As you search for expert help, you will come across a variety of job titles, including the title financial advisor, financial planner, financial consultant, or even account executive. As you look around keep in mind that anyone can use generic titles such as these, regardless of his or her training or education.
Lest you think titles are everything, there is an “alphabet soup" of credentials—CFP, CPA, CFS, and CSA, to name a few. Advisors who have credentials is usually a good thing because having a professional designation suggests a commitment to the field involving some combination of work experience, formal study and continuing education.
Professional credentials or job titles can not guarantee the quality of an advisor's services or ensure that your needs will be met. You will want to understand their primary interest - if they prefer to sell you a financial product rather than provide impartial guidance, watch out.
The following explanations will help you thread your way through the best-known professional credentials and the types of advisors who may hold them (and some may hold more than one):
Certified Financial Planner (CFP)
This designation is awarded by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards to individuals who have had at least three years of work experience in the financial planning field, completed an approved course of study, and passed an exam.
Certified Funds Specialists (CFS)
This designation is for financial planners and investment advisors who focus on investments using mutual funds. The CFS designation indicates advisors who are qualified to consult with clients on the advisability and costs of acquiring or retaining mutual funds as part of their investment portfolio. They must complete six ten-hour educational modules provided by the Institute of Business and Finance on: Investment Companies; Fixed-Rate & Variable Annuities; Wealth Management & Performance Measurement; The Planning Cycle; Strategies; and Asset Allocation.
Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
Business accountants, some of who specialize in personal tax planning and preparation, hold this designation. To qualify, they must pass a two-day examination administered by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and meet state licensing requirements relating to work experience and, in most states, special academic work.
Certified Senior Advisor (CSA)
The Society of Certified Senior Advisors offers this designation. The Society is dedicated to providing initial and continuing education about key senior issues to professionals serving the senior market. This program provides participants with the tools they will need to communicate more successfully with their senior clients.
Advisors serving seniors need a credible source of information and access to training from recognized experts in issues important to seniors. Certification is awarded upon successful class completion (21 instruction hours) followed by an exam.
Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)
This designation is from by the Association for Investment Management and Research to investment professionals who have worked in the investment industry for three years and have passed each of three yearly exams involving security analysis and professional money management.
Registered Investment Advisor (RIA)
This designation is neither an indication of expertise nor a license to buy or sell securities. It merely indicates that an individual, or his or her employing firm, was required under federal securities laws to file (for a nominal fee) with the Securities and Exchange Commission or a state securities commission for a license to dispense investment advice.
Securities brokers who have passed mandatory basic exams given by the National Association of Securities Dealers, a regulatory body for the securities industry, hold this designation. Securities brokers recommend investments for clients and execute client orders to buy and sell securities such as stocks, bonds, options, and mutual funds.
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