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As financial planning grows more specialized, Ph.D.s enter field

Jacob Williams, left, is director of planning and research at the Helmstar Group in downtown Boise. Photo by Glenn Landberg

Jacob Williams, left, is director of planning and research at the Helmstar Group in downtown Boise. Photo by Glenn Landberg

Like many other professions, financial planning is getting more specialized, and Boise now has a planner with a Ph.D. in the field. Jake Williams, who has a doctorate from Texas Tech, wrote his dissertation on retirement income, focusing on annuitization (the process of converting an annuity investment into regular income); reverse mortgages, and mortality salience (more about that below).

Like other financial planners, Williams uses a combination of statistics and research into human behavior to help his clients figure out how they can most enjoy their post-retirement years. While many planners attain the Certified Financial Planner designation to show their level of expertise, Williams said says a research-focused degree like a Ph.D. will become more critical in financial planning as the field becomes increasingly specialized and as competition from online services continues to mount.

“How we frame things, as financial planners, has an effect on peoples’ decisions,” Williams said. “The financial planner profession for so long has been sales-based, about getting people into products. We’re trying to move away from that and be more research-based.”

That’s where mortality salience comes in.

“The research comes in to how I have a conversation with the client that helps them understand the consequences of certain decisions and not produce fear,” he said. “Talking about death causes a certain emotional reaction. We can talk about symbolic mortality, or living past death with bequests, scholarships, things that make sure their name lives on after they pass away.”

Williams said he’s the only Ph.D. in personal financial planning he knows of in the Pacific Northwest.

“The Ph.D. network in Personal Financial Planning is small and I know of/hear about most of them,” he said.

About Anne Wallace Allen

Anne Wallace Allen is the editor of the Idaho Business Review.