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DCE Magazine

Alumni Spotlight: How the DCE Paved My Way to an MBA

Spring 2017

Matthew White had a plan and a vision. He was working in insurance but aspired to something more fulfilling, a career with growth potential that was more suited to his talents and passions. Ultimately, he wanted to start a company and work for himself.

“I knew I wanted to be more than a sales rep,” said the 30-year-old. “So I decided to pursue an education that would lead to becoming a Certified Financial Planner™. I felt that getting the certification is a great way to learn the virtues and drawbacks of each field in the financial industry.”

Looking to fast-track his journey, White enrolled in the Personal Financial Planning certificate program offered by UCI's Division of Continuing Education and passed the CFP® exam. He was quickly hired by JPMorgan Chase in 2011 as an investment specialist while he pursued his MBA.

Today he leads his own accounting and business consulting firm, White & Company in Costa Mesa, as a Certified Public Accountant serving hundreds of clients.

Kelly EricksonKelly Erickson took the PFP certificate program while working as a licensed banker at Chase, looking to become a CFP® professional. But she opted for a more leisurely pace — one class a term with a couple of terms off. And like White, taking the UCI program resulted in immediate dividends.

“The fact that I was enrolled in the UCI program and that I was a year-over-year top producer at the bank, my manager promoted me to the position of Financial Advisor,” the 34-year-old said. “I originally enrolled to advance my knowledge in the financial services industry because I fell in love with working one-on-one with my clients and becoming their trusted financial resource.”

The PFP program was just the first step. Like White, Erickson opted to advance her career even further by transferring course credits to an M.B.A. in Financial Planning at California Luthern University. Same goal, but their paths diverged in different ways.

Armed with her prestigious MBA, Erickson is now a Wealth Advisor for Partners Federal Credit Union of the Walt Disney Company — a dream job of hers.

“Having a CFP® certification and MBA in Personal Financial Planning really helps the client respect you,” she said. “I will say that the knowledge I obtained during my role as a student at UCI and Cal Lutheran has really opened my eyes. I have so much more confidence talking with my clients. I think less of the product sales process and more about really helping my clients achieve their financial dreams.”

Erickson's passion and personal approach reflect the values of her UCI instructors, she said — a benefit even beyond the financial expertise she acquired.

Designed for finance professionals, recent college grads or anyone seeking a background in the financial industry, the PFP certificate program consists of eight courses, offered on campus and online to suit individuals who are employed full-time. There's also a PFP Accelerated Option that can be completed in eight months over select weekends, available for professionals with at least three years’ experience in finance, law or insurance.

Both programs satisfy requirements set by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. So once the certificate is achieved, participants are prepared to sit for the CFP® exam. They're also eligible to transfer up to five courses to an M.B.A. in Financial Planning at California Lutheran University — quite a distinction for a continuing education program.

Like many other participants, White was planning to get his MBA anyway and found this to be a tremendous advantage. He was able to complete the degree in 18 months while he was working.

“I lived close by and did my undergraduate work there, so I knew UCI was a world-class university,” he said. “My first step was becoming a CFP® professional, then go for an MBA. The transferable units really jump-started my path and put me almost one-third of the way to getting my MBA. It saved me a lot of time and money.”

The advanced degree gave him a broad and deep perspective of all aspects of the financial industry. It also positioned him well ahead of his competition as a Certified Financial Planner™, he said. And once he became a CPA and started his company, his academic and professional background made him a standout choice for clients, “rather than just another CPA who files forms.”

Indeed, White launched his business a year ago and went from zero clients to 440 and counting, most of them large companies.

“The MBA program gave me exposure to knowledge in such a broad range of financial fields like securities and tax law,” he said. “I was able to decide which field was best for me. So I took the next step and became a CPA.”

Erickson, on the other hand, didn't even know she could transfer units from the program when she enrolled with UCI. It wasn't until she got her position with Disney that she decided to pursue her MBA at Cal Lutheran, over a four-year period to accommodate her career and nascent family.

Being able to pursue her education over several years, from PFP certificate to MBA, was a big plus that paid off. Flexibility is among the key advantages offered by the Personal Financial Planning program, she said.

“I started the program single and ended the program married with two kids, a CFP® certification and an MBA,” Erickson said. “During this entire learning process, from 2008 until 2016, I learned so much material. It takes time to really absorb it, apply it, challenge it. Luckily, the online classes provided by the UCI program made it very easy to balance both work and family while enjoying the learning process and furthering my career.”

Moreover, most of the instructors in the PFP program are working professionals in the financial planning and advising business, she said, full of real-world experience and first-hand anecdotes to share, which made the courses especially relevant and inspiring.

“The instructors were all very informative and helpful,” she added. “They also made the learning process enjoyable, and you can tell they really enjoy the topics they are teaching. It's not just a paycheck that motivates them but a passion to teach and further expand the Personal Financial Planning material to their students and within their own lives.”

As with many programs offered by the Division of Continuing Education and Cal Lutheran, the PFP certificate and MBA are tailored to accommodate working professionals — or anyone with proper qualifications looking to advance their careers at their own individual pace.

White's plan was to complete his education ASAP and launch his own company before marrying his fiancée, Erica, this coming July and settling into their home in Newport Beach. Being able to get certified as a financial planner while stockpiling credits for Cal Lutheran definitely helped make it happen, he said.

“It's so nice to have my education out of the way,” he added. “It provides freedom and security, not having to worry about juggling work, family and school. It's such a juggling act, something has to give. Now I have time to focus on my career and family.”

Erickson's more incremental path worked out wonderfully, she said. Now she can settle into a career she loves and enjoy life with her husband, Raleigh, and two sons, ages 2 and 5, in their home in Eastvale.

Any plans to continue pursuing her education? Not in the foreseeable future, she said, “but you never know what the future may bring.” Erickson is interested in the emerging field of behavioral finance and might take a course when she feels ready.

“Right now I am just enjoying the role I am in as a Wealth Advisor,” Erickson added. “You know the saying, ‘when preparation meets opportunity.’ I believe it is very important to hone your skills and to continue expanding your knowledge in the field you are passionate about. As a woman on the cusp of the Millennials and GenX, I think there will be many opportunities for me throughout my career.”

California Lutheran University, School of Management, MBA in Financial Planning