Why Designations Matter
Sterling Raskie, MSFS, CFP®, ChFC®, CLU®
Fee-Only Investment Advisor and Financial Planner
Throughout my career I have had the occasion to talk with several financial advisors, planners, insurance agents, brokers, and other industry professionals about some of the reasons why people choose to pursue or not to pursue designations. I have heard differing views on the topic and thought I’d share some of my insights as to why I chose and still choose to pursue designations and degrees.
Before I do, let me start by talking about some of the reasons why the advisors I have spoken to decide not to earn a designation. More often than not, the typical answers that I receive are not having enough time, not sure which designation to pursue, lack of funding to afford the designation, and lack of support on earning the designation – either from their employer or family. On the latter two points, some companies may not be able to “support” the designation - think captive agents that get the CFP® or ChFC® designation. They may be allowed to earn it, but if they are captive agents to a specific company, meaning that they have to be loyal to the company first, they are not allowed to advertise it, put it on business cards or stationery, and most importantly are not allowed to act as a fiduciary – meaning that they have to put the interests of the company they work for first, then the client. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just different. Regarding family, many designations take a lot of time, energy and resources away from the family. Although these sacrifices are short-lived, some family members have a hard time with the time and resources being shifted momentarily.
One of the most ridiculous responses I heard came from an advisor I was having a conversation with regarding the coveted CFP® designation. Having found out that I earned it, we were discussing the finer points of what the designation means, what you have to know for the exam and so on. At the end of the conversation the advisor gave me a slap on the back and said, “I already make enough money and don’t need the designation. But have fun paying all those fees!” (Side note: as of this writing the advisor I was speaking to is no longer in the industry).
In my humble opinion there are reasons why you should and why you should not pursue a designation. As you can assimilate from the information above, it becomes clear of why we should not pursue a designation. It’s not for the “money” and it’s certainly not for the prestige (although you feel pretty good when you earn one). You shouldn’t pursue one if you feel forced to do so (would you want to work with an advisor if you knew he or she really didn’t want the letters after their name?).
Most advisors and planners pursue and earn designations because they want to. They want to better themselves, their clients and their industry. Now, I’d be lying if I said that having designations doesn’t increase your income. It certainly can. That being said, the increase in income is (and should always be) a by-product of learning, putting your clients first, and maintaining the integrity of the industry and the designation earned.
The real beauty of earning a designation is it teaches us humility. Why? Because it’s through learning and earning those designations that we truly realize how much we really don’t know – and how much more we need to learn. This industry has so much to offer and so much of it is ever-changing. To not continue to learn, earn designations and better ourselves is a disservice to our colleagues, our profession, and our clients – and most of all, ourselves.