Series 65 for Economists

Financial discussions often give the disclaimer “this is not investment advice” for legal reasons. I would always see this and wonder, is anyone ever willing to say “this *is* investment advice”?

The answer is, yes, licensed investment advisers do when speaking to their clients. How do people become licensed investment advisers? They start by taking the Series 65 exam.

I decided to take the Series 65 because I thought it would be a good learning opportunity, that it could be fun to tell people “this is investment advice”, and because it also provides the fast track to becoming an accredited investor. I’d like to have the option to invest in startups or hedge funds, but the SEC doesn’t let people do that unless they are rich (consistently over $300k/yr HH income, or $1mil in assets) or a licensed financial professional. I didn’t want to wait years to pass the income or asset tests, and so decided to pass the literal test instead.

I hoped that as a PhD economist who sometimes reads about finance for fun, I could pass the Series 65 without studying. This turned out not to be true, but it also wasn’t wildly wrong. You need to get at least 72% of questions correct to pass; taking a practice test cold I got 62%. I decided to first take the slightly easier Security Industry Essentials exam as a warmup. For both exams, I passed after spending ~ 2 weeks reading through the ~500 page study guides from the Securities Institute of America in my spare time.

For someone with an economics background, the exams will feature a few true econ questions you’ll know cold, a lot of “common sense” finance questions you probably know, some more specific finance questions you probably don’t know, and some specific questions about laws and regulations for investment advisers you almost certainly don’t know. This means you can speed through some parts of the study guide, but will need to slow way down in others. I found myself learning a roughly equal mix of things I’m happy to know for their own sake, things that would only be helpful to the extent I actually work as an investment adviser, and things that seem completely pointless.

Overall this seems like a decent way to spend a bit of time and money. Economists love to complain about people asking us for financial advice, and tend to either say “I don’t know, that’s not what economics is about” or give uninformed answers. But it doesn’t take that much time to educate yourself enough to be able to give people good, informed answers, so I think we should do so, especially when the alternatives people turn to tend to either be uninformed (friends or internet randos) or biased (advisers who get paid for steering them to high-fee investments).

That said, if your goal is actually to make money as an adviser or as an accredited investor, the Series 65 exam is only the first hoop to jump through. You still need to get licensed, which means either starting an investment advisory firm or joining one. I haven’t tried to do this yet despite passing the Series 65 in June, as I’ve been busy with my main job. I’d be interested to hear from anyone who has done this, especially anyone who got a part-time or consulting role just to get licensed to make accredited investments. How hard was it, how long did it take, what did you think of the actual work?

One thought on “Series 65 for Economists

  1. Scott Buchanan September 6, 2022 / 10:12 am

    Good for you!
    I have heard people involved in finance complain that many economists are ignorant of the role of money/finance in modern economies. Some economists seem to think that money/finance is merely a veil over the “real” economy. But these days things like Fed policies can wag the whole dog, via various mechanisms.


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