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What Retirement Experts Lack: Expertise

How to find a financial adviser with the right credentials

By Anne Tergesen and MarketWatch

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.

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.)




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


Anne Tergesen is a writer for, specializing in retirement. Read More
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