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What Retirement Experts Lack: Expertise

How to find a financial adviser with the right credentials

By Anne Tergesen | MarketWatch | November 12, 2013

Looking for a financial adviser to help you convert your savings into retirement income?

With the boomers in or near retirement, more advisers are earning credentials as retirement specialists. But with a bewildering array of such designations currently in use — there are 50 in all — “the use of senior designations is extremely confusing for consumers,” according a report earlier this year by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

Making Sense of the Acronyms
 
As the CFPB’s report notes, “The titles and acronyms for the different designations are often similar or nearly identical.” (Quick: What’s the difference between an Accredited Retirement Advisor and an Accredited Retirement Plan Consultant?)

Moreover, the titles mask big differences in the training and examinations these programs require.

For example, while the Accredited Retirement Advisor and Accredited Retirement Plan Consultant require no specific coursework, those earning a Retired Income Specialist (RIS) certification must put in 60 hours of online coursework, according to the report.

Check for Required Experience
 
A similar variation is true for the programs’ accreditation and complaint procedures.

For some credentials, for example, applicants don’t have to demonstrate any previous professional experience, nor do they have to use any officially accredited curriculum.

Neither the Accredited Retirement Advisor nor the Accredited Retirement Plan Consultant has an online database consumers can use to submit complaints or look up an adviser’s disciplinary record, according to the report. The Certified Senior Advisor (CSA), on the other hand, has both.
 
So where can someone in or near retirement go for help?

The CFPB report lists the coursework requirements, accreditation status, and consumer complaint and disciplinary procedures used by eight senior designation programs. (See pages 26 through 29 of the CFPB report.)

Financial Planners Specializing in Retirement Issues
 
Wade Pfau, a professor of retirement income at the American College in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania — a leading training ground for advisers who receive the well-regarded certified financial planner (CFP) designation — recently profiled three additional retirement-oriented designations he holds in high esteem.

Pfau, who is also a MarketWatch RetireMentor columnist, singles out the Retirement Income Certified Professional (RICP) designation; the Certified Retirement Counselor (CRC) and the Retirement Management Analyst (RMA). Full disclosure: The American College sponsors the RICP, and Pfau is a former curriculum director of the RMA.

Finding a Qualified Retirement Income Pro
 
I recently spoke with David Littell, program director of the RICP. Turns out the RICP is “the fastest-growing financial adviser credential” in the American College’s 87-year history, according to Littell. So far, more than 3,000 financial advisers have signed up to take its three required courses and exams and 250 have completed the program. (To find them, go to designationcheck.com.)

In all, each course requires 60 to 80 hours of study and covers topics including long-term care, Medicare, tapping home equity, maximizing pension and Social Security benefits and tax-efficient withdrawal strategies, says Littell.
 
With the demise of traditional defined-benefit pension plans, advisers worry about their clients running out of money in later life, says Littell. They also feel there is a “tremendous opportunity” to use the credential to market themselves to aging baby boomers, he says.

Anne Tergesen is a staff reporter at The Wall Street Journal, covering retirement finances and planning. This article originally appeared on MarketWatch.com
 

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