2022 Symposium Recap on The Importance of Being a “Client” for Financial Planning Students: A Thematic Analysis of Financial Planning Students’ Experiences Meeting With A Planner

The Importance of Being a “Client” for Financial Planning Students: A Thematic Analysis of Financial Planning Students’ Experiences Meeting With A Planner was presented by Kenneth White, PhD, EA with support from Megan McCoy, PhD, LMFT, AFC®, CFT-I™, Kimberly Watkins, PhD, Miranda Reiter, PhD, CFP®, and Rick Kahler, MS, CFP®, CFT-I™, CeFT®, CCIM. The presentation focused on financial planning students’ experiences when meeting with a financial planning professional as a client as part of their coursework.

Background & Introduction

Kenneth White, PhD started the semester by having students of his University of Georgia Retirement Planning course write an essay to describe their relationship with money. Following the essay, students were encouraged to voluntarily meet with a financial planning professional as a client and write a 1,000-word essay describing their experience; students choosing to opt-out of the project were required to complete an America Saves Week presentation assignment instead. Dr. White thought about educators having previously been students and doctors having previously been patients while this ideology had not been translated to the financial planning profession. The goal of the assignment is to allow students to learn more about the career and what financial planners do from a client’s perspective. 

Eighteen students from Dr. White’s course opted to participate in the assignment with 14 students allowing their information to be used in the study/presentation. Due to the overall sample size, he stated the data shared is unable to be statistically significant. Demographic and socioeconomic information was not collected from the student participants and may be of interest for future studies. Dr. White had eight different financial planners volunteer to meet with the students, and he assigned students to each individual planner to schedule an appointment as a client. Each financial planning professional was provided with a set of instructions, and the students provided information directly to the planning professional as requested by the individual planner. The course did not provide any information on ways to vet a financial planning professional, though it is possible a student may have received this information in another course.


Career Choice

Of the 14 students participating in the assignment and included in the study, 13 students confirmed the financial planning field is the right career for them following meeting with the financial planning professionals; the remaining student had already decided before this assignment to shift their focus to business development and confirmed they wished to proceed with the career shift following the assignment. 


Some of the students felt anxiety about preparing for their meetings, and 12 of the students wrote about having decreased financial anxiety afterward. One student described feeling more anxious after the meeting when thinking about the possibility of retirement planning mistakes they could make as a professional but believed their confidence would increase with work experience. The remaining student felt more anxious following the meeting when considering their own retirement outlook.


Eight students felt the experience will help them better connect with clients and have more empathy for client feelings and experiences. One student stated they felt “financially naked” prior to the meeting but more confident after completing their meeting.


Nine students walked away from the experience with an increased respect for interpersonal communication skills necessary to improve client experiences.


More research with a larger sample size is required for statistically significant results; however, the project produced promising results showcasing the benefits of financial planning students viewing the field from the clients’ perspective. Universities with financial planning, counseling, and coaching programs can easily implement similar assignments to increase empathy and enhance learning outcomes. Hopefully, we will see more data collection and shared results from professors and students in the future.

Meghan McInnes, AFC®, FFC® is the Director of the Center for Excellence in Financial Counseling and Assistant Teaching Professor of Personal Finance at the University of Missouri – St. Louis. She earned her MS in Personal Financial Planning, Graduate Certificate in Financial Therapy, and Graduate Certificate in Personal Financial Planning from Kansas State University and BS in Business Administration with an emphasis in Management from the University of Missouri – St. Louis. She has been an AFCPE® member since 2015.

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