Financial Planning Associate—Paraplanner Certificate Program

In Person

Next Program Entry:
Spring 2020
Tuesday evenings, 6:00–9:00 p.m.
Software Labs: First Thursday of every month of the program, 6:00–8:00 p.m.
Workshop: One Saturday, 8:00 a.m.–Noon
4–6 months
SMU Main Campus
Priority Rate (until 2 weeks before start date): $1595
Standard Rate: $1845

Financial Paraplanner. Financial Planning Associate. Client Services.

No matter what you call it, the role provides vital support to a financial advisor. Whether you are interested in learning and working on financial plans without becoming a financial advisor, or you want to get a foot in the financial planning industry's door, gain experience, network and move your career forward, this program is right for you. You will learn about financial planning and prepare for a job as a financial paraplanner.

Key Benefits

  • All SMU PRO Financial Planning Associate—Paraplanner Certificate courses are taught by experienced practitioners, which ensures course content goes beyond theory and provides practical information you will actually use on the job
  • All classes take place on evenings or weekends to fit your busy schedule
  • The entire SMU PRO Financial Planning Associate—Paraplanner program can be completed in as little as one semester

What You Will Learn in the SMU PRO Financial Planning Associate—Paraplanner Certificate Program

  • Understand the terminology, concepts and principles of financial planning
  • Learn how to use eMoney Advisor and MoneyGuidePro—the two most common software platforms in financial planning 
  • Learn how to create proposals, reports and presentations that are personalized to your client
  • Gain an understanding of industry regulations, standards and compliance
  • Understand processes and workflows and identify how to improve them
  • Learn to use a financial calculator and take your financial planning Excel skills to the next level
  • Learn skills to become an essential resource to lead advisors and within any financial planning office

Who Should Attend the SMU PRO Financial Planning Associate—Paraplanner Program?

  • Anyone interested in pursuing a financial planning career
  • New graduates who want to gain experience while adding a professional designation and specific skill set to their résumé
  • Current financial paraplanners, financial analysts, accountants, client support and junior planners who want to add a professional designation to their résumé
  • Financial planners who want to focus on creating plans and proposals, hone their support skills, and angle their career toward research and customer service

This program consists of two courses that can be completed in less than six months. Course One focuses on financial planning fundamentals, concepts and terminology. Course Two focuses on financial planning processes and workflows. To receive the SMU PRO Financial Planning Associate—Paraplanner Certificate, a student must complete and pass both courses (with the exception of those participants who already have their CFPÒ. See FAQs for details). During the Financial Paraplanner Certificate program, students will also earn their eMoney Advisory Certification and complete requirements in the MoneyGuidePro Labs.

Course One: Concepts and Principles of Financial Planning

Fundamental Concepts and Principles of Financial Planning: 1 session

  • Overview of what financial planning is (and what it isn’t) and types of financial planners
  • The financial planning industry ecosystem
  • Terminology and definitions of the most important concepts in financial planning and economics
  • Financial statement review and analysis
  • Cash flow and debt management

Time Value of Money and Mastery of the Financial Calculator: 1 session

  • Understanding money flows and the time value of money
  • Learn calculator functions and keystrokes
  • Practice solving different types of problems

Investment Strategies and Planning: 2 sessions

  • Overview of the investment planning ecosystem and dependencies
  • Understanding asset classes and their implications
  • How financial planners determine and measure client objectives and risk tolerance
  • How to conduct research for investments
  • Discover Morningstar and become a power user
  • Types of investments and their individual implications
  • Principles and types of portfolio construction

Tax Planning: 2 sessions

  • Terminology and important concepts in tax planning
  • Understanding all the components and important items on a tax return
  • AGI and taxable income
  • Deductions and credits
  • Best practices in record keeping
  • Common tax planning strategies used by financial planners

Retirement Planning: 1 session

  • Types of retirement plans and common strategies for clients
  • Personal and employee-sponsored retirement plans
  • How financial planners use IRAs to distribute income
  • Fundamentals of Social Security and Medicare

Estate Planning: 1 session

  • Review of items included in wills, trusts and property ownership
  • Reviewing and researching a client’s assets and liabilities
  • What to look for in the most important estate-planning documents
  • Estate taxes and transfers
  • Strategies for charitable gifts

Fundamentals of Insurance: 1 session

  • Concepts and principles of insurance and risk
  • Types of insurance and how they fit into a financial plan
  • Important implications and considerations for life insurance
  • Understanding life insurance replacement implications

Software Labs: eMoney Advisor Certification and MoneyGuidePro Lab

First Thursday of each month of the program, 6:00 p.m.–8:00 p.m.*

eMoney Advisor and MoneyGuidePro are the two most widely used platforms in the financial planning industry, but are used in significantly different ways. Students will have access to both platforms for the duration of the program. As part of the Financial Paraplanner Certificate program, students are required to complete the eMoney Advisor Certification and complete the online courses and final assessment for MoneyGuidePro in order to receive their SMU PRO Financial Planning Associate—Paraplanner Certificate. 

