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The most common and one of the most stringent of certifications for financial planners, this certification is conferred and owned by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. Many regard it as the “gold standard” of financial advisor designations. It requires a bachelor’s degree; extensive professional experience; passing a difficult exam in financial planning, taxes, insurance, estate planning and retirement; plus completing continuing education programs each year.
A credential given to degree-holding financial professionals who have completed four years of professional financial experience, and have passed three grueling exams covering investment management, financial analysis, ethics, stocks, bonds, derivatives, and other areas of finance. It is considered by many to be the gold standard of financial analysis. A financial advisor with this designation is well qualified to manage your investments – perhaps even too qualified. CFA®s are usually employed by large firms for financial analysis, typically not by individuals for personal financial planning.
An association whose members are advisors who are paid strictly through fees instead of commission, and who adhere to a strict code of ethics. As we’ve written before, this type of payment structure is often cited as the least likely to cause conflicts of interest. NAPFA is the also the only financial planning organization that requires a peer review of a candidate member’s work before granting membership. If you find a financial advisor with this acronym, you can be sure they’ve sworn to put your interests first when managing – or advising you on – your money.
Issued by the International Foundation for Retirement Education (InFRE®), this designation is the oldest and most established program specializing in retirement financial guidance. It requires that a candidate have a bachelor’s degree plus two years relevant professional experience (within the past five years), or high school diploma plus five years relevant professional experience (within the past seven years). They must pass a background check and – after self-study – an exam. It requires continuing education after that. (Watch out for unaccredited retirement designations, by the way. Many have popped up to confuse and take advantage of seniors seeking financial advice.)
Awarded by the College for Financial Planning to professionals who complete a study program and pass a multiple-choice exam with a focus on problem solving for clients, including personal savings, retirement plans, income taxes, retirement cash flow, asset management, estate planning, and more. CRPC® professionals must complete 16 hours of continuing education every two years. If you are approaching retirement, this is a beneficial designation for your advisor to have. (Again, as we warned above, watch out for unaccredited retirement designations!)
A financial professional with this designation helps clients who are going through a divorce, by helping them understand and estimate the long-term ramifications of a potential divorce agreement. They handle tax issues, dividing property, determining alimony and child support, and the impact on retirement of a divorce. A CDFA® is not a substitute for a divorce lawyer, but an additional professional who can help you protect your finances and come to an equitable and fair agreement, financially speaking. Often a CFDA® is hired through the divorce attorney, to preserve attorney-client privilege. Two organizations – The Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts™ (IDFA™) and The Academy of Financial Divorce Practitioners – give out the designation. Both require self-guided study in a six-month course, plus prior professional experience in finance or law.
This professional is certified by the Investment Advisor Association (IAA) as someone who has high expertise in portfolio management. They have at least five years of experience managing portfolios (often for large accounts and mutual funds), have a CFA® designation, work at a IAA member firm spending more than half of their time doing portfolio work, have submitted professional and character references, and have passed a series of exams. A CIC is held to a higher set of ethical standards, and must get re-certified yearly.
Widely recognized as an important title for financial professionals who work with clients with assets worth more than $5 million, this designation is issued by the non-profit Investment Management Consultants Association and covers tax, estate and retirement planning. It requires six months of online courses, a week of in-person classes, a half-day exam, and continuing education. Plus, candidates must have a Bachelor’s degree or one of these designations: CIMA®, CIMC®, CFA®, CFP®, ChFC® or a CPA license, plus five years of professional experience helping clients.
A professional designation granted by the American College to professionals who have three years professional experience in the financial industry, plus have completed several financial education courses and examinations. Most applicants also have a degree in business or finance, though that is not a requirement.
This designation denotes a high level of consulting expertise, focusing on asset allocation, ethics, due diligence, risk measurement, investment policy and performance measurement. CIMA professionals tend to work for financial consulting firms managing large client accounts. Candidates for this designation must have three years of financial experience, a satisfactory record of ethical conduct completion of a classroom program, and completion of two exams. Extensive continuing education is required.
