What Is a Certified Annuity Specialist (CAS)?

A certified annuity specialist (CAS) is a certification indicating expertise in fixed-rate and variable annuities. Individuals with the CAS designation offer clients expert advice in regards to investment opportunities in annuities, which provide a stream of income to those who are nearing or in retirement.

Understanding Certified Annuity Specialist (CAS)

The CAS designation is issued by the Institute of Business & Finance (IBF) through a six-module, 60-hour course and requires 15 hours per year of continuing education for the first five years following certification. The course includes an open-book case study as well as a final exam administered by the National Associate of Securities Dealers (NASD).

What's Behind the Designation

According to the NASD, a "candidate must meet one of the following requirements": 

  • A bachelor's degree or 2,000 hours of financial services work experience
  • Complete a self-study program (six modules)
  • Pass three exams and a case study
  • Complete continuing education requirements of 30 hours every two years

The IBF notes the following:

We invented the CAS® designation in 2006—the first of its kind in the industry—to capitalize on opportunities overlooked by less knowledgeable financial advisors. In this intermediate-to-advanced course, you’ll develop a strong working knowledge of traditional fixed-rate, equity-indexed, and variable annuities; annuity contracts and titling options; living benefits, compound interest, and unnecessary taxes; and litigation issues. You also will master sophisticated portfolio theory that top financial advisors use to evaluate new annuity products and riders.

Defining Annuities 

An annuity contract is a written agreement between an insurance company and a customer outlining each party's obligations in an annuity agreement. Such a document will include the specific details of the contract, such as the structure of the annuity (variable or fixed), any penalties for early withdrawal, spousal and beneficiary provisions, such as a survivor clause and rate of spousal coverage, and more. More broadly, an annuity contract may simply refer to any annuity.

An annuity contract is beneficial to the individual investor in the sense that it legally binds the insurance company to provide a guaranteed periodic payment to the annuitant once the annuitant reaches retirement and requests commencement of payments. Essentially, it guarantees risk-free retirement income.

Annuities can be particularly difficult for consumers to understand. They're not insured by the government, and instead backed by the insurance companies who sell them. This means your stream of income is only as good as the company that issues the annuity. Several independent companies, such as A.M. Best and Moody's, provide insurer financial stability ratings and give the public free access to this information.