4 Certified Senior Designations Worth Holding

For many financial advisors, professional designations are becoming increasingly important. These marks of academic and professional achievement are signified by lettered acronyms that appear after the advisor's name. These designations distinguish them from the competition and suggest a higher level of competence, specialized knowledge, and standard of professionalism.

In recent years, the number and scope of professional designations available have grown, and many advisors are now unsure of which credential will serve them most effectively. This is especially true when it comes to specialized designations within the senior citizen market.

Here we will take a closer look at some senior designations and whether they are worth pursuing for those looking specifically at retirement planning, retirement income, longevity planning, and legacy/estate planning.

Key Takeaways

  • Many financial advisors are specializing in retirement planning and income.
  • As a result, these advisors have sought out targeted training and education to validate their expertise and skill in this segment.
  • Several professional credentials and designations are now available to signal expertise in senior financial planning with the Certified Senior Advisor (CSA) being the most-recognizable.
  • The Chartered Advisor for Senior Living was a popular certification that is no longer accessible to new entrants (though existing licenseholders are still required to continue their education).
  • Some designations like the Certified Senior Specialist (CSS) face restrictions from state bodies and are not recognized as valid licenses in some areas.
  • Another well-rounded certification option is the Chartered Senior Financial Planner (CSFP).

What Are Senior Designations?

Within the financial planning industry, a number of new designations have been created in recent years. These designations focus on the senior market and primarily involve financial strategies for older individuals typically aged 50 and older.

This demographic segment of financial planning consumers has become increasingly targeted from almost every direction by the financial services industry, including banks and insurance companies as well as independent financial and estate planners. With potentially higher portfolio balances dues to a longer investment timeline as well as increased needs for services as they approach retirement and succession planning, there's plenty of opportunity when working with seniors.

4 Main Designations

Here are four main designations that financial professionals may use in the senior financial advice market:

Certified Senior Advisor

Offered and recognized by the Society of Certified Senior Advisors, a Certified Senior Advisor (CSA) is probably the best-known senior advisory certification on this list. Candidates need to pass a certification examination on social, health, cultural, financial, and legal aspects of aging to become a license holder.

There is no prescribed training or education program, but the SCSA offers various resources like textbooks and live courses. Preparation for the exam usually takes 50-60 hours. Candidates are also required to complete 30 hours of continuing education and pass a criminal background check every three years to maintain their certification.

CSAs are typically professionals in different fields who work exclusively or often with the aging and want to supplement their professional knowledge with the designation. 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, health care professionals, and administrators. CSAs are required to inform consumers that the designation alone does not imply expertise in financial, health or social matters. 

Chartered Advisor in Senior Living

Offered by The American College, the Chartered Advisor in Senior Living (CASL) designates a professional's commitment to helping aging clients achieve financial security. Prior to sitting for the exam, advisors are required to have worked with senior clients for a minimum of three years. Applicants must also adhere to The American College's Code of Ethics.

The CASL designation is no longer offered to new students; however, existing certificate holders are required to participate in the Professional Recertification Program to maintain their credentials. A CASL advisor is tested on retirement distributions from pensions, Social Security, planning for health and long-term care needs, and effective estate planning strategies.

Certified Senior Specialist

The most academically advanced of the senior designations, Certified Senior Specialists (CSS) contains a more rigorous academic cirriculum covering retirement planning, estate tax planning, annuities, Social Security, and Medicare. The exam also covers long-term care and elder care issues, demographics of the senior market, charitable estate planning techniques, and reverse mortgages.

The CSS license is issued by Certified for Senior Studies, although not all jurisdictions recognize the designation. For example, California code treats this license differentently than the CSA. This designation may not be used by agents or brokers where the sale of insurance to a senior may occur. For this reason, the CSS license holds much less value than other licenses.

Chartered Senior Financial Planner

Issued by the Association of Chartered Senior Financial Planners, the Chartered Senior Financial Planner (CSFP) designation trains recipients in advanced retirement and estate planning strategies. To take the exam, trainees must have two years of insurance experience, two years of securities experience, or be a licensed attorney or CPA. Three-day course training is available prior to the exam, and 16 hours of continuing education are required every two years.

Like other exams, the CSFP designation prescribes a code of ethics and demonstrates a holder's proficiency in pre-retirement, post-retirement, and asset protection strategies.

Broad Based Designations That Serve Seniors

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 Chartered Financial Planners (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 a legitimate market.

However, if they want to position themselves as "experts," financial advisors should 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 as they started with a broader approach to investment strategy to later hone in on specific topics. They would also be subject to a code of ethics that can be enforced.

Pending Consequences

Unfortunately, many seniors have become the victims of scam artists and charlatans who are skilled in emotionally manipulating 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 certificate holders.

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.

What Is the Best Senior License Designation?

The Certified Senior Advisor designation is the most recognizable professional license. Though it still falls well short of the breadth and depth of wide-scale professional licenses, it remains a strong option for those looking for specific certification in senior financial matters.

Is it Worth Getting a Senior Designation?

There is mixed opinions on the value of senior license designations. Some argue any sort of formal training and exam provides value and boosts your validity as a financial planner. Others point out the gap in education between senior license designations and more broad financial planner certifications. As long as your clients understand the limitations of what senior license designations mean, there is some value in pursue these opportunities.

Are All Senior Designations Recognized?

No, senior license designations are widely recognized on a state-by-state basis. Each state will have their own reporting requirements, and many do limit the recognition of some designations. When a designation is limited in a state, the financial advisor can not use that title during the pursue of sale of an insurance or security. To check whether your license is recognized in a specific state, check with the state's Department of Insurance.

The Bottom Line

While the differences between designations such as the CFP and CSA 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. 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 pursue a senior advisory designation may want to check with their state's insurance commissioner and/or securities bureau before enrolling in a program. 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.

Article Sources
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  1. California Department of Insurance. "Senior Designations."

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