Of Financial Certifications and Designations

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The “Too Numerous to Count” Syndrome

[By Dr. David Edward Marcinko; MBA, CMP™]

Dr. MarcinkoThe following list of certifications enumerates only a partial exposure of the often nebulous field of “financial planning credentials” that presently exist in the market place. 

Good … and Not So

Some of these professional designations are awarded to individuals in the financial planning or financial “advisory” space after [some] diligent study and [often not so] arduous testing; others not so.

Disclaimer: I am a reformed Certified Financial Planner®, Series 7 [stock-broker], 63 and 65 license holder, and RIA representative who also held all applicable insurance and security licenses.

The individuals hold not only proper education [some only reguire a HS diploma or GED] as evidenced by the credential; the holders are often people of ethics [hopefully] and competence [usually]. But, not all credentials are the same. Some credentialing bodies have higher educational requirements that also require years of experience and a thorough background search. Others are awarded after only a few hours of study and, most all, remain non-fiduciary in nature.

Too Many To Count – Syndrome

In medicine, the abbreviation TNTC is well known. Sometime, I think this term is better applicable to the plethora of “credentials” in the financial services industry.


The Designation Line-up

A brief description for some of these financial designations [not degrees] follows:

  • AAMS – Accredited Asset Management Specialist
  • AEP – Accredited Estate Planner
  • AFC – Accredited Financial Counselor
  • AIF – Accredited Investment Fiduciary
  • AIFA – Accredited Investment Fiduciary Auditor
  • APP – Asset Protection Planner
  • BCA – Board Certified in Annuities
  • BCAA – Board Certified in Asset Allocation
  • BCE – Board Certified in Estate Planning
  • BCM – Board Certified in Mutual Funds
  • BCS – Board Certified in Securities
  • C3DWP – 3 Dimensional Wealth Practitioners
  • CAA – Certified Annuity Advisor
  • CAC – Certified Annuity Consultant
  • CAIA – Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst
  • CAM – Chartered Asset Manager
  • CAS – Chartered Annuity Specialist
  • CCPS – Certified College Planning Specialist
  • CDFA – Certified Divorce Financial Analyst
  • CEA – Certified Estate Advisor
  • CEBS – Certified Employee Benefit Specialist
  • CEP – Certified Estate Planner
  • CEPP – Chartered Estate Planning Practitioner
  • CFA – Chartered Financial Analyst
  • CFE – Certified Financial Educator
  • CFG – Certified Financial Gerontologist
  • CFP – Certified Financial Planner
  • CFPN – Christian Financial Professionals Network 
  • CFS – Certified Fund Specialist
  • CIC – Chartered Investment Counselor
  • CIMA – Certified Investment Analyst
  • CIMC – Certified Investment Management Consultant
  • CLTC – Certified in Long Term Care
  • CMFC – Chartered Mutual Fund Counselor
  • CMP – Certified Medical Planner™
  • CPC – Certified Pension Consultant
  • CPHQ – Certified Professional in Healthcare Quality
  • CPHQ – Certified Physician in Healthcare Quality
  • CPM – Chartered Portfolio Manager
  • CRA – Certified Retirement Administrator
  • CRC – Certified Retirement Counselor
  • CRFA – Certified Retirement Financial Advisor
  • CRP – Certified Risk Professional
  • CRPC – Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor
  • CRPS – Chartered Retirement Plan Specialist
  • CSA – Certified Senior Advisor
  • CSC – Certified Senior Consultant
  • CSFP – Certified Senior Financial Planner
  • CSS – Certified Senior Specialist
  • CTEP – Chartered Trust and Estate Planner
  • CTFA – Certified Trust and Financial Advisor
  • CWC – Certified Wealth Counselor
  • CWM – Chartered Wealth Manager
  • CWPP – Certified Wealth Preservation Planner
  • ECS –  Elder Care Specialist
  • FAD – financial Analyst Designate
  • FIC – Fraternal Insurance Counselor
  • FLMI – Fellow Life Management Institute
  • FRM – Financial Risk Manager
  • FSS – Financial Services Specialist
  • LIFA – Licensed Insurance Financial Analyst
  • MFP – Master Financial Professional
  • MSFS – Masters of Science Financial Service Degree
  • PFS – Personal Financial Specialist
  • PPC – Professional Plan Consultant
  • QFP – Qualified Financial Planner
  • REBC – Registered Employee Benefits Consultant
  • RFA – Registered Financial Associate
  • RFC – Registered Financial Consultant
  • RFG – Registered Financial Gerontologist
  • RFP – Registered Financial Planner
  • RFS – Registered Financial Specialist
  • RHU – Registered Health Underwriter
  • RPA – Registered Plans Associate
  • WMS – Wealth Management Specialist

