Commonwealth Financial Network will require advisers to earn credentials in fiduciary practices or retirement planning as part of its new Retirement Plan Consulting Program.

The move underscores how much of a priority it is now for all financial advisers to adopt the fiduciary standard of care, say industry sources. "We anticipate that the advisers who were using our platform prior to the new Retirement Plan Consulting Program will stay onboard," says company spokesperson Emily Guadagnoli.

To participate in the program, advisers need one of two designations: the Accredited Investment Fiduciary (AIF) offered through education service Fiduciary360, or the Chartered Retirement Plan Specialist (CRPS) available through the College for Financial Planning. Fiduciary standards, the legal standard of care for retirement plans under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), are very complex, and “even people who do this all day long can make mistakes,” said Amy Glynn, Commonwealth’s director of retirement consulting services. The new consulting program, launched last July, is designed to ensure that Commonwealth’s advisers dispense retirement advice with the highest level of education and expertise available, she said.

Many advisory firms and support service providers, such as custodians, are stressing fiduciary training in anticipation of financial regulatory reform, said Blaine Aikin, president and chief executive officer of fi360, which provides fiduciary education and practice management for advisers. “We are definitely seeing more companies and more advisers, individually, taking it upon themselves to get training,” he said.

To earn the AIF designation, advisers need to complete a total of 20 hours of training through a combination of fi360’s web-based and classroom courses. To earn the CRPS designation, the College of Financial Planning requires advisers to complete 20 hours of classroom and web-based instruction, Glynn said. Costs for either designation range from $800 to $1,200.

“This [training] requirement creates all the right behaviors,” she said. “It protects us as a firm, and it ensures that advisors have the highest level of competency, particularly in this heavily regulated arena.”

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