Top 10 Certifications for Finance Professionals

If you’re looking for a financial planner, you’ll come across a lot of different titles and acronyms that follow the planner’s name.

You may have seen some of the more common ones for financial professionals such as CFP, CPA, CFS or CIMA. These designations indicate the various financial certifications an advisor may have and specific ethics or guidelines the advisor must follow.

But not all certifications are created equal. Some require a higher code of conduct, more continuing education, or passing rigorous exams.

We’ll explain the top 10 financial certifications to look for when looking for a financial planner and what these certifications mean.

Top 10 Certifications for Finance Professionals

  1. certified financial planner (CFP)
  2. Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
  3. Chartered Financial Advisor (ChFC)
  4. Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)
  5. Chartered Investment Adviser (CIC)
  6. financial risk manager (FRM)
  7. Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU)
  8. Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst (CAIA)
  9. Chartered Mutual Fund Adviser (CMFC)
  10. Certified Management Accountant (CMA)

1. Certified Financial Planner (CFP)

Tea CFP certification is one of the most recognized in the industry. Planners with this designation can assist in many different financial areas, including taxes, investments, estate planning, life insurance, generational wealth preservation and retirement.

The requirements for this certification are among the most stringent, as CPFs have several years of experience (6,000 hours) in asset management, pass the CFP exam (which takes seven hours and has a 70% pass rate), and adhere to a strict code. ethics set forth by the CFP Standards Board.

Consumers are increasingly seeking this CFP certification and prefer to work with advisors who have advanced knowledge and training beyond the basic requirements.

2. Certified Public Accountant (CPA)

The CPA designation is the gold standard for accountants. For some accounting and finance firms, CPA may be a required job designation. The CPA certification is administered by the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA). The process requires 150 hours of course work followed by a rigorous examination.

Working with a CPA can be beneficial for those who want financial advice related to asset allocation, reducing tax liability, and general budget and cash flow management.

In addition to accountants, many other professionals in the field can have this designation. These include financial analysts, tax advisors, tax lawyers, equity analysts and chief financial officers (CFOs).

3. Authorized Financial Advisor (ChFC)

ChFC is a lesser known title but still common and recognized in wealth management circles. A ChFC has similar training to a CFP, but has additional specialization to meet specific needs such as small business planning or estate planning for remarried or unmarried couples.

The American College of Financial Services (ACFS) oversees the certification process and administers both the required courses and the challenging final exams. The applicant must complete eight ACFS training courses, seven of which are part of the CFP curriculum.

After receiving certification, ChFCs must complete at least 30 hours of continuing education (CE) every two years to maintain accreditation.

4. Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)

An authorized financial analyst is a professional investment manager. Many consider the CFA designation to be the most sought-after designation when it comes to investment and securities management.

CFA accreditation is one of the most difficult. It requires a candidate to master 10 different investment areas, including risk management, tax, estate and retirement planning, and pass three exams. Most participants take four years and more than 400 hours of study to complete the program.

CFAs commonly work as financial managers, portfolio managers, hedge fund managers, analysts or financial planning consultants. Many also have an MBA. CFAs may or may not hold any fiduciary duty towards their clients.

5. Authorized Investment Advisor (CIC)

A Chartered Investment Advisor is similar to the CFA designation. It is designed specifically for financial professionals who work in investment advisory and portfolio management. Unlike the CFA title, CICs must be fiduciaries and work in the financial best interest of their clients.

To achieve this designation, a financial planner must have at least five years of experience and work at an investment firm that is a member of the Investment Advisers Association (IAA). There are no exam or education requirements, however CICs need a number of character references and significant experience in investment advice.

According to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), this designation is no longer offers new interested parties. However, accreditation is still provided by the issuing organization IAA.

6. Financial Risk Manager (FRM)

As the name suggests, a financial risk manager specializes in helping manage financial risks. Commonly, certified FRMs work as risk analysts for banks and insurance companies. Some FRMs are consumer focused, at least in part, providing investment and personal finance advice to private clients.

