Financial advisors seem to fall into two schools of thought regarding the way they present their designations.
There’s the minimalist approach, in which advisors pursue relevant credentials to enhance their practice, but don’t make much effort to promote those qualifications.
And then there are the advisors who seem to list every accolade they’ve earned since getting an attendance sticker at Sunday school.
The best approach may be somewhere in the middle.
“[Advisors] should be loud and proud,” says Joanne Blake, business etiquette expert with Style for Success in Edmonton. She recommends that you let your clients and prospects know every time you earn a new designation, emphasizing how it might help you help them.
“In general,” she says, “you really do want to hype up your credentials because it adds that level of credibility.”
But there’s a fine line between providing context and bragging, says George Torok, a business coach in Burlington, Ont. He asserts that listing every accomplishment can come off as pompous – especially if the list of abbreviations is too long.
“It becomes a distraction,” he says.
Torok believes in listing one or two of the most relevant designations in business communications. This list can be tailored to suit the circumstances.
For example, he says, having several versions of business cards and email signatures – each highlighting one or two credentials – can make sense for advisors targeting more than one audience.
This means that you might give a business card noting your insurance designation to a client asking about life insurance and a business card noting your elder care designation to retired prospects.
Longtime clients may deserve a break from the abbreviations altogether, he adds: “If you’ve been working with them for years, you don’t need to give them all [those initials].”
Listing designations that are prerequisites for other designations on the same list is unnecessary, Torok adds. For example, if you have earned a PhD, the pertinent undergrad degree is assumed; there’s no need to list it, he says.
Blake offers this simple rule of thumb: list no more than three designations, in order of priority.
There are indeed places in which every designation can be displayed, such as in the biography that appears on your website or on your LinkedIn profile.
Distilling your qualifications to a more manageable list for most correspondence is just a more polished way of doing business, she says.
So, whether you’re a rookie advisor hoping to chart a career path or a veteran looking to broaden your qualifications, what follows is a guide to some of the designations most likely to enhance the career of an advisor in Canada:
CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER
The CFP, the most popular – and arguably the most comprehensive – designation for advisors, is held by approximately 18,000 advisors across Canada.
This designation, conferred by the Financial Planning Standards Council (FPSC), is for advisors interested in building comprehensive financial plans for their clients.
What’s required: CFP candidates must complete an FPSC-approved core curriculum at a post-secondary institution or online. The course, which requires about 40 hours of study, is offered by the Financial Advisors Association of Canada (a.k.a. Advocis), the Canadian Institute of Financial Planning and the Canadian Securities Institute (CSI), as well as by several colleges and universities. Requirements include taking a “capstone” course, which is the final course that ties together all the financial learning and competencies, culminating in a case study based on a real-world client, and passing two exams.
The CFP course can be taken on its own or it can be folded into a diploma or bachelor’s degree program. Candidates with relevant financial planning qualifications, such as chartered financial analyst (CFA) and chartered life underwriter (CLU), may apply for fast-track options, which may include exemption from the CFP core curriculum, the first exam and the capstone course. Holders of the CFP must complete 25 hours of continuing education (CE) each year.
For more information: fpsc.ca
PERSONAL FINANCIAL PLANNER
The PFP designation is for bankers, mutual fund reps and investment advisors. Overseen by the CSI, the PFP originally was for bank employees who offer financial advice.
What’s required: Candidates, who should have at least three years of industry experience, first must pass the Canadian Securities Course (CSC), offered by the CSI, before taking courses toward the PFP, and they must pass the PFP final exam. They must not let more than five years elapse between passing the CSC and writing the PFP exam, or they will need to take a refresher course. Holders of the CFP and the Quebec equivalent, the Planificateur financier, can apply to take the PFP exam without taking the course.
More info: csi.ca
REGISTERED FINANCIAL PLANNER
The RFP, conferred by the Institute of Advanced Financial Planners, is a designation suitable for experienced advisors whose main activity is providing comprehensive financial plans. RFP holders are more likely than advisors holding a CFP or PFP to work under a fee-only or fee-based structure.