This designation focuses on asset classes that don’t fall under the usual umbrella of stocks or bonds. It’s given to advisors by an organization of the same acronym, the Chartered Alternative Investment Association®, which was founded relatively recently, in 2002. A CAIA has a Bachelor’s degree, has passed two exams, has more than a year of relevant work experience or four years of professional experience, and pays annual dues. An advisor with this designation will be familiar with private equity, hedge funds, commodities, and real estate, among other things.
This professional designation is for advisors specializing in life insurance and estate planning. It requires the completion of several courses, plus several exams. It’s usually achieved on top of getting a CFP certification.
Financial professionals with the CFS® designation specialize in advising clients on mutual funds. This does not license a professional to buy or sell funds, but if they have the correct license, they often will buy and sell funds for their clients. The Institute of Business & Finance (IBF) provides a 60-hour self-study program, and requires that candidates have a bachelor’s degree or 2,000 hours of related industry experience.
Awarded by the College for Financial Planning to professionals who specialize in creating, implementing and maintaining retirement plans for businesses. It requires candidates to pass an exam, continuing education, and a small fee. WHY? > This would only be useful for your advisor to have if you are an entrepreneur. (Again, watch out for unaccredited retirement designations!)
An undergraduate academic degree commonly award to liberal arts students. In this case, it just means your advisor has a college degree. It’s not enough to be a financial advisor, but a start.
An undergraduate academic degree. These degrees tend to be more science and math heavy – a financial advisor with a B.S. most likely got a degree in business or finance. This is a great underpinning for their financial education, but again, it may not be not enough, so look for additional certifications and designations.
A postgraduate degree with a focus on business. It’s an excellent underpinning for a financial career, but you should still look for an additional certification in financial planning.
Given by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) to those who have passed its Series 7 licensing exam and are regulated by the same entity. An advisor with this designation is licensed to sell securities and is often known as a stockbroker, or a broker for short. A professional with this designation will be especially equipped to give investment related advice and manage investments. Most Series 7 advisors will charge you on a commissions basis.
This designation is fairly easy to acquire, by passing the series 65 exam(conducted by FINRA) and paying a fee to the SEC. There are no ongoing education requirements. If an advisor has a CFP, ChFC, CIC, PFS, or CFA designation they can waive the examination and receive the license automatically. So most people who take the exam are former stockbrokers, insurance agents, or commercial bankers. All IARs are subject to the regulations of the SEC, and have to be registered with the state and/or federal regulators. A professional with this designation will be especially equipped to give investment related advice. You might see them working at firms called a Registered Investment Advisors, or RIAs.
This is the official license for a practicing accountant. An advisor with this designation has passed the Uniform Certified Public Accountant Examination after completing a certain amount of hours of professional experience. In most U.S. states, only CPAs who are licensed are able prepare and advise you on your taxes, excepting Arizona, Kansas, and North Carolina, where the designation of CPA and the practice of auditing are not restricted. Anyone who handles your taxes should have this designation but it isn’t necessary, or even widely found amongst financial advisors.
This credential goes above and beyond the CPA credential. It’s awarded by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) to CPAs who can help you plan all aspects of your wealth – estate planning, retirement planning, investing, insurance – not just tax planning. To become a PFS, advisors must be active members of the AICPA, have at least three years of financial planning experience, submit recommendations, and pass a written exam. They also must complete 60 hours of continuing professional education every three years, and pay several hundred dollars a year in fees.
This designation is given by the Institute for Management Accountants to professionals who are interested in managing the finances of a company. It requires work experience, a two-part exam, and continuing education. This certification is not necessary if you are looking for a professional to help you with your personal finances. You might also see this as “Certified Financial Management” in a professional’s list of certifications.
This is a designation given to financial educators or counselors who have completed six months in relevant experience, have a high school diploma or GED, and have passed an online exam. It is issued by the Center for Financial Certifications, or Fincert.org. This designation is helpful for professionals who are educating you on personal finance or advising you on basic financial topics such as budgeting or paying off debt, but you wouldn’t want the person managing your money to have this (unless they have several other designations or credentials as well). It’s a certification you’ll often find in the nonprofit sector.