Obtaining FRM certification is a challenging process. Candidates must pass an eight-hour exam with a pass rate normally below 50 percent. The exam, a multiple-choice test, is administered by GARP (Global Association of Risk Professionals).

In addition to passing the exam, applicants must have at least two years of relevant work experience. In addition, FRMs must complete 40 hours of continuing education or professional development every two years to maintain their certification.

7. Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU)

The CLU designation, issued by the American College of Financial Planning (ACFP), is suitable for insurance agents, insurance underwriters and estate planners. They have expertise in underwriting, risk assessment and business planning.

Applicants do not have to pass the final certification exam, but must complete eight educational courses administered by ACFP. Every two years, CLU must complete 30 hours of continuing education, including one hour of ethics training.

Authorized underwriters may provide consumer-oriented services to assist individuals with special insurance or financial needs. In addition, many ChFCs or CFPs opt for CLU certification to enhance their learning and credentials.

8. Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst (CAIA)

CAIA’s destination is for financial professionals who manage non-traditional or high-risk investments such as hedge funds. It recognizes financial professionals with expertise in the analysis, management or distribution of alternative investments.

This designation is issued by the Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst Association (CAIA) and operates a certification program. It takes approximately 12 to 18 months to complete, including coursework and two exams.

CAIAs may work at hedge funds, investment firms, private equity firms, foundations, trusts, universities, pension plans, or for state or local governments. Many CAIAs also hold other designations such as FRM, CPA, Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE), or MBA.

9. Chartered Mutual Fund Adviser (CMFC)

A Chartered Mutual Fund Consultant (CMFC) is an expert in mutual funds. This professional designation is offered by the company College of Financial Planning and requires completion of a 10-week course followed by a series of exams.

According to FINRAThe College of Financial Planning no longer issues new certificates, but existing members can retain and renew this designation. Current active CMFCs must complete 16 hours of continuing education every two years.

CMFCs offer investment advice and financial planning services related to mutual funds and routine work for banks, insurance companies or investment companies. CMFCs may also hold other financial industry certifications related to financial planning and investment services.

10. Certified Management Accountant (CMA)

A certified management accountant is an expert in management accounting. These accountants typically work for large business corporations rather than private accounting firms and use their financial and management skills to make strategic business decisions.

The certification is administered by the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA). The IMA requires applicants to have a bachelor’s degree, two years of continuous work experience in finance or management accounting and membership of the institute.

The CMA must also pass a two-part exam consisting of 100 multiple-choice questions and two essays per exam. The exam will test your proficiency in 12 financial competencies including professional ethics, corporate finance and financial statement analysis. The exam has a 50% pass rate and requires 12 to 18 months of study.

Other financial certifications

In addition to the top 10 financial certifications we’ve shared, here are some other common designations and what those acronyms represent.

  • RICP: Certified Retirement Income Professional
  • AIF: Accredited Investment Trustee
  • IAR: Investment adviser representative
  • PFS: Personal finance specialist
  • I have (IM&A): International mergers and acquisitions
  • CPWA: Certified advisor in the field of private property
  • CIMA: Certified investment management analyst
  • CIMC: Certified consultant for investment management
  • FMVA: Financial modeling and valuation analyst
  • CRPC: Certified Retirement Planning Advisor

Frequently asked questions

What is the easiest financial certificate to get?

It is not easy to get any financial certificate because each certificate requires years or hundreds of hours of work, expertise and further study and exams.

The three most affordable certifications to obtain are RICP, CIMA, CRPC and ChFC.

Do the advisors have all the major financial certifications?

No advisor will have all the major financial certifications, but many have two or more accreditations.

What certifications should I look for in a financial advisor?

The most common certifications to look for include CFP, CFA, CPA, or ChFC, but these are not the only marks of competency.

Amidst the confusing mix of different degrees, our list above highlights the ten most important certifications or degrees for a counselor to have.

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