The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article “Is Your Advisor Pumping His Credentials?” The article discussed how some of the initials that some advisors use after their names may not be as impressive as he/she would like you to think.
Rather than question any of the credentials and designations that exist in my profession, I’d like to discuss several that I hold in terms of my career as a financial advisor.
Certified Financial Planner CFP®
I earned this designation in 1996, about the time that I entered the financial planning profession. Over a period of several years I passed exams in the areas of financial planning, insurance, retirement planning and employee benefits, investments, taxes, and estate planning. This was culminated by a two day, ten hour comprehensive final exam.
Currently about 52% of those who sit for the exam pass it. On an ongoing basis I am required to complete 30 hours of continuing education every two years. Two of the hours must be in an approved ethics course.
NAPFA Registered Advisor
NAPFA stands for the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors. NAPFA is the largest professional organization of fee-only financial advisors in the country. NAPFA members are required to complete 60 hours of continuing education every two years, including the required areas of retirement planning, investments, tax, estate planning, insurance, ethics, and client communication. Each member signs a Fiduciary Oath and reaffirms that oath every year at renewal. By far the biggest benefit of NAPFA membership is the ability to interact with a group of like-minded advisors who are willing and ready to share their wealth of industry knowledge and experience. I regularly utilize this knowledge base for the benefit of my clients.
I earned my MBA at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I was especially fortunate to be the recipient of a scholarship that covered tuition, and a graduate assistantship that covered living expenses.
The MBA degree was beneficial as I launched my career in corporate finance and accounting. While not directly beneficial as a financial planner, I did learn much about various areas of business. Being a financial advisor is a business and I do find much of the knowledge gained from my MBA studies is very applicable in this role.
My undergraduate degree was in finance from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. This did provide much of my initial knowledge of finance, accounting, economics, and statistics.
Illinois Insurance License
Frankly, I hold this license because I was told that I could be prosecuted for providing insurance advice to my clients without it. I have never checked into whether or not this is true. Essentially the 30 hours of continuing education required every two years is pretty simple and takes virtually no time to complete. There are numerous vendors who provide insurance CE, most of it involves open book tests that are completed online. It is very disappointing to me that the bar to initially receive and to maintain an Illinois Life and Health Insurance License is so low. (As a fee-only advisor I do not sell insurance or any other financial or investment products.)
There are many other designations that enhance a financial advisor’s knowledge and allow him to add value to his clients. The best route is to ask your advisor about her credentials and her professional designations and affiliations. Ask what was required to earn the designation, what are the continuing education requirements tied to the designation, and what value this adds to their ability to serve your needs.
Here is the link to the Wall Street Journal article referenced above.