Financial advisers: don’t take their credentials at face value

When it comes to choosing a financial adviser, you should work with an adviser you trust because he or she can help you make important financial decisions. It can be hard to know who has the real expertise—especially for seniors. Over the past year, we have been reviewing the credentials used by financial advisers who imply that they specialize in giving advice to seniors.

Today, we released a report on these so-called “senior designations.”

When it comes to these specialty titles, they are anything but transparent. In fact, we found that many consumers don’t understand basic differences between brokers, investment advisers, insurance agents, and financial planners—let alone the 50 plus senior designations that many of those financial advisers add to their titles!

As you shop for financial advice or products, ask yourself: Is my adviser really an expert in my needs?

Not all financial professionals with titles like “retirement adviser” and “senior specialist” are qualified to help you manage your money. Some of these titles require in-depth training, while others aren’t much more than window dressing. Here are three things to think about when evaluating a financial adviser’s senior designation:

  • Is there considerable training required? Senior financial planning is a complex field, which includes topics like estate planning, income tax laws, and investments. Some senior designations therefore require college-level coursework and passing tough exams, which can take many months or even years to complete.
  • Is your adviser designated through a program that holds its members to strict ethical standards? You should be able to file a complaint easily with the organization that issued your adviser’s senior designation, as they may discipline or ban members who don’t follow the rules.
  • Is your adviser’s senior designation accredited? Accredited programs have taken important steps to ensure the quality of their training.

Most financial advisers are well trained, reputable professionals. But credentials alone don’t guarantee expertise or the quality of someone’s training. It’s up to you to find out what a particular title means.

Most professionals using senior designations are licensed or regulated. You can check their background using these resources:

  • Broker Check allows you to look up the professional background of securities brokers and investment advisers, as well as their firms.

To learn more about our work on senior designations, read our report.

Due to technical issues, the commenting feature of our blog is temporarily unavailable. We’re working to bring this functionality back, and look forward to hearing your feedback and comments about the CFPB’s work soon.