Is a Professional Designation Right for You?

Professional Designation

Kaplan University School of Professional and Continuing Education 
Published July 2015  

Compared to other highly complex professions, you don’t necessarily have to study much to get your insurance or securities license. Since the primary goal of most exam preparation providers is passing the exam on the first attempt, as opposed to preparing you for your career, you actually need to study more after licensure to make sure you can competently perform your job. Consequently, to become a rising star in your organization, you may feel that an important part of career development would be the pursuit of a professional designation, also known as an advanced designation.

Are you ready to take this step? Is obtaining a professional designation right for you?

The Challenge 

Earning a professional designation in the financial services industry is no small task. Most candidates are successful and driven individuals, yet beginning this study creates doubts that they will have time to study sufficiently. Many have not been students in a long time and their study skills are rusty. They also have a full-time job of their own they can't neglect.

Yet the rewards can be great. A professional designation program educates you about issues in your business that could take you many more years to learn through experience. It could boost your credibility both inside and outside of the organization. It can improve your ability to serve clients and provide you the expertise to direct your staff to better serve clients. It reduces mistakes and the potential for mistakes. Best of all, the knowledge you gain could help you increase your income significantly.

Meeting the Challenge 

To tackle such a significant study program, you need a plan of attack and a support team. While several education providers offer comprehensive, high-quality test preparation materials for each exam, you may benefit more from choosing an education company that not only provides a detailed plan for success, but also an experienced support team that serves as a personal coach, study partner, mentor, and maybe even the cheerleader that you need.

Which Designation Is Right for You? 

There are numerous professional designations in the financial services industry, each with their own unique benefits.

The Chartered Financial Analyst® (CFA®) is a professional credential offered internationally by the American-based CFA Institute to investment and financial professionals. A CFA candidate who successfully completes the program and meets other professional requirements is awarded the "CFA charter" and becomes a "CFA charterholder." The CFA is widely considered by Wall Street to be the most difficult designation to obtain with fewer than 20% of successful candidates passing all three exams on their first attempt. Financial services companies, such as JP Morgan and Bank of America, are among the employers with the largest numbers of CFA charter holders

The Certified Financial Planner® (CFP®) designation is a professional certification mark conferred by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards and has become one of the premier advanced designations for financial planning professionals. To receive authorization to use the designation, the candidate must meet stringent education, examination, experience, and ethics requirements.  For example, candidates must have a bachelor's degree (or higher) from an accredited college or university, and students must pass a 10-hour multiple-choice examination administered in a paper and pencil format that tests the candidates ability to apply their financial planning knowledge to client situations. In addition, the CFP Board requires you to have three years of professional experience in the financial planning process, or two years of apprenticeship experience that meets additional requirements. The rigor surrounding this designation makes it one of the most respected in the industry.

The Financial Risk Manager® (FRM®) designation is considered the standard mark for those who manage risk. Requiring the successful completion of a rigorous two-part, practice-oriented examination, the FRM designation provides a bedrock foundation in a profession and industry that is rapidly evolving. Since the FRM Program's inception in 1997, Certified FRMs have achieved positions such as Chief Risk Officer, Senior Risk Analyst, Head of Operational Risk, and Director of Investment Risk Management, to name a few.

The global FRM community is growing dramatically, with Certified FRMs represented at nearly every major banking institution, government regulator, consulting firm and financial services institution around the world.

The Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst® (CAIA®) program is a rigorous, self-directed education program for finance professionals seeking deep knowledge and expertise in alternative investing. The CAIA designation, which is granted upon successfully meeting the program and membership requirements, is valued by top employers and recognized globally as the highest standard of achievement in alternative investment education. After passing the CAIA Charter Level 2 exam and meeting membership requirements, you are eligible to join the CAIA Association, an exclusive community of more than 6,700 alternative investment leaders located in more than 80 countries. Membership is the gateway to CAIA's global network, CAIA-preferred job postings, and opportunities to pursue lifelong learning that keeps its holder current, relevant, and ahead of the curve.

Insurance Designations 

While the CFP designation is very popular, the Chartered Financial Consultant® (ChFC®) designation is also particularly attractive, especially with individuals holding an insurance license. This 8-course program covers insurance planning, taxation, investments, retirement, estate, and financial planning and gives financial planners the tools to perform comprehensive financial planning for their clients.

In addition to the ChFC designation, the Chartered Life Underwriter® (CLU®) has been one of the premier life insurance designations for decades. It is a highly respected mark of educational achievement and professional excellence. Upon completion of the 8-course program (typically one course per quarter for two years), you will be well-qualified to help clients in the areas of life insurance planning, business planning, and estate planning.

The Chartered Advisor for Senior Living® (CASL®) designation is the leading credential for financial planning professionals interested in helping retirees and those facing retirement meet their financial needs. CASL® designees are well-qualified to assist clients in saving for retirement, developing effective estate planning strategies, structuring distributions from pensions, 401(k)s, 403(b)s, IRAs, and Social Security, planning for health and long-term care needs, and managing life course transitions.

The CPCU® (Chartered Property-Casualty Underwriter®) is the leading designation in property-casualty insurance. In pursuit of this designation, you will garner comprehensive in-depth knowledge in the areas of risk management and insurance, gain skills you can put to practice immediately, learn how to make better decisions on the job, set yourself apart from the competition, demonstrate your commitment to professionalism, and earn the respect of your clients and peers.

The ChFC®, CLU®, and CASL® designations are awarded by The American College. The CPCU® designation is awarded by The Institutes (i.e., the American Institute for Chartered Property Casualty Underwriters).

If you feel a professional designation is indeed right for you, be sure to select an education provider that offers courses and study tools to make your study time more productive, help you understand difficult material, provide you with direction and motivation to succeed, and boost your confidence for exam day.

About Greg Brumbeloe

Mr. Brumbeloe has more than 30 years of experience in financial services and financial services training. He began his career as a compliance examiner with the NASD (now known as FINRA), and subsequently ran the compliance departments for regional offices of Bear Stearns and Credit Suisse First Boston. Greg was also responsible for the insurance and securities education product lines at BISYS Education Services and has managed the insurance product line at Kaplan Financial Education since their acquisition of BISYS in 2005.

Greg received a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a major in finance from Auburn University and a Master of Business Administration in management from Mercer University. He has previously held Series 3, 4, 7, 8, 24, 63, and 65 securities licenses and a Georgia Life Accident and Health insurance license.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent the view of Kaplan University.

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