In November, I had the honor of representing The American College on stage as a faculty member at the 2017 Knowledge Summit. The culmination of the three-day biannual event was the conferring of degrees to students of our two masters programs, Master of Science in Management (MSM) and Master of Science in Financial Services (MSFS), and for the first time, our Ph.D. in Financial and Retirement Planning.
In addition, hundreds of students were recognized for the successful completion of various professional designations, from Chartered Leadership Fellow (CLF) to Retirement Income Certified Professional (RICP). I cannot think of a better way to exemplify the mission of The College — to raise the level of professionalism in financial services by promoting ongoing education, ethical practices and the pursuit of new knowledge for the benefit of society.
As an advocate of lifelong learning, I am reminded of a quote by Albert Einstein that states, “Once you stop learning, you start dying.” In our line of work, few things are truer. I encourage advisors to pursue professional designations for a number of reasons. It demonstrates a commitment to your career. It’s a way for you to stay current on changes and trends in the field. By expanding your body of knowledge, you differentiate yourself from other advisors. In addition, you earn a massive amount of continuing education credits in the process.
Many times, advisors may not know where to begin when it comes to selecting a designation. In fact, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority lists nearly 180 professional designations in their database. It is like the menu at The Cheesecake Factory — an overload of choices! Keep in mind that appearing in the database is not an approval or endorsement by the organization. It is merely a resource to help decode the alphabet soup of designations on the professional landscape.
Professional designations can be useful for distinguishing yourself as a subject matter expert in a particular area or enhancing your ability to serve a niche market. For example, if your focus is on retirement planning, you may consider the RICP, or, if you work with clients going through divorce, the Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA) is an option.
Consumers Care About Credentials
For the most part, consumers are unaware of the significance of various designations. Consumers may be surprised to learn that practically anyone can put up a shingle and claim to be a financial advisor or consultant. However, if a prospective client were to search how to select a financial advisor, one of the top questions to ask is, “What credentials or other certifications do you have?”
According to the CFP Board’s “Ten Questions to Ask Your Financial Advisor,” qualifications is No. 2 on the list. They state it is important to “ask about credentials your planner holds, and learn how they stay up to date with current changes and developments in the financial planning field.” As you know, individuals with professional designations are required to complete mandatory continuing education in order to maintain those credentials.
Having a professional designation is not only a way to distinguish oneself from other advisors, but also it is a way that we can begin to elevate our practice to the level of other professionals like lawyers and physicians. There are no “practice police” going around issuing cease-and-desist warnings to so-called pop-up planners.
Finally, here are a few things to consider before beginning work toward a designation.
Know exactly what you are getting into, including how long you have to complete the required coursework.
Create a study plan. Schedule study time on your calendar. Otherwise, time will get away from you and you will have to scramble to study at the last minute. Ask me how I know.
Find study partners. You can hold each other accountable throughout the process.
Check with your broker/dealer to see whether they recognize your designation. Just because it is listed in FINRA’s database does not mean your B/D will allow you to use it on things such as business cards and other stationery. Of course, this may or may not be a deal breaker, because you will still increase your knowledge base, but it is good to know so you will not be surprised.
Enjoy the process. Happy learning!
Jocelyn Wright is the chair of The State Farm Center for Women and Financial Services at The American College. Jocelyn may be contacted at [email protected]