — currently $355 — and keeping up with the continuing education obligation of 30 hours every two years.

I kept the certification for many reasons: I wanted to keep my career options open, the continuing education was interesting and I enjoyed being a part of a well-respected professional group.

But more than any of those reasons, I kept the designation to bolster my own credibility. I was just 23 when I started working in financial services and 28 when I got the CFP credential. Although I am a fast learner, smart and hardworking, my work was often dually discounted because I was young and female.

Especially when I left the comfort of my office, I faced incorrect assumptions. At industry events, people would ask if I was someone's wife or assistant.

Handing colleagues a business card with those three letters followed by the little ® added the instant credibility that I wasn't being afforded on my merit.

For a decade, I've kept the designation for credibility. This year, I finally realized I no longer need that boost. I have built a business using my unique set of skills, I have a strong and supportive network, and I have found my authentic voice. I don't need outside credentials to bolster my credibility. I have my own.

The date I officially relinquished the credentials happened to fall on my 40th birthday. That coincidence feels significant; I'm now ready to step out on my own merit.

I wish I’d had this confidence earlier.

I say a bittersweet goodbye to the the designation with gratitude for the learning, professional experience, caring community, and credibility the CFP credentials brought me during formative years of my career; with hope that each woman now entering financial services is respected and judged on her merit, accomplishments and potential; and with contentment at having found my voice, and many platforms to use it.

Thank you CFP Board and CFP® designation. It's been a good run.

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