What’s required: RFP candidates must demonstrate industry experience and provide three referrals from professionals within the financial services sector, including at least one RFP holder. Candidates also must submit a financial plan, including a letter of engagement, for review. They must complete two exams (one of which is dedicated to ethics and practice standards), and all requirements must be completed within a two-year period. RFP candidates are paired with current RFP holders, who mentor candidates throughout the study process.
More info: iafp.ca
CHARTERED FINANCIAL ANALYST
The globally recognized CFA indicates a high level of knowledge and proficiency in advanced investment management. Institutional fund portfolio managers and private-wealth portfolio managers typically hold the CFA designation.
What’s required: The CFA program is provided in a self-study format overseen by the Virginia-based CFA Institute, which has many chapters around the world. The course is divided into three levels, covering investment analysis, valuation and portfolio management. Each level requires its own exam (scheduled in either June or December). The Level 1 exam, which takes a gruelling six hours, is notorious for weeding out a good number of contenders. Exam pass rates for Level 1 are about 43%.
More info: cfainstitute.org
CHARTERED INVESTMENT MANAGER
The CIM is an advanced designation for investment advisors wishing to provide discretionary portfolio management for high net-worth or institutional clients. Offered by the CSI, the CIM also is an appropriate licensing qualification for research analysts, product managers and mutual fund wholesalers. Some universities may offer CIM holders credit toward a master’s of business administration (MBA). Dalhousie University in Halifax, for example, offers CIM holders credit for up to three courses toward its MBA degree in financial services.
What’s required: Candidates must complete one of two web-based learning paths, one of which is tailored to advisors who hold a CFP or PFP. Two years of related work experience also is required. CIM holders must earn annual CE credits.
More info: csi.ca
CHARTERED LIFE UNDERWRITER
The CLU designation qualifies advisors to recommend insurance products to clients. The CLU is for advisors who offer advanced estate planning services, such as advice on risk management and wealth transfer, or offer living-benefits products. Overseen by the designation-granting and standards-setting body of Advocis, the CLU is ideal for advisors working with high net-worth families and independent business owners.
What’s required: Candidates must take four requisite courses, which can be bypassed by CFP holders, and three core courses. The designation must be renewed annually and requires annual CE credits.
More info: advocis.ca
CERTIFIED HEALTH INSURANCE SPECIALIST
The CHS, another Advocis offering, is for advisors who sell living benefits, such as disability, critical illness and long-term care insurance. This designation replaces the registered health underwriter designation.
What’s required: Three courses (two core courses and one elective) and annual CE credits.
More info: advocis.ca
ELDER PLANNING COUNSELLOR
The EPC credential, for advisors who want to specialize in the post-retirement market, is overseen by the Canadian Initiative for Elder Planning Studies Inc. The EPC covers the financial planning concerns of seniors, such as caregiving, housing and end-of-life planning, including legacy planning.
What’s required: A three-and-a-half-day classroom course or distance learning (self-paced, to a maximum of six months), culminating in a final exam.
More info: cieps.com
CHARTERED FINANCIAL DIVORCE SPECIALIST
The CFDS is for advisors interested in serving clients who are undergoing a marital separation or divorce. A CFDS holder can work with lawyers and mediators, or directly with clients, to assess potential financial settlements.
What’s required: The CFDS is monitored by the Sudbury, Ont.-based Academy of Financial Divorce Specialists. The CFDS is for advisors who already have an existing financial designation. Studies consist of four modules and exams, including a final case-study exam. Applicants must earn annual CE credits.
More info: afds.ca
CERTIFIED DIVORCE FINANCIAL ANALYST
Like the CFDS, the CDFA is for advisors interested in working in pre-divorce financial planning. The CDFA is overseen by the Durham, N.C.-based Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts.
What’s required: A three-module self-study program and a final exam. The Canadian version of study contains a Canada-specific case-study module.
More info: institutedfa.com