ChFC, CFP, CFA, CLU, CMFC, CFS, CRS, CSA, CAA, RFC, CDP, PFS ….

While some advisers prefer a string of designations after their names, other planners question the value of the marks.

Most advisers agree that the Certified Financial Planner and Chartered Financial Consultant marks are attained for comprehensive planning skills. But some planners worry that other designations ultimately bring consumers more confusion than expertise.

Some planners believe that associations are starting to capitalize on niche planning with extra designations, but don’t offer much more than continuing education to advisers.

"A lot of them are feeling a squeeze," said Bryan Lee, a planner at Strategic Financial Planning in Garland, Texas. "I noticed more advertising, more direct mail pieces. You’re seeing more of alliances … They’re starting to realize if they don’t get on board with an association or do something to get their numbers to grow, they’re going to become obsolete soon."

"Everybody’s trying to find a way into this whole financial advisory business," said Diahann Lassus, of Lassus Wherely & Associates in New Providence, N.J. "If [the designation is] furthering education for financial advisers, that’s a good thing. If [the sponsor’s] drive is another way to get the attention of the public, I have some serious problems."

Smaller associations say though that just because they are less known, doesn’t mean they are less valid. In fact, it doesn’t mean that they are trying to compete with the CFP mark, the smaller groups say.

"It’s nothing but professional jealousy. We’re easier to pick on because we’re smaller," said Glenn Wood, vice president of the National Tax-Sheltered Accounts Association, which sponsors the Certified Retirement Specialist designation that specializes in the 403(b) market.

Currently 1,100 individuals are certified retirement specialists. Originally the designation was called the Certified Specialist in Tax-Sheltered Annuities (CSTSA), but was changed to Certified Retirement Specialist about three years ago because the name of the organization was changed from the National Tax-Sheltered Annuities Association. Association members pay $760 to earn the CRS mark after 40 weeks of study. Non-members pay $810.

Still though, planners are wary. Scott Dauenhauer, a CFP holder and principal of Meridian Wealth Management in Irvine, Calif., said the actual name is misleading because the CRS curriculum does not cover all of retirement planning. At least the original name was more specific, he added.

Another mark -- Certified Senior Advisor -- signifies a facilitator for senior clients who might need healthcare of financial assistance. For planners, the course will teach how to incorporate elderly health issues into the financial picture. The CSA class costs $895 for a three-day encompassed curriculum and $795 for self-study materials.

"We teach people how to work with older adults -- both personally and professionally … We train people how they can be a resource for that senior," said Ed Pittock, president and founder of The Society of Certified Senior Advisors in 1996 which grants the CSA designation.

But for planners does it really hurt to get as many designations as possible, especially since the public is still largely unaware of the differences between them?

Mark Snyder, a principal at Mark J. Snyder Financial Services in Medford, N.Y., said having extra designations adds to his credibility -- as well as allowing him to gain a little extra knowledge. "More education [and] more designations doesn’t hurt," he said.

Yet other planners were torn with their answers.

"The disadvantage is you just get so many letters after your last name, you have to explain each individual one [to clients] and it just gets too much," Dauenhauer said. "It does show that you’ve gone the extra length to get the education."

"If we don’t understand all of the specialization’s or designations in terms of what they mean …Then how on earth do we expect the public to understand? What were doing is really diluting the importance of our core designations," Lassus said.

Most planners concluded that advisers should at least obtain the CFP or ChFC, and then if they are interested in gaining knowledge of other areas, obtain the more specialized designations. "Different designations do have different purposes … [but] for our profession to even get the point as the same playing field as CPAs or attorneys I think we have to rally around that one mark," Lee said.

For more information on designation issues, go to:
Designation Proliferation: Advisers weigh the advantages to consolidating the numerous financial planning designations.

No Pain, No Gain: A growing planning organization is counting on its members' appetite for more hard work.

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