For many financial advisors, having professional designation letters after their names on correspondence and business cards is becoming increasingly important. These marks of academic and professional achievement set them apart from their competition and often indicate a higher level of competence and standard of professionalism.
However, in recent years, the number and scope of designations available has mushroomed exponentially, and many advisors are now unsure of which credential will serve them most effectively, especially when it comes to specialized designations within the senior citizen market. Here we will take a closer look at these senior designations and whether they are worth pursuing.
What are Senior Designations?
Within the financial planning arena, a number of new designations have been created in recent years. These designations focus on the senior market, which includes those aged 50 and up. This demographic segment of financial planning consumers has become increasingly targeted from almost every direction by the financial services industry, including banks, insurance companies and independent financial and estate planners.
Legitimate Designation Or Marketing Ploy?
Here are four main designations that claim to confer "expertise" in the area of seniors' finances:
Certified Senior Advisor - this is probably the best-known of the senior advisory designations. Offered by the Society of Certified Senior Advisors, this designation can be earned by taking just three days of coursework. Many advisors who earn this designation work primarily with fixed or indexed annuities; however, there are also a number of non-financial professionals who carry this designation, including estate planning attorneys and healthcare professionals and administrators.
Fixed or indexed annuity products tend to have terms lasting 10 to 15 years and are often illiquid after the first year or two. It is important to carefully consider what these advisors present, as many will often make assertions at their seminars regarding the dangers of mutual funds, or virtually any type of investment other than what they sell. These blanket recommendations might not always apply to the potential clients.
Certified Senior Consultant - Offered by the Institute of Business and Finance, this designation requires only 25 to 30 hours of self-study plus three final exams, along with 15 hours of continuing education per year for the first five years. The coursework covers the basics of Social Security and Medicare, long-term care planning, annuities and other retirement income, elder care and other related topics.
Certified Senior Specialist - This designation is by far the most academically complete of the senior designations. While it is not in the same category as the Certified Financial Planner™ (CFP™) certification or other similar, established designations, it does contain a reasonably complete academic curriculum covering the following subjects:
- Retirement income and planning
- Income and estate tax planning
- All types of annuities
- Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid
- Long-term care and elder care issues
- Demographics of the senior market
- Basic charitable and estate planning techniques
- Reverse mortgages
- Basics of investment selection
This credential, while hardly comprehensive, can at least provide advisors with a basic academic background when doing business with seniors.
Chartered Senior Financial Planner - The issuing organization claims that it trains its certificants in advanced retirement and estate planning strategies, and that the "Senior" in its name implies professional seniority as opposed to a demographic target market. However, only three days of academic training are required, followed by an open-book exam.
While senior designations may differ substantially in the level of academic training that is required, it is clear that none of them can compare to the curriculums for established and respected designations such as the CFP™, Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU) or Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC).
In all fairness, most senior designations tend to cover senior demographics and issues relating to Social Security and Medicare in more detail than the major designations. If advisors wish to market their services to seniors, this is as legitimate a market to work within as any other. However, if they want to position themselves as "experts," they should seriously consider earning one of the more traditional, comprehensive designations first. Then they could earn one of the senior designations that focus specifically on senior issues. At that point, their competence in the senior market would mean a great deal more. They would also be subject to a code of ethics that can be enforced.
Unfortunately, many seniors have become the victims of scam artists and charlatans who have become experts in their ability to emotionally manipulate elderly clients and prospects into investing in products or services that often tie their money up for long periods of time.
As a result, state regulators have begun to take notice of both the inadequate academic training and the business approach taken by many senior advisory certificants. In fact, the state of Nebraska issued a statute prohibiting advisors from using this or any other senior advisory designation.
Many other states can also cite a marked increase in the number of investigations and complaints relating to senior advisory firms in recent years. One of the main limitations that regulators face when dealing with this problem is that there is no overarching agency that monitors the financial designation community like there is for insurance or securities licensing. Therefore, any "rogue" credential must currently be dealt with on a state-by-state, individual basis.
The Bottom Line
While the differences between designations such as the CFP™ and the Certified Senior Advisor may be apparent to those in the business, most seniors looking for financial advice may have difficulty comprehending the gap in training between the two, at least at first glance. Although it would be unfair to label every financial professional who holds a senior advisory designation as dishonest, the increasing pressure coming from state regulators is making the future of these designations uncertain.
Advisors who are considering whether to earn a senior advisory designation may want to check with their state's insurance commissioner and/or securities bureau before enrolling. While bogus designations can fool prospects and clients at least for a while, regulators are certain to eventually rectify the situation, one way or another.
ProfessionalsAdvisors spend a lot of time discussing insurance with clients but they also need to consider their own coverage needs as small-business owners
ProfessionalsIf you are not collaborating with other professionals in your circle, you could be doing your clients a disservice.
Credit & LoansU.S. students place 27th in math and 20th in science out of 34 countries. The United States must reform its education system or harm future economic productivity and global trade competitiveness.
ProfessionalsAre the fees you charge your clients for financial planning competitive? Here's how to determine if they are in line with the competition.
Personal FinanceRIAs and brokers are held to different standards when providing investment advice. Here's how they differ.
Personal FinanceChoose your college major wisely to justify the rising cost of higher education. Here are 8 majors that lead to good jobs and high salaries.
Personal FinanceSalaries are important, but retaining top employees requires more than just providing competitive pay.
ProfessionalsRisk management is important in any enterprise. But when it comes to the financial advisory business, the stakes are higher.
ProfessionalsThese corrective steps will go a long way toward allowing financial advisors to stand out as being deserving of a referral.
ProfessionalsAdvisor study groups can be a big help to your practice.
A securities license entitling the holder to register as a limited ...
A qualification earned by insurance professionals and conferred ...
A designation earned by professionals looking for training in ...
A designation earned by insurance professionals looking for reinsurance ...
A designation earned by insurance professionals involved with ...
A designation for achievers who have proven knowledge in intermediate ...
If you are older than 59.5 and have been contributing to your IRA for more than five years, you may withdraw funds to pay ... Read Full Answer >>
If you are over 59.5, or separate from your plan-sponsoring employer after age 55, you are free to use your 401(k) to pay ... Read Full Answer >>
The differences between a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) and a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) are many, but comes down ... Read Full Answer >>
The Series 6, or the Investment Company Products/Variable Contracts Limited Representative, exam is administered by the Financial ... Read Full Answer >>
Many resources are available for those seeking to learn to trade commodities, also known as futures, directly from the major ... Read Full Answer >>
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) offers a variety of licenses that must be obtained before conducting ... Read Full Answer >>