*Participants must bring their own laptop to labs.

Course Two: Financial Planning Processes and Workflows

Financial Planning Processes and Workflows: 2 sessions

  • The advisor­-paraplanner relationship, interaction and dynamic
  • Typical planning processes and methodologies
  • Financial planning teams and how they work
  • Data gathering and entry processes
  • Best practices in client notetaking and documentation
  • What is needed for effective and compliant Customer Relationship Management
  • Working and collaborating with other specialists
  • Applying project management methods to financial planning
  • Contributing to process improvement
  • Scaling processes for growth

Client Onboarding Best Practices: 2 sessions

  • Overview of client-onboarding processes
  • Client data management and scope of relationship
  • Opening new accounts and creating new client files
  • Collecting the right data from clients
  • Working with custodians
  • Data collection forms
  • Facilitating transfers
  • Creating and maintaining client files
  • Researching client history
  • Organizing client files for searchability and history
  • Follow up with clients—processes and strategies

Creating Client Presentations, Proposals and Reports: 2 sessions

  • Charts, graphs, tables and visual aids
  • Data visualization for financial planning
  • Introduction to behavioral finance
  • Personalization of proposals
  • Reading the client in meetings and debriefing the lead advisor
  • Preparing the lead advisor before the meeting

Communication and Follow-up with Clients: 1 session

  • Phone, email and in-person tips and best practices and templates
  • Client follow-up processes
  • Terms to use and to avoid when communicating with clients
  • Overview of soft skills, interpersonal skills, and tone

Regulation and Compliance: 1 session

  • How regulations and standards are set
  • Common technical and practice management compliance
  • Communicating with clients
  • Professional conduct compliance
  • Fiduciary and suitability standards
  • Record keeping
  • Recognizing unusual and suspicious transactions
  • Diagnosing and fixing weaknesses
  • A paraplanner compliance checklist
  • Staying up-to-date with new regulations

Digital Marketing for Financial Planning: 1 session

  • Marketing regulations for financial planning
  • Social media, content development and branding principles
  • Newsletters and blogging
  • Generating and promoting referrals

Working as a Virtual or Contract Paraplanner: 1 session

  • How to get started
  • What to offer and whether to specialize
  • Building your business
  • Pricing and billing for different services
  • Contracts and agreements

Required Workshop:

Excel for Financial Planning:* 1 Saturday, 9:00 a.m.–Noon

  • Creating great charts and graphs
  • Pivot tables
  • Time Value of Money (TVM) calculations on Excel
  • Discounted Cash Flow (DCF) using Internal Rate of Return (IRR) and Net Present Value (NPV) on Excel
  • Risk analysis
  • Other tips and tricks for financial planners

*This workshop assumes a working knowledge of the Microsoft Office program Excel. If you need to review Excel basics before taking this workshop, online resources are available:



You will have eighteen (18) months from your first day of class to successfully complete the program.


You may choose to purchase the full certificate program at a discounted price or purchase the individual courses à la carte.

Full 20-week Certificate program:

Priority rate: $1595 (until two weeks before start date)

Standard rate: $1845 

Tuition includes all workshops and labs.  

Single Course Section: $995 

This cost includes the workshop associated with the section and labs that occur during that section.

eMoney and MoneyGuidePro Labs only (5 two-hour lab sessions): $395

Financing Options

SMU PRO Financial Planning Associate—Paraplanner students may qualify for a Smart Options Continuing Education Student Loan, offered by Sallie Mae. Your Sallie Mae Loan application must be completed and approved 14 days before the first day of the program. Loan cannot exceed the cost of tuition. Contact our admissions team for details.

