At some point in your financial career, you might encounter a client whose current situation is complicated, and during your meeting you might be stumped in determining the best solution. Clients with seemingly simple situations can often have complex issues related to life insurance, taxes or estate planning they may be unaware of.

In order to avoid these types of awkward situations, it is important to ensure that you have equipped yourself to recognize many situations and guide your clients through them correctly. By increasing your knowledge, your credibility and your income will benefit. In this article we'll examine three different designations that will allow you to gain the knowledge you need to handle almost any client's situation: the Certified Financial Planner® (CFP®), Chartered Life Underwriter® (CLU®) and Chartered Financial Consultant® (ChFC®).

CFP® - The Media's Choice
The CFP® mark is offered - and governed - by the Certified Financial Planner® Board of Standards in Washington, DC. The CFP® designation is perhaps the most widely recognized credential in the field today, due largely to the amount of exposure it has received from the media. This credential is generally the designation of choice for those who wish to offer fee-based financial planning, and traditionally has been more heavily pursued by those in the tax, legal or investment professions. Insurance agents that obtain this designation can use it to provide comprehensive financial plans for clients and show them how their various insurance needs fit into such plans.

The CFP® curriculum contains five core courses that cover the following planning topics:

  • Investment planning
  • Insurance planning
  • Estate planning
  • Tax planning
  • Retirement planning
  • Education planning
  • Ethics and the financial planning process

There are approximately 106 conceptual topics related to financial planning that are covered in this material. Once all coursework has been successfully completed, students must pass a rigorous, comprehensive 10-hour board exam. Once the candidates have passed the exam, they must pass a background check and pay an entrance fee before receiving their certifications.

Chartered Life Underwriter® - The Oldest Designation
The CLU® is widely considered to be the most respected insurance designation in the industry. This designation was created in 1927 by the AmericanCollege in Bryn Mawr, Pa. The CLU®; has traditionally been pursued by agents who wish to specialize in life insurance for business or estate-planning purposes.

The current course curriculum for the CLU® includes five required courses plus three elective courses. The required courses include the following:

  • Fundamentals of Insurance Planning
  • Life Insurance Law
  • Individual Life Insurance
  • Fundamentals of Estate Planning
  • Planning for Business Owners and Professionals

The three elective courses can be chosen from such subjects as the following:

  • Financial Planning: Process and Environment
  • Individual Health Insurance
  • Income Taxation
  • Group Benefits
  • Planning for Retirement Needs
  • Investments
  • Estate Planning Applications

Chartered Financial Consultant - Advanced Financial Planning
The Chartered Financial Consultant® (ChFC®) credential was introduced in 1982 as an alternative to the CFP® mark. This designation has the same core curriculum as the CFP® designation, plus two or three additional elective courses that focus on various areas of personal financial planning. The biggest difference is that it does not require candidates to pass a comprehensive board exam, as with the CFP®.

Due to the number of courses that overlap both the ChFC® and CFP®, the ChFC® and CLU marks are often taken by individuals seeking in-depth knowledge of both financial planning and insurance, but who wish to avoid a lengthy board exam.

Which Is Best?
The answer to this question lies in your preferred area of focus. If you would like to focus more exclusively on life insurance, then the CLU® designation will provide the most complete curriculum for you. If you would rather focus on comprehensive financial planning, then one of the other two credentials will be a better fit.

It should be noted that none of these designations are considered to be inherently superior to the others. The CFP® designation requires less coursework but forces its students to learn the material in a way that allows them to proactively apply it in the board exam. The CLU® and ChFC® credentials require more coursework but have no comprehensive exam. The following chart can help you understand the differences and similarities between the three designations.

-- CLU® CFP® ChFC®
Comprehensive Board Exam No Yes No
Number of courses required 8 5 8
Focus of Study Life Insurance, both personal and business Comprehensive financial planning Comprehensive financial planning

The Bottom Line
Agents and brokers that decide to earn one of these designations will soon discover that some of the same coursework is required regardless of which designation is chosen. Those who desire to obtain only one of these credentials will need to personally evaluate the courses that are required for each and their relevance to their specific areas of practice.

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