Independent, Fee-Only Financial Advisor

Independent, Fee-Only Financial Advisor

Thursday, November 05, 2020

What is the value of Professional Designations?

People often ask about certifications and licenses that financial advisors have. With over two hundred Professional Designations recognized by FINRA (one of our regulatory bodies) this is an important question!

Professional Designations or certifications indicate some particular expertise or knowledge about a subject. There are certifications relating to estate planning, retirement planning, college finance, insurance and every other personal finance topic imaginable. Certifications generally go above and beyond the qualifying exams that FINRA administers. These exams, known as the series exams, "ensure that an individual acquires a minimum level of understanding and expertise."

Financial professionals like myself may pursue a professional designation to gain in depth knowledge of a subject, experience in a new topic or just to stand out in the crowd by showing off how clever we are. To that end, I was looking up estate planning designations today when I noticed something odd:

Some designations were flimsy, and some were downright vapid.

I don't want to give too much attention to this obvious grift, but the Registered Estate Planner designation is devoid of any meaning. There are no education requirements, no exam, no way to verify or complain about individuals and practically no experience pre-requisite. Their website touts designations like "Registered Investment Banker" Registered Legal Professional" or "Registered Health Insurance Professional" all for people who may not have much knowledge, expertise or relevant work experience.


When people ask me what my certifications mean, I can tell them with pride about the hundreds of hours of study, the exams and the years of experience that it took. I had a very supportive work environment and a local chapter to lean on to earn the CFA Charter. I may pursue other designations for formal education in topics relevant to my clients lives, so that I can better serve them.

Bot for those looking for a financial professional, keep in mind, not all designations are created equally, and some are not even worth the paper they are printed on.