Advisor will manage your portfolio by buying and selling investments (e.g., stocks, bonds, mutual funds, ETFs) to help you achieve your specific investment goals.
Advisor may help you create a formal, structured plan and 'to-do' list to help you reach your short and long term financial goals. Plans often take into account your current assets, liabilities, expenses, as well as any expected future cashflows. NOTE: Advisor may not manage the plan once created; however, advisors that also offer investment management services often do.
Advisor may advise on an overall investment strategy, including selecting investments or money managers to work with. While they may not manage the strategy for you, most consultants will actively monitor it and provide ongoing advice based on changing goals and market conditions. Check if advisor also provides investment management for more involved management.
The advisor may provide advice on how to allocate your investments between specific asset classes (e.g., equities, fixed income, cash, international investments, real estate and alternative investments). In addition, you may be in charge of managing your own investments and executing based on the advisor's recommendations. If you are looking for investment execution related services, check if advisor also provides investment management.
Advisor may help you plan for your ideal retirement taking into account your savings, investments, expected future income and cashflows, company retirement plans (401k, pension, etc.) and retirement goals.
Advisor may help you manage your tax liabilities and offer tax efficient investment/financial solutions.
Advisor may help you prepare for and manage college/education related expenses, including using tax advantaged education investment accounts (e.g. 529).
Advisor may provide you with advice on buying, selling, and financing real estate.
Advisor can help you plan and structure your estate, to ensure proper distribution of assets to your heirs, charities, etc., upon your passing. Advisors are often assisted by a licensed Estate Attorney.
Advisor may provide advice on selecting appropriate insurance solutions (e.g., life, heath, disability).
Advisor can offer access to non-traditional investments (e.g., private equity, hedge funds, commercial real estate); these investments tend to be illiquid and are typically only available to investors with a certain amount of assets.
Advisor can offer you loans or lines of credit as part of a broader financial strategy.
Advisor focuses on the unique financial and estate planning issues of the LGBT community.
Advisor focuses on socially responsible investing ('SRI'), which often refers to investments in companies engaged in social justice, environmental sustainability, and alternative energy/clean technology efforts, while often avoiding companies in the 'vice' (alcohol, gambling, and tobacco) or extractive energy/oil and gas industries.
Advisor provides financial planning strategies and solutions for clients whose lives and finances span the US and other countries.
Advisor can help business owners set up employer sponsored retirement plans (e.g., 401(k)) for their employees.
Other fee structures not listed here
Fee is billed hourly based on the amount of work done by advisor
Fee is is a flat charge, either billed by service, quarterly or annually
This is a transactional fee assessed every time an investment product is bought/sold
Also referred to as "fee based". Fees are based on a mix of a) a percentage of the assets being managed and b) commissions on certain products like insurance, annuities, etc.
Fee is based on a percentage of the assets being managed by the financial advisor
An advisor's score is based on people's experience when meeting with the advisor - were they professional, did they understand the person's goals, etc. It helps you get a sense of what you can expect if you choose to connect with the advisor. It is not a rating of their investment performance! When another GuideVine user, or in some cases actual clients of the advisor, fills in the survey, it is automatically reflected in the advisor's score and on the feedback page you can see how many people have filled out the survey, were they clients, etc. Ok, now for the legalese:
The survey that produced these results was created by GuideVine. The survey was not prepared to produce any pre-determined results that could benefit the Advisor and relies on the truthful and accurate responses of survey participants. To determine the rating, the following questions were asked regarding the advisor:
Questions 1 through 4 each comprise ~15% of the score, question 5 comprises ~8% of the score and question 6 comprises ~30% of the score. Results for Question 7 are presented independent of the score.
The rating may not be representative of any one client’s experience because the rating reflects an average of all, or a sample of all, of the experiences of the investment Advisor clients surveyed. No subjective analysis was incorporated. The rating is not indicative of the investment Advisor’s future performance. GuideVine is not affiliated with any Advisors. Each Advisor’s flat fee for belonging to GuideVine includes their ability to participate in this survey service.