This list is intentionally incomplete and it is not intended to be an endorsement of any credential by the Institute of Medical Business Advisors, Inc www.MedicalBusinessAdvisors.com

Alphabet Soup

Obviously, these “professional” designations spread across multiple industries. For example there is an alphabet of designations in the brokerage and securities field, another alphabet in the insurance industry and within the insurance industry, designations exist for those who meet face to face with prospective customers, another for those who provide client service and yet another in underwriting the various insurance products. Certainly when the designations are complied in a list such as that above, they present a dizzying array of apparent qualifications.


While in general, education for the financial service [and medical] professional is good for everybody, there are certain things that you should do as proper due diligence to protect your family and your financial assets. What are they?

Disclaimer: I am also founder of the Certified Medical Planner™ online educational program in health economics for financial advisors and medical management consultants. www.CertifiedMedicalPlanner.org


Your thoughts and comments on this ME-P are appreciated. Feel free to review our top-left column, and top-right sidebar materials, links, URLs and related websites, too. Then, subscribe to the ME-P. It is fast, free and secure.

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Speaker: If you need a moderator or speaker for an upcoming event, Dr. David E. Marcinko; MBA – Publisher-in-Chief of the Medical Executive-Post – is available for seminar or speaking engagements. Contact: MarcinkoAdvisors@msn.com


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13 Responses

  1. Ben,

    Are you folks – [AIF/AIFA] – allowed to use a brokerage arbitration agreement; or not? Please advise?

    Hope Hetico; RN, MHA, CMP


  2. Hi Ben,

    Many thanks for your private, cogent, focused and thoughtful response [regarding AIF].
    In follow-up, we have one request, and one invitation:

    First, we would like permission to re-print your response on our blog:

    Second, we invite you in all candor, intelligence and goodwill to comment and post on the same blog. The issue of fiduciary responsibility, and related corollaries, is a popular one with our readers and subscribers.

    Many thanks again for your input.



  3. Hello Hope,

    Designees are not prohibited from signing such an agreement and there are some important points to understand the reasoning.

    First, by definition, if you are entering into such an agreement, you are entering into a non-fiduciary relationship. So, any fiduciary requirement wouldn’t apply in this scenario.

    Second, if this same question were applied into a scenario of a fiduciary relationship, such as with an RIA, this would be a method of dispute resolution, not a practice method. So, in the event of dispute, the advisor and investor would be free to agree to the method of resolution of their choosing. In this scenario, however, typically the method would not be discussed until the dispute itself arose.

    Finally, it is important to know that AIF/AIFA designees are not required to be a fiduciary. It is symbolic of the individuals training, knowledge and ongoing development in fiduciary processes, but does not mean they will always be acting as a fiduciary.

    I hope this answer helps. Please feel free to contact me or anyone else at fi360 if you have any more questions.

    Ben Aikin; AIF®


  4. Hello,

    Tthis message is in response to a comment left by Hope on our blog. You may reprint the comments from our blog discussion. We will begin to monitor your blog as well and comment appropriately.

