Technically, there are few educational requirements for becoming a financial advisor or wealth manager in the United States, but those who possess professional certification in specialized areas can separate themselves the pack and stand out to prospective clients. Advisors don't necessarily need to attend college, but many firms solely seek out applicants with at least a four-year undergraduate degree in finance, business, or marketing. Depending on the type and value of assets managed, advisors might also have to register with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) or other federal and state regulators.
If selling securities, advisors need to pass the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) Series 7 exam to earn the General Securities Representative license. Other important FINRA licenses include the Series 63 and Series 65. In addition to these licenses, advisors can enhance their profile by acquiring professional certifications and designations.
Retirement planning specialists, for instance, may pursue any of these designations to better serve their customers.
Certified Financial Planner
Considered the gold standard for the financial planning industry, the Certified Financial Planner (CFP®) designation is administered by The American College of Financial Services and covers retirement as well as investment and insurance planning. Candidates must have a bachelor's degree in any discipline from an accredited post-secondary educational institution and complete financial planning coursework through a CFP Board Registered Program, covering risk management, tax planning, estate planning, and the psychology of financial planning, among other topics. Candidates can take the CFP® exam before enrolling in a bachelor's degree program, but must complete their degree within the next five years.
Coursework for the CFP® designation usually takes between 12 and 18 months, but advisors can take an expedited path if they have a bachelor's degree and at least three years of wealth management experience. Before receiving CFP® certification, advisors must undergo a background check and sign an Ethics Declaration. They must also complete annual training programs to maintain certification.
Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor
Awarded by the College for Financial Planning, the Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor (CRPC®) designation strictly covers retirement topics as opposed to comprehensive financial planning. Candidates first need to complete a study program that covers subjects such as personal savings, income taxes, employer-sponsored retirement plans, and estate planning. Select course topics include "Maximizing the Client Experience During the Retirement Planning Process" and "Making the Emotional and Financial Transition to Retirement."
Candidates are required to take a multiple-choice examination within six months of enrolling in the $1,300 open enrollment training course. If unsuccessful, they can take the test again for a $100 fee, but must pass it within one year of program enrollment.
The College of Financial Planning awards up to 45 continuing education credits for the successful completion of the CRPC® program. It also reports that those who earn the designation experience a 9 percent average increase in earnings. The designation is valid for a two-year period and can be renewed by completing additional training.
Retirement Income Certified Professional
The Retirement Income Certified Professional (RICP®) is similar to the CRPC® in that it focuses strictly on retirement planning. Administered by The American College of Financial Services, the self-guided program features a trio of online courses that candidates can complete on their own time. There's an exam at the end of each course. The RICP® designation is also only valid for two years, but can be extended by completing 15 hours of continuing education (CE) within that time.
Retirement Management Analyst
Retirement Management Analysts, also sometimes known as Retirement Management Advisors, are focused on creating custom retirement income plans emphasizing risk mitigation. The self-guided training program equips advisors with the tools and resources to create retirement plans not only for those whose retirement is decades in the future, but also for people who have already retired. The curriculum covers areas such as the retirement mindset, strategies to navigate various market conditions, and how to develop individualized roadmaps to meet client needs.
Candidates must possess either a CFP® or Chartered Financial Analyst designation or have at least three years of wealth management experience. Once enrolled, they must complete both an online and capstone course and pass an exam.
Qualified Pension Administrator
Being well versed in retirement planning requires more than just knowing wealth generation and preservation strategies. Advisors need to know how to effectively help clients navigate challenges and concerns related to defined benefit plans. One way to gain knowledge, insight, and professional accreditation in this area is to earn the Qualified Pension Administration (QPA) designation from the American Society of Pension Professionals & Actuaries.
Candidates need to first earn the Qualified 401(k) Consultant credential before taking the 60-question QPA examination, which covers topics such as benefits after typical retirement age, early retirement and disability, and Qualified Domestic Relations Orders. Those who earn QPA designation must complete 40 hours of CE credits within two years to maintain certification.