You and your acronyms: Will a new designation join a long list of financial advisor titles?

You and your acronyms: Will a new designation join a long list of financial advisor titles?

You and your acronyms: Will a new designation join a long list of financial advisor titles?

You and your acronyms: Will a new designation join a long list of financial advisor titles?

Katherine Krantz, CEO of the Center for the Macro Specialist Designation, says it’s high time, and of high value, to add another: the Macro Specialist Designation, or M2SD.

“Our research shows that about 75% of the variation in stock returns are driven by macro forces, not company-specific forces. So when somebody says they ‘don’t do macro,’ they simply don’t realize they are already doing macro,” Krantz said. “What the designation gives you is a framework to think about these big-picture trends.”

The M2SD designation was launched in November 2022. There is a $2,500 fee to register for each of the three levels of the self-paced program, which includes the study materials and the exam registration fee. Exam retakes cost $300 per attempt.

A candidate who successfully passes all three exams is responsible for a $250 annual fee to maintain an active M2SD designation and participate in M2SD program events. All three levels of the program can be completed in as little as 18 months, said Krantz, a former wealth advisor.

“It really helps you have better conversations with your clients. These are the questions that people ask you. They want to know about mortgage rates and they want to know about what’s going to happen in the job market. They’re not asking you about balance sheet items, so it really helps you all the way around,” she said.

As to how the M2SD fits in with the other industry designations and degrees, Krantz says it is absolutely complementary, especially to the CFA.

“They are bottom up and have even moved a little bit more away from macro,” said Krantz. “And so we really designed it to be complementary to the CFA or even an MBA. I studied economics in college and grad school and I didn’t learn any of this.”

The CFP 'Gold Standard'

Krantz’s M2SD has a lot of company and competitors for advisors’ interest and time. Advisors often joke that there are “more degrees than a thermometer” when it comes to the wealth management industry. If that’s the case, the certified financial planner certification would have to be considered the “hottest,” or the most valuable one for advisors to show clients and colleagues.

“In our industry as a client-facing practitioner, I believe the CFP is the highest standard of financial certifications. I think the criteria determines significance of these marks — the education process requirement, the industry experience, along with rigorous testing make this certification the gold standard,” said Brandon Dixon-James, president and wealth manager at Resilient Wealth Management, part of Osaic.

Chris Mankoff, partner at JTL Wealth Partners, agrees with Dixon-James ranking, saying the CFP designation is the most valuable because it encompasses 72 different areas of financial planning and allows the holder the ability to obtain knowledge in all areas of financial planning, which in turn gives them the ability to take financial planning to the next level.

“I believe clients find it a valuable designation because of the highly regarded fiduciary responsibility as well as the education, ethical, and experience requirements,” Mankoff said.

David Demming, founder and president of Demming Financial Services Corp., is not one to argue. His firm mandates all client-facing planners hold the designation and trains new associates while paying for their CFP.

“Our newest CFP Jake was hired out of college and is now working with clients, frequently children and grandchildren of our clients,” Demming said.

Andrew Fincher of VLP Financial Advisors goes so far as to say that the CFP differentiates financial advisors from traditional salespeople. Any designation or degree beyond the CFP, in his opinion, is really to meet a business niche or an advisor’s passion. For his part, Fincher also holds an accredited investment fiduciary designation because of his extensive work with 401(k) plans.

“If investments are your thing, you could look into CIMA or CFA, EA, CPA, or a masters in tax for tax planning, and many more. The one clients mainly care about, however, is the CFP,” he said.

“The CFP credential has grown into the gold standard they aspire to. Public awareness has increased substantially, and prospects often ask if I have that credential in their first few questions,” said Ted Haley, financial planner with Advanced Wealth Management.

The rest and the best

The CFP may be the gold standard, but it’s not the end-all and be-all. Advisors seeking an edge, or expertise in a certain area, have plenty of degrees and designations to choose from to better themselves and further their practices.

Scott Bishop, managing director at Presidio Wealth Partners, finds his certified public accountant designation to be most helpful in his practice alongside his CFP designation. In his view, taxes and financial planning are fundamentally linked.

“I feel that you cannot help someone with true financial planning without being able to advise on the tax impact. How can financial planning be optimized if you cannot understand and enumerate the impact of taxes?” said Bishop.

Christopher Rand, managing partner at Fides Wealth, says clients seem intrigued and impressed with his Ph.D. in financial and retirement planning. That said, he believes his CFP designation is far more important given the general awareness of the CFP among the public.

“I feel CFP is now to financial planning what CPA has been to tax preparation in the eyes of the public,” Rand said.

Catherine Valega, a financial advisor with Green Bee Advisory, has no problem highlighting her chartered alternative investment analyst designation, even though “no one knows what that is.”  She also holds the digital asset financial professional, which she calls “too new for people to know what it means.”

Jack Heintzelman, financial planner at Boston Wealth Strategies, obtained his CFP to understand the basics and build his financial advisory business. He then attained the certified private wealth advisor designation, which helps advisors cater to those with $5 million-plus in assets. For his next set of letters, Heintzelman says he is going to drill down even more.

“Looking forward I find value in designations that help my specific clientele and also ones that surround me with other passionate and innovative financial planners in their spaces. The networking and support system is so important,” he said.

Steven J. Stanganelli, financial advisor with Clear View Wealth Advisors, also didn’t stop at the CFP. He kept on going, and going, gaining additional designations in retirement planning (CRPC), estate planning (AEP), and college planning (CCFC and CCFS).

“Personally, I’ve found all helpful in my practice areas, though the CCFC has been better than the CCFS in dealing with tax issues related to college. While clients don’t recognize most, if any, of the others besides the CFP, I have found that they do value that I have advanced designations in the specific niche practice areas that they may be calling about,” Stanganelli said.

Similarly, Mitchell Kraus, financial advisor at Capital Intelligence Associates, claims seven industry designations. For his particular practice, however, he says the chartered advisor in philanthropy has been the most valuable.

“My passion is helping clients create a legacy, and the CAP designation goes beyond many of the traditional financial planning arenas,” Kraus said. “My clients, however, care most about my CFP. It is the most recognized and promoted the best to the general public.”

Finally, Brian Hartmann, partner at Granite Bridge Wealth Management, part of Osaic, says it’s easy to get lost in the “alphabet soup” of industry designations once they get beyond the CFP. In his view, behavioral finance will take a more prominent role in the industry and merits further study.

“Accredited Behavioral Finance Professional (ABFP) and Behavioral Financial Advisor (BFA) seem to be leading the way in this space. Our broker dealer, Osaic, offers in–house training for the BFA designation, which has been widely adopted by many of our 11,000 advisors,” said Hartmann. 

“For me, the designations that truly make us better practitioners are the ones we should be focused on.  Alphabet soup is fine, but the knowledge behind those titles carries the weight in how we best serve clients,” he added.