When I look for a doctor, there are only a few “designations” to know – M.D or D.O., and maybe one indicating a specialty. For accountants, there is the gold standard “CPA” designation. For financial planners and advisers, however, there are so many different acronyms that we can put after our names that I don’t blame the general public for being confused!
A recent bulletin put out by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) tries to help investors better understand the titles used by financial professionals. They summarize it well:
The requirements for obtaining and using these titles vary widely, from rigorous to nothing at all. To use certain titles, a financial professional may need to pass exams, meet ethical standards, have relevant work experience, and undertake continuing education. Other titles, however, may be obtained with little time, effort, and experience.
The bulletin is a good summary that you can read if you or someone you know is looking for financial advice (or wants to re-examine who they are working with now).
The key takeaways are:
- An adviser with two lines of designations on their business card may be less qualified to help you than one without any designations;
- Google is your friend to find out what it takes to earn and keep the designations you see; and
- Don’t use designations alone as a shortcut in evaluating an adviser’s ability to help you – they should only be one factor to consider!
My hope is that these “designations” that are nothing more than a marketing tool get wiped out soon, since they diminish the importance and validity that more established designations (like the CFP designation) confer on those of us who hold them!