Attaining financial industry designations is a daunting task for any new advisor. And there are two primary reasons.

The first is time. For new advisors consumed with building their books, dedicating time to expand their knowledge through formal course offerings is a challenge. You’re essentially going back to school, and if you’re taking the exam concurrent to your work, you need to have a time-management plan. Secondly, sifting through the plethora of course offerings can be confusing.

Deciding which designation to pursue can actually be easier than it looks – the advisor should simply choose coursework that’s directly relevant to the primary focus of his or her practice. Is the operation geared mainly to individual security selection and portfolio management, or does it lean more toward financial planning and wealth management via third-party managers such as mutual funds, pooled funds, or wrap programs?

A portfolio-management-minded advisor would want to add investment-specific courses and designations to his or her knowledge base, while the holistic wealth manager would want designations that focus on financial planning and wealth management strategies.

First choices

The Canadian Securities Institute offers several choices for advisors looking for investment-specific curricula, including “Investment Management Techniques” and “Portfolio Management Techniques.” These two courses, along with the pre-requisite Canadian Securities Course (CSC) lead to the Canadian Investment Manager (CIM) designation, which is one route to acquiring the portfolio manager status needed to conduct discretionary investment selection for a high-net-worth client base.

The extremely comprehensive Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation, offered through the CFA Institute, also provides the educational component of portfolio management registration in Canada. The CFA program is a graduate-level course consisting of three sequential exams: Level I is offered in June and December, while Level II and III are offered only in June.

For those geared toward alternative investments, the CSI’s Derivatives Fundamentals Course followed by the Options Licensing Course provide the knowledge base required to obtain an options license.

The most universally recognized and accepted financial planning designation – by both investors and the financial industry – is that of the Certified Financial Planner governed by the Financial Planning Standards Council.

Advisors are required to surmount the four Es—education, examination, experience, and ethics—before they’re deemed CFP-certified. The course and exam are challenging and require completion of a certification program either for accredited education candidates (FPSC-approved core-curriculum program, CFP examination and two years financial planning work experience) or for approved prior credentialed candidates (holding one of several finance, business or economics designations, CFP examination and three years of financial planning work experience).

A new FPSC policy for the CFP that becomes effective on June 1, 2010 is significantly more cumbersome.

Next steps

The Chartered Professional (Ch.P.) Strategic Wealth is a new designation offered by the Canadian Securities Institute and replaces the Financial Management Advisor designation. Although there’s some overlap, Ch.P. Strategic Wealth is not necessarily an alternative to the CFP. Rather, as the only certification focusing on the high net-worth advisory approach, it provides a robust supplement to the CFP.

CFP professionals can further enhance their estate planning and wealth transfer expertise by getting the Chartered Life Underwriter designation, offered by the CLU Institute. The CLU program consists of three specialized courses in these areas of financial planning for individuals and business owners: life insurance applications, insurance law and taxation and applied estate planning.

The Fellow of Canadian Securities Institute (FCSI) is an important designation for any advisor, whether portfolio management or financial-planning focused, because of its broad recognition within the industry. To obtain the FCSI, an advisor must:

  • Hold one of three CSI designations – Canadian Investment Manager; Financial Management Advisor; or Derivatives Market Specialist;
  • Complete one of the CSI licensing courses – The Conducts and Practices Handbook Course; The Branch Managers Course; or The Partners Directors and Officers Exam Course; and one additional CSI course;
  • Complete either the CSI CE Ethics Course or the Ethics Seminar;
  • Have at least five years of industry experience within the past eight years; and Receive sponsorship from an existing FCSI along with an endorsement from a direct supervisor.

Educational maintenance

Continuing education and ethical standards are often required to maintain an advisor’s designation(s), the most rigorous being those required for the CFP and the CFA. But ethics and education apart, another equally important aspect of credentials is they make perfect marketing sense for advisors seeking new clients.

Meaningful letters after your name are always a good way to differentiate your services from everyone else’s as they convey that you’re committed to keeping current. They can be especially helpful when servicing the high-net-worth clients who tend to be more discerning.

Which designation to take first is best determined by the adopted advisory style: Portfolio Management and/or Financial Planning and Wealth Management, as well as the income levels and other demographic factors of the client base the advisor wishes to serve.

As the years go by, there are many other designations that can be acquired to enhance education and delve into specialty studies. The important thing is to remain curious.

Whether you cram, take a crash course or go back to school to get certifications, the bottom line is to do something. In today’s world, it just doesn’t make sense not to provide a visual proof to clients that you’re committed to education, especially when you’re managing their money.


  • Nathan Parkhouse, CFP, CIM, FMA, FCSI, is the owner and financial advisor of Parkhouse Financial.

    Originally published in Advisor's Edge