MFDA wants to regulate “financial planner” title

Taking courses and gaining accreditations can improve your knowledge and your ability to serve your clients. Designations also can communicate a level of professionalism that distinguishes you from your competition.

“[Earning a designation is] one of the ways you can prove that you care,” says Sara La Gamba, financial advisor with King Financial and Benefits Inc. in Toronto. “You’re not just doing the minimum.”

Choose courses that are aligned with your business goals. While many people in the financial services sector begin with the Canadian Securities Course, most financial advisors work toward financial planning designations such as certified financial planner (CFP) or registered financial planner (RFP). Other, secondary designations are often more specialized.

For example, if you want to work with divorcing clients, consider pursuing the certified divorce financial analyst (CDFA) or the chartered financial divorce specialist (CFDS) course. If your goal is to work with retirees, you might consider an elder planning counsellor (EPC) course.

Finding the time and the discipline to complete these courses can be a challenge, says Kim Poulin, a coach with the Personal Coach in Montreal. “Focus on what the payoff might be,” she says, “to keep yourself motivated.”

Here are a few suggestions to help you stay focused on earning new credentials:

> Ask colleagues for guidance
With a wide array of designations to choose from, it can be hard to decide which one to pursue first. La Gamba asked her peers for advice on how to prepare for the tougher courses.

She started with the relatively short but relevant EPC course. That experience helped prepare her for the more demanding and lengthy CFP designation.

“You can feel a little intimidated, but you’re not alone,” says La Gamba. “Talk to people who have gone through it, since every program will be different.”

> Block out time to study
Try to set a regimented schedule for tackling the course work, in which you consistently set aside several hours each week. Ideally, you should plant yourself in a quiet spot, free of interruptions and distractions, says Poulin.

La Gamba suggests you pore over the syllabus at the outset and take note of important dates and assignments. Highlight material that you anticipate to be challenging so you can devote more time to it. Once you have an idea of how much time you will need to devote to study, you can adapt your work schedule around it.

“In the beginning, I had no structure for planning for the exam or course work,” says La Gamba. “Now, I plug the hours I need into my calendar.”

> Form a peer study group
If you need help in getting yourself to stick to a routine, consider organizing or joining a study group. You can swap notes or assign topics with fellow students as a way to help one another stay on top of the weekly material.

La Gamba prefers to study independently. “It all comes down to personal preference,” she says.

> Don’t overload yourself with courses
You shouldn’t feel pressure to pursue more than one course at a time or take courses in rapid succession. La Gamba recommends taking a six-month break between courses.

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