The Best Designation for Advisors: CFP®, CFA, or CPA?

You’re probably familiar with the debate over which designation can offer the most opportunities for financial professionals: Certified Financial Planner (CFP®), Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA), or Certified Public Accountant (CPA). We’ve written about the merits of each one in the past, but with the changes happening in the financial services industry, we thought it was time to revisit the question. 

To find out more about which designation(s) can be most helpful, we asked several experts to weigh in on what they see as the benefits of each and where the bulk of the opportunities lie for young professionals.


"If you want to be a financial planner, CFP® is the best one. People are more educated now—they want to know if you're a certified financial planner, how you charge, and everything that goes along with that. If you want to provide financial planning, you should be a CFP®. If you want to be an accountant as well, or a money manager, then a CFA and CPA could enhance that. But I think the CFP® is the primary designation people should be focusing on." — Scott Kahan, President and Senior Financial Planner at Financial Asset Management Corp

"A CFP® is the most affordable option specifically if you want to do client work and help people with their money. It's a very specialized and direct route to go. I also think that a CFA is a great designation if you want to do more of the detailed behind the scenes investment work." — Sophia Bera, Founder and Financial Planner at Gen Y Planning

“All these degrees are so different, so it really depends on what field you plan on going into whether it’s accounting, financial advice, or being a financial analyst. Ultimately, being a business owner with one of these degrees will provide you with the most opportunity as opposed to being an employee because you have the two-headed monster of earning cash flow plus the ability to get equity down the road. The CFA or CPA may provide the most immediate return on your money and ultimately if you are successful at being a money manager with the CFA degree—that is where the biggest upside would be.” — Ted Jenkin, CEO of oXYGen Financial Inc.

“I think that hands down, the CFP® certification, with its holistic approach to personal financial planning provides the opportunity for an advisor to provide the most value to their clients. The CFA and the CPA are much more narrowly focused and the skill sets developed aren't necessarily focused on individual finances, but more corporate or business-oriented. As a CFP®, I have the knowledge to help clients in many areas and to tie them all together to create a solid plan. For those who have a great interest in tax or investments and want to pursue a career in one of those areas, then definitely the CFA or CPA certifications would be the direction to go in. I personally enjoy knowing how all the pieces fit together and didn't want to be so narrowly focused in one area.” — Cathy Curtis, Financial Advisor at Curtis Financial Planning, LLC

"I believe that the CFP® designation is the only designation that exists that was designed exclusively around holistic financial planning. And I think that’s why we’re experiencing the growth that we see, and why 86,000-plus financial advisors in the U.S. have elected to earn the CFP® marks. For the person determined to build a career as a financial planner, I don’t think there’s any designation other than a CFP® that would be more appropriate because of the holistic nature of the curriculum and the education and experience requirements.“ — Jack Brod, Chair of the Board of Directors for the CFP Board

The Bottom Line

Although the experts agree that the CFP® certification is the most helpful designation for advisors, they also emphasize that the CFA or CPA certifications can be a helpful addition to an advisor’s toolkit. To decide which one is best for you, it’s important to assess your career goals and determine your strengths. This will help you move forward with confidence and grow your career in a way that’s consistent with your long-term goals.

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