Professional Designations and What They Mean: On-Line Sources

    Professional Designations And What They Mean: On Line Sources Splash image

    Are you thinking of hiring a financial professional with an alphabet soup of letters after his or her name?

    Professional designations after an individual’s name are designed to ensure that the individual has met certain professional standards within a particular area of expertise.

    Although they are designed to impress, many people have only a vague sense of what these professional designations actually connote.

    Designations are given in many different areas of expertise. In addition, some designations are much more difficult to achieve than others.

    You can find out more about these professional designations and what they mean by going to the Web sites of the entities that confer the designations. The Web sites listed below belong to the institutions that confer most of the major financial professional designations that you are likely to run across.

    These Web sites describe the areas of expertise the designation covers, all the standards and requirements that must be met to be awarded the designation, any code of ethics that must be adhered to, and any disciplinary and enforcement procedures that may be used to enforce standards.

    Most, but not all, of these Web sites also allow you to search for professionals with the designation, either to find a professional in your area or to make sure a professional you are hiring actually has a current designation.

    Financial Advisors


    The CFA Institute
    The CFA Institute awards the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation to “investment professionals who demonstrate professional, educational and ethical excellence.” You can determine whether a financial advisor is a CFA Institute member by contacting the CFA Institute directly (800/247-8132 or 434/951-5499); however, you cannot do this on-line.

    Financial Planners


    Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards
    The Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards awards the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) designation to professionals who meet the board’s education, examination, experience and ethics requirements. Go to “Search for a Certified Financial Planner Professional” to find professionals currently authorized to use the CFP designation. Planners who have been publicly disciplined by the CFP Board will also be listed on the Web site.


    The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA)
    The Certified Public Accountant/Personal Financial Specialist (CPA/PFS) designation is conferred by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) to AICPA members who specialize in personal financial planning. You can search for professionals who currently hold the CPA/PFS designation by clicking on “Find a CPA/Personal Financial Specialist.”


    American College
    The Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFc) designation is for financial advisors who offer financial planning services to clients, and it is awarded by the American College. The Web site is currently under renovation but is expected to be finished in July. At that time, you will be able to find an advisor with a current designation by going to the “Find a Financial Advisor Directory.”

    Estate Planners


    National Association of Estate Planners & Councils
    The Accredited Estate Planner designation is awarded by the National Association of Estate Planners & Councils to planning professionals who meet specific experience and education qualifications. Go to the Accredited Estate Planners section for a listing of current AEP professionals.


    Institute of Business and Finance
    Board Certified in Estate Planning (BCE) is another credential for financial advisors who offer estate planning services. It is conferred by the Institute of Business and Finance. Go to The Registry for a listing of current BCE professionals.