Will this program prepare me to take the CFP® exam?
Participants need to be aware that this program is only for the SMU Financial Paraplanner Certificate program and does not cover the material required to take the CFP® exam. If you intend to take the CFP® exam you need to take the Financial Planning Certificate program.
What are the prerequisites? Is a bachelor’s degree required?
A bachelor’s degree is not required to complete this certificate program, but participants should be aware that many paraplanner and planning associate employers do require a bachelor’s degree.
What are the requirements for earning the SMU PRO Financial Planning Associate—Paraplanner Certificate?
Participants are required to complete and pass both required sections as well as to complete the eMoney Advisor Certification and complete requirements for MoneyGuidePro to demonstrate proficiency in using both of these platforms by the time they finish the certificate program. The eMoney Advisor Certification and the online courses and final assessment for MoneyGuidePro are included in the full 20-week tuition rates; or, students may choose to purchase the relevant labs individually. See the tuition section for more details.
What if I am already a CFP®?
If a student already has their CFP®, they may skip the first section of the program and just take the second section to receive a SMU PRO Financial Planning Associate—Paraplanner Certificate.
Is there a benefit if I decide to continue on and take the SMU PRO Financial Planning Certificate program after I complete the Paraplanner Certificate?
Students who successfully complete the SMU PRO Financial Planning Associate—Paraplanner Certificate program and then later decide to take the SMU Financial Planning Certificate program will receive $100 off each module of the Financial Planning program.

Betsy Abney

Betsy Abney is a Wealth Management Academy assistant advocate at 1st Global, where she provides leadership, organizational and technical education to empower wealth management assistants as they add value within their firms and develop in their careers. Betsy creates and executes processes that deliver a consistently high level of client experience as well as provides basic operational support to drive efficiency for both affiliate wealth management firms and 1st Global.

She began her career at 1st Global in 2003, and has held a variety of positions in the client services and operations departments during her tenure with the company, including roles in new accounts, cashiering, transfer of assets and document services. Betsy entered the financial services industry in 1995 as a mutual fund trader and retirement representative for Fidelity Investments, where she went on to hold positions as a service specialist in the mutual fund department, a senior service specialist responsible for the training and quality monitoring of the mutual fund/brokerage service specialist group, and a retirement services team leader and project lead.

Betsy graduated from Amber University with a Master’s of Science in human relations and business. She is a registered representative and has passed the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) Series 6, 7, 9, 10 and 63 exams. 

Melissa Brennan, CFP®

Melissa Brennan is a Certified Financial Planner (CFP®) practitioner with eighteen years of experience in financial planning and investment management. Melissa has been recognized by D Magazine on its annual list of “The Best Financial Planners in DFW” since 2012. Melissa is an active member of the Dallas-Fort Worth Financial Planning Association and serves on its board of directors. She is a senior financial planner with CF04Life Group, a $1.4 billion wealth management firm based in Coppell. Her heart is in supporting children, families, and dogs at risk. 

Carolyn Dalle-Molle

Carolyn Dalle-Molle is a professional marketer with frontline experience helping small businesses reach their growth goals. Her approach to marketing is both creative and analytical: helping advisors achieve a creative flow that’s unique and exciting while using tracking and metrics to learn what actually works for their firms. Based in Boston, she works as the marketing coach for advisors in the XY Planning Network. Outside of work, Carolyn enjoys volunteering with elderly people and traveling with family.

Rett Dean, CFP®

Rett Dean, a Certified Financial Planner™ professional, is a Co-Founder and Principal of Riverchase Wealth Management, LLC in Flower Mound, Texas. Rett has spent over 20 years as a financial planner working with clients to enable them to reach their most important goals. Since Rett was young, good financial stewardship was something that was ingrained in him. His parents spent time explaining the value of a dollar and how powerful even a basic understanding of money can be. Rett’s desire is to ensure that the individuals and families he gets to work with, reach that same level of confidence by having someone as their guide.

Prior to founding Riverchase, Rett’s role over the years has ranged from training and coaching tax professionals to better understand financial planning concepts, to serving clients and their needs directly. All of this experience allowed Rett to work with, and be mentored by, several financial planners who were ultimately named to Worth Magazine’s Top Financial Advisors in America.

Rett earned his Bachelor of Business Administration degree in Finance from Texas A&M University. Rett is also an Enrolled Agent, enabling him to represent clients before the Internal Revenue Service. He is a member of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA), the largest association of Fee-Only financial planners. He is also a member of the Financial Planning Association (FPA) and the National Association of Tax Preparers (NATP).

Rett and his family reside in Highland Village, Texas. Rett enjoys spending time with his wife Lisa and their three dogs. A dedicated Aggie and avid traveler, he does his best to stay engaged with his local alumni association and enjoys opportunities to see all corners of the world.

Matt Fizell

Matt Fizell is the chief operations officer and financial planner at Rooted Planning Group, a fee-only Registered Investment Advisory (RIA) firm in Madison, Wisconsin, that specializes in comprehensive financial planning. Prior to joining Rooted Planning Group in 2018, Matt formed his own paraplanning company where he still provides consulting to multiple fee-only financial planning firms across the country. In addition to his financial planning roles, he also serves as the Portal Ambassador for Simply Paraplanner, a community devoted to developing and coaching those looking to enter the paraplanning profession.

