By Kevin R. Clark
While the Certified Financial Planner certification has long been considered the “gold standard” of financial planning credentials, it has recently become more of a foundational knowledge base for those serious about helping clients achieve their financial goals.
It, along with the Chartered Financial Consultant certification, provide planners with a broad base of information in multiple disciplines. To ensure proficiency, planners often pursue more specific knowledge in one of the CFP® or ChFC® domains. With that in mind, here are some options to consider for your next certification program:
The American College has two of the most exhaustive programs for insurance expertise: the Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter (CPCU®) and the Charted Life Underwriter (CLU®) certifications.
As the names suggest, the CPCU® focuses on deepening knowledge in P&C coverages, such as home and auto insurance, while the CLU® has a curriculum dedicated to strategies involving life insurance and annuity products.
The Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) program is among the most rigorous certifications, with a sizable time commitment needed to pass its three levels. CFA holders have deep technical knowledge in individual security analysis and selection, making this a preferred designation for institutional money managers.
For advisors less concerned with picking individual stocks, a good alternative may be the Certified Investment Management Analyst® (CIMA®) certification. CIMA® focuses more on portfolio allocation and fund manager selection, and it dedicates a large portion of the curriculum to behavioral finance and client communication – helping students learn how to explain what they are doing in a language that clients will understand.
The Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is among the most ubiquitous professional designations, yet it is often misinterpreted as a tax specialization. While the CPA does include some tax, most of its program is in financial accounting, a separate discipline that rarely comes up in planning conversations.
For those without a bachelor’s degree in accounting – typically required to pursue the CPA designation – and who have more interest in increasing tax expertise, the Enrolled Agent (EA) program may be a better option. Administered by the IRS, the EA curriculum is solely focused on taxes, and the IRS considers EAs on equal footing as CPAs with regards to taxpayer representation.
Many of the designations above filter into helping clients plan for retirement, however for a much deeper dive into retirement income strategies, you might consider either the Retirement Income Certified Professional® (RICP®) or the Retirement Management Advisor® (RMA®) certifications.
Both are focused strictly on maximizing retirement income streams and advising clients on their transition out of full-time work.
Most financial planners specializing in this domain are estate attorneys first and foremost. Thus, a JD degree with a focus in estate work is typical.
For those looking to advance proficiency in estate planning techniques even further, the Accredited Estate Planner® (AEP®) is among the most prestigious options. It requires holding at least one other advanced certification and having significant professional experience to enroll.
None of the above get into even more specialized designations, such as those catered to planners advising divorced clientele, or parents and students saving for college, or companies with 401(k) plans. The important thing is to make sure the certification delivers a good return on your investment of time and money.
Make sure it sufficiently deepens your knowledge, has a continuing education requirement to keep you current, and that the information is applicable to your business, allowing you to become a more trusted resource for current and prospective clients.
Kevin R. Clark is a Financial Advisor with Highview Advisor Group in Worthington, Ohio. He serves as the 2021 National FPA NexGen President-Elect.
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