    Thank you for your interest.
    Bennett Aikin, AIF®
    Communications Coordinator

    438 Division Street
    Sewickley, PA 15143

    fi360 – your guide to global fiduciary insights
    World-class training, tools, and resources for investment fiduciaries


  5. Hello Ben, Hope and all,

    According to SEC chairman Christopher Cox, “the [SEC] relied upon information voluntarily produced by Mr. Madoff and his firm?”

    Moreover, Bernie Madoff was head of the NASDAQ!

    Aren’t these the same outfits that ordinary folks are told to use to investigate stock-brokers, financial planners, wealth managers, etc.

    Just remember, a sucker is born every day.



  6. Hi Luellen,

    I wonder just how many more charlatan financial advisors are in the pipeline?

    For example, did you know that the owner of a Long Island, New York investment firm accused of cheating people out of more than $100 million just appeared in court?

    Yep; it’s true. According to the FBI, financial advisor Nicholas Cosmo surrendered at a US Postal Inspection Service office in Hicksville, New York, the other day.

    And, separately, missing Florida hedge fund manager Arthur Nadel finally turned himself in to authorities in Tampa, Fla. He was accompanied by two attorneys and is awaiting an appearance in federal court.

    Now, how many more of these so-called fraudulent financial advisors will fess-up; or be caught? Of course, certifications be damned.



  7. The CFP BoD does not actually protect the CFP marketing-marks. They outsource that job to an intellectual property law firm. It is cut and dry.

    What the Board is supposed to do however, is protect what the marks actually mean; a far more nebulous, ethereal and very difficult duty; done poorly to date.

    And actually, sans fraud or legal sanctions elsewhere – or so called mark misuses – it does very little else beside carping, collecting fees, selling their mailing list, and promotion … of their CFP marketing marks and logo.



  8. Sam,

    Crappy financial products earn higher sales commissions. Enough said.



  9. The Corzine Waiver

    A FINRA regulation clearly states that financial professionals [sic!] who have been out of the business for more than two years must retake the Series 7 and 24 exams before they can get back in.

    But, according to FA Digital, this didn’t apply to New Jersey’s former governor and senator Jon Corzine before he took over MF Global and presided over its collapse.

    The governor was away from the industry 11 years, but certainly someone who rose to become CEO of Goldman Sachs, the financial world’s crown jewel, shouldn’t have to sit for an exam designed to test the competency of beginners.

    So Gov. Corzine was granted a waiver. What’s up with that?



  10. Hi Sam

    It is true that such waivers are common in the industry. They’re granted for experience, educational achievement and regulatory experience. At first glance, it would appear that the governor qualified.

    But, there’s one big hitch. His experience in government did not expose him to the rapidly changing regulatory environment in the investment industry.



  11. WARNING – FAs
    [Watch Your Use Of Senior Designations]

    Did you know that FINRA is serving notice that protecting vulnerable seniors continues to be a high priority. This includes cracking down on broker/dealers who permit reps to use senior designations in an unethical or misleading manner.

    In a notice sent to BD members earlier last quarter, FINRA warned: Firms that allow the use of any title or designation that conveys an expertise in senior investments or retirement planning where such expertise does not exist may violate FINRA rules and possibly the anti-fraud provisions of federal securities laws. And, the notice urged BD’s to “strengthen their supervisory procedures.”

    FINRA said a survey showed “widespread use of senior designations in the broker-dealer community.” So, mature doctors, take heed.



  12. Finra Rubber-Stamping Requests To Clear Broker Records, Group Says

    It’s far too easy for brokers to clean up their disciplinary records, says a new study of arbitrator-ordered expungements.


    SEC Exam Chief: Branch Oversight Weak As Advisors Expand

    And, financial advisory firms are showing weak branch supervision as they expand to multiple locations, the SEC’s enforcement director said.


    What a way to make a living!



  13. CFA Stat:

    Just 25% of applicants passed the Charter Financial Analyst Level I Exam administered in May, the lowest since testing began in 1963 and down from the 44% pass rate for the test administered in February. The CFA Institute said that the “stop-start” nature of candidates’ studies due to the pandemic could be to blame.



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