As a young financial planner himself, Matt is dedicated to growing the planning profession and creating awareness for career changers and recent college graduates about different career paths in financial planning. He currently co-hosts the Financial Planning Association’s “You’re A Financial Planner, Now What?” podcast, where he uncovers the career paths of successful financial planners, giving listeners insight on how to forge their own path into the profession.

Matt is involved with the Financial Planning Association, the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, and also with XY Planning Network’s effort to promote the development of a true financial planning profession as an integral part of the wider landscape of the “financial services” industry. He received his B.S. in personal finance from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in a CFP board-accredited degree program.

John Franklin Guild

J.D., Duke University School of Law

John Guild is Senior Regional Counsel at the Department of Enforcement at the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), where he is responsible for investigating potential securities violations and, when warranted, prosecuting formal disciplinary actions against securities firms and their associated persons. Prior to joining FINRA, John practiced complex civil litigation and white-collar investigations for 15 years. He has defended auditors, issuers and management in various securities-related litigation. He has also assisted clients in responding to investigations by the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission and other governmental and regulatory agencies. John clerked for the Honorable Catharina Haynes on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

Patte Lee, CFP®, RPA

Patrisha (Patte) Lee has worked in financial services for more than 20 years, helping families create and preserve their wealth and achieve financial balance. A Certified Financial Planner (CFP®) with an M.B.A., Patte pulls from her broad experience working in senior advisory positions with Fortune 100 companies such as Aetna, UNUM, Travelers, and Marsh USA, as well as her knowledge of employee benefits and pensions. 

A Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA), Patte enjoys helping women roll up their sleeves to work on their budgets. She teaches “Financial Literacy for Women” through SMU Lifelong Learning. She is active in the community serving on the Advisory Board of EWL–Empowering Women as Leaders (; is on the board for the Dallas chapter of the LPGA Amateur Golf Association, and a supporter and sponsor of Attorneys Serving the Community ( Patte is also on the Advisory Board for Communities Foundation of Texas and is an instructor in the SMU Certificate Program in Financial Planning.

Sean Kelleher, CFP®

Sean Kelleher, is a co-founder and principal of Riverchase Wealth Management, LLC in Flower Mound, Texas. Sean has spent over 20 years as a financial planner helping individuals and families develop financial plans based on the goals they feel are most important to their leading fulfilling lives.

From a young age, Sean was drawn to the world of entrepreneurship and finance. This was driven by the experience starting his first business mowing lawns and his introduction to economics and accounting in high school. These, and the values of managing personal finances instilled in him by his parents, continue to guide him today. He feels truly blessed to be able to leverage his skills and passion for personal finance to help his clients plan for their financial future.

Prior to founding Riverchase, Sean spent the majority of his career supporting tax and accounting professionals in integrating financial planning into their practices. The support he provided included marketing, client case analysis, portfolio recommendations and the development of financial plans. Working with tax professionals, Sean realized the importance of tax knowledge in the financial planning process. This motivated him to gain more knowledge of tax regulations, something he continues to devote time to today.

Sean holds a bachelor’s degree in marketing from the University of Texas at Arlington. He became a Certified Financial Planner® practitioner in 2000 and an enrolled agent with the Internal Revenue Service in 2007. Sean is a member of the Financial Planning Association (FPA), the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA), the National Association of Enrolled Agents (NAEA) and the National Association of Tax Preparers (NATP).

Sean resides in Highland Village, Texas, with his wife and two daughters. He enjoys spending time with his family and being active in the Rotary Club of Flower Mound, his church and the National Parks Conservation Association. His hobbies include golf, motorsports, traveling and hiking.

Brandon Moss, CFP®

A creative innovator and collaborator, Brandon Moss has had a front-row seat to the digital advice revolution, helping build one of the most innovative national Registered Investment Advisory (RIA) firms on the planet. He’s acquired a 360-degree view of the RIA landscape, from being an advisor and running his own firm to designing and integrating some of the most innovative tools in the industry. He has led, trained, coached, on-boarded, integrated and transitioned over 100 RIA firms/wealth management teams. Additionally, he's evaluated, prospected and pitched countless other firms. Consequently, he's an exceptional listener and comfortable in many different conversations! Occasionally, he's asked to opine on varying topics, typically Gen X+Y, innovation, client experience and technology. Brandon graduated from Texas Tech University's globally recognized personal financial planning program, then made it through some executive education at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business. He’s also perpetually in online classes trying to figure out something new. Brandon resides in the Dallas-Fort Worth area with his wife, Shelby, and his identical, mirror-image twin boys, Will and Reese. When he's not with them, he's probably in his garage tinkering, building or buying way too much golf equipment.

