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Professional designations mean very little
May 6, 2013
by Brian Wolf

If you have ever wondered what professional designations mean in the insurance or investment professions, you’re not alone. Most consumers have no idea what these professional designations mean. As a matter of fact, most financial professionals have no idea either.

One of the reasons for this is that in the financial services industry we have very few standards that are for everyone. For example, there are designations for insurance only professionals, as well as designations for people just in the securities business.

Do you know that a CLU is very different from a CFP? Last time I checked, the financial services profession had more than 100 professional designations.

Now, what would you think if the dentistry profession had more than 100 professional designations? I found the following on the Internet.

“Many people, including dentists, are confused over the use of the D.D.S. and D.M.D. degrees. Today, some dental schools grant a D.D.S. (Doctor of Dental Surgery) degree, while others prefer to award the D.M.D. (Doctor of Dental Medicine) degree instead. The training the dentists receive is very similar, but the name of the degree granted is different.”

As far as I’m concerned, as long as he is a real doctor, that’s good enough for me.

They said that people are confused with just two different designations?

What about more than 100 with the financial services professions? If you have trouble telling the difference between a CFA, CFP, CIC, CSA, ChFC, or any of the other multitude of financial certifications and designations, you’re not alone.

The following is from Investments News.

“There are now more than 50 senior certification designations in use, all with widely-varying educational or experiential requirements behind them, according to a report published by the CFPB (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau). The glut of credentials, coupled with the fact that the acronyms for some of those credentials are nearly identical, puts older adults at serious risk of fraud, the report concluded.”

To call this an alphabet soup mess is an understatement. How is the general public supposed to know what training, certifications, or designations are to be valued, and which ones are merely shams to make the holder seems, better trained or more knowledgeable than they actually are?

It wasn’t too long ago that you could actually just buy a designation.

For example, if you wanted to look really smart, you could just buy something like a CIK (Certified Investment Knucklehead) or something similar.

When I say buy, I mean you could send them a check for let’s say $3,000 take a 10-minute financial test on line that any fifth grader could pass and “wah-lah” you’re now a CIK, with a plaque on the wall to prove it.

This is not to imply that all designations are worthless, some are very difficult and expensive to acquire. I’m simply stating that a designation by itself doesn’t mean very much.

I know lots of advisors who list a bunch of designations on their business cards. I used to be one of them. The simple truh is, designations don’t make a good advisor; experience and common sense are far more important.

So, the next time you look for a financial advisor, don’t look for designations, they really are a dime a dozen. Look at the person’s experience, the licenses they hold, and, of course, use your gut to decide if you can trust their advice.


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