Who You Gonna Call?
sorting out the kind of financial professional you need
Need some financial advice, but not sure where to turn? You’re not alone. There are lots of financial advisers with lots of similar-sounding titles out there. We talked to a pair of pros who carry different designations about what they do and how the people in their profession can help you.
CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER
One of the most common professional certifications is that of Certified Financial Planner: There are nearly 73,000 advisers nationwide who get to put “CFP” on their business cards. What does that mean? Certified Financial Planners must meet a series of educational requirements (studying everything from investments to estate planning); they must pass a 10-hour exam; they must have at least three years of experience in financial planning; and they must meet ethical and continuing education requirements.
At the most basic level, the CFP label lets clients know that a financial professional has undergone a broad-based educational program, said Al Jones of Jones Financial Consulting in Eau Claire. They don’t just know about investing, but also about saving for retirement and college education, as well as about estate planning, tax planning, and much more.
“It tells a client that someone is serious about financial planning – that they have met a broad baseline level of knowledge,” he said of the CFP title.
What the designation doesn’t tell a client is what a specific professional specializes in. Jones, for example, has carved out a niche for himself helping clients who are a few years from retirement. The CFP label also doesn’t tell clients how the adviser is paid. Many CFPs are affiliated with banks or investment firms, and their compensation is tied to what they sell. Others, such as Jones, work on a fee-only basis. This means they are only paid directly by their clients, not through commissions or fees based on selling particular products.
Jones suggests that people seeking financial advice should ask questions and find out what a potential adviser’s credentials mean and what kind of specialty they have. “Everyone should find someone who has credentials that are meaningful,” he said. “It’s very much a matter of trying to fit someone to your particular interest and concerns.”
ACCREDITED FINANCIAL COUNSELOR
Adrian Klenz of Klenz Financial Counseling in Eau Claire carried a different set of letters after his name: AFC, or Accredited Financial Counselor. While “financial counseling” and “financial planning” may seem like synonyms, they’re quite different. While a financial planner typically helps clients with investments, retirement planning, and estate matters, a financial counselor tends to work with people facing financial crisis – for example, those who are dealing with debt collectors and may be pondering bankruptcy. While these are often people on the lower end of the economic ladder, that’s not exclusively the case: Klenz said he’s worked with millionaires who are in over their heads.
In many ways, Klenz’s role is an educational one. “Somewhere in the neighborhood of two-thirds of Americans don’t budget,” while about one-third of Americans have debts in collections, he said. Likewise, many people aren’t knowledgeable about how credit works, such as the fact that most negative pieces of information only stay on your credit report for seven years.
Klenz’s counseling focuses on clients’ financial behaviors, and he offers budget counseling, credit counseling, and debt negotiation. “I try to get them to a point where they’re able to start investing or to start planning for retirement,” he said of clients. Once they reach this point, he said, they’re often ready to take the next step and seek advice from another kind of financial professional.
Confused by all the official-sounding titles that financial pros have?
You’re not alone: A few years ago, the Wall Street Journal – which should know a thing or two about finance – identified more than 200 designations for financial professionals. Here are some of the combinations of letters you’ll see in this alphabet soup:
AAMS: Accredited Asset Management Specialist
AEP: Accredited Estate Planner
APMA: Accredited Portfolio Management Advisor
CEBS: Certified Employee Benefit Specialist
CFA: Chartered Financial Analyst
CFP: Certified Financial Planner
CFS: Certified Fund Specialist
CFU: Chartered Financial Analyst
ChFC: Chartered Financial Consultant
CIMA: Certified Investment Management Analyst
CLTC: Certified Long-Term Care
CLU: Charted Life Underwriter
CMT: Chartered Market Technician
CPA: Certified Public Accountant
CPCU: Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter
CRPC: Certified Retirement Planning Counselor
RIA: Registered Investment Advisor