Clark D. Randall, CFP®

CFP® (Certified Financial Planner)
CRPC® (Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor)
CLU (Chartered Life Underwriter)
AEP (Accredited Estate Planner)
B.B.A., Finance, Texas A&M University

Clark D. Randall, CFP®, is the founder and owner of Financial Enlightenment, a financial planning firm offering fee-based services.

Clark currently holds FINRA Series 6, 7, 63 and 65 licenses.

Clark works closely with clients as their “Personal CFO” through his comprehensive fee-based financial planning approach. The creative design strategies he offers have provided his clients stability and reassurance to help ensure that their plan is on track and in alignment with their goals.

Clark is involved with many professional activities, having served on the Advisory Board of the Journal of Financial Planning and the Dallas/Fort Worth Financial Planning Association Board of Directors. He currently teaches financial planning at Southern Methodist University.

Bill Snyder, CFP®, CEP®, CRPC®

Bill Snyder is the regional director of financial planning services at 1st Global, where he oversees the Method 10® Seasonal Planning program and the provision of ongoing education, coaching and practice management for 1st Global financial advisors. He also specializes in business succession planning and business valuation and consistently helps advisors improve upon the daily operations of their practices.

He received his Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering from Johns Hopkins University, and he decided to enter the financial services industry after working for 20 years helping companies be successful and realizing he would find more satisfaction by helping individual families achieve their financial goals. He enjoys that he is able to do so in his current role by working with firms and advisors to improve their businesses so that they can better serve their clients. Prior to coming to 1st Global, he owned a financial advisory practice as part of a franchise with Ameriprise Financial. He has passed his Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) Series 7, 24 and 66 exams as well as his Texas Life and Health Insurance exam.

Jarod Upton, M.B.A., CFP®

Jarrod Upton is COO and Senior Consultant at Herbers & Co. He brings over 16 years of experience in management strategy, client experience, operations, training and consulting of advisory firms from start-ups to multi-location, multibillion advisory firms in order to provide solutions that impact positive growth. He previously served as vice president, Centralized Services and Financial Guidance of United Capital, a multibillion-dollar, fee-based national Registered Investment Advisory (RIA) firm, where he was responsible for centralized operations strategy, functionality, and developing and advancing guidance and financial planning initiatives. In addition, he oversaw and led strategic projects relating to client experience, organizational design, technology strategy, compliance, training, education, and implementation of centralized operations and financial planning.

Prior to that, Jarrod served as senior vice president of a regional RIA firm in North Texas where he was responsible for helping clients to achieve their financial goals and played an integral part in guiding the strategic direction of the organization, while also implementing and leading financial planning initiatives. Earlier in his career, Jarrod supported client engagement through various roles with both Fidelity Investments and TD Ameritrade.

Jarrod is a published author and contributor and blogger for He has also completed the intensive Executive Leadership Program through Charles Schwab. Jarrod has also served in various leadership and member roles in the DFW Financial Planning Association, Texas Tech Alumni Association, Estate Planning Council of North Texas, Texas Tech University Rawls Advisory Council and the Texas Tech University Personal Financial Planning Alumni Advisory Board.

Jan G. Valecka, CFP®

Jan G. Valecka is the founder and principal of Valecka Wealth Management, a boutique wealth and investment management firm in Dallas, Texas. Jan’s financial career began at Morgan Stanley from 1988–2005. After 17 years at a major wire house and obtaining the CFP® designation in 2004, she founded Valecka Wealth Management in August 2005. As an industry veteran, she has had the opportunity to help guide investors over the last three decades. Her mission is to help her clients simplify their financial life with planning.  

Jan received a B.B.A. in finance from the University of Texas at Tyler in 1987. She has served as a member of the FINRA Board of Arbitrators since 2003 and as a member of the Financial Planning Association of Dallas-Fort Worth Chapter since 2005. She chaired the Susan G. Komen Dallas Race for the Cure for Breast Cancer in 1998–99, and volunteers as a financial counselor at The Gatehouse ministry for women in need. She has received D Magazine’s award for “Best Financial Planner in Dallas” in 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017 and 2018. A native Texan, Jan is wife and sous chef to Bob and mother of teenage twins.

Did you know?


Average annual salary for financial planning paraplanner in Texas.


SMU also offers a Financial Planning Certificate.

Top job titles include paraplanner, associate financial planner, financial analyst, junior advisor and client services.

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