With all of the financial advisor certifications, it’s hard to know which ones may fit your needs. For example, you might be seeking a financial advisor with more experience building a financial plan. In this case, working with a CFP might be the best solution for your needs. On the other hand, if you are beginning your investment journey and don’t need someone with all the training and cost of a CFP, an advisor with an AAMS designation might be a better fit. Our free tool can help you find a financial advisor that’s right for you within minutes.
What Do Financial Advisors Do?
Financial advisors specialize in helping individual and business clients with financial planning, investing, risk management and more. They focus on helping families, individuals and businesses accomplish financial goals. Financial advisors can become a jack-of-all-trades or an expert in a single area. For example, a financial advisor can become an Accredited Asset Management Specialist (AAMS) to help clients with investments.
Specializing in a particular field helps financial advisors show their clients that they have the skills and integrity needed to manage people’s finances. Another example is the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) certification. Financial advisors who are CFPs may choose to help clients in all areas of their financial plan, from tax planning to retirement planning or investing.
What Is an Accredited Asset Management Specialist (AAMS)?
An Accredited Asset Management Specialist (AAMS) helps clients save for higher education, figure out their taxes and make a retirement plan. To obtain an AAMS, advisors take classes and exams for their certification and learn how to give advice based on an assessment of their client’s assets.
The College for Financial Planning provides certification courses for many specializations, including the AAMS. Aspiring AAMSs must complete 10 modules from the college, then take an exam. Upon passing, students declare that they will follow a code of ethics. To keep their certification, AAMSs must continue taking courses throughout their career to expand their skill set and stay current on new financial tools and trends. Specifically, AAMSs must take 16 hours of ongoing education per two years.
Students can complete the ten modules online and can start any time. Whether students choose self-study or an instructor-led setting, the training encompasses these financial topics:
- The Asset Management Process
- Risk, Return & Investment Performance
- Asset Allocation & Selection
- Investment Strategies
- Taxation of Investments
- Investing for Retirement
- Deferred Compensation and Other Benefit Plans
- Insurance Products for Investment Clients
- Estate Planning for Investment Clients
- Fiduciary, Ethical and Regulatory Issues for Advisors
What Is a Certified Financial Planner (CFP)?
A Certified Financial Planner (CFP) is another certification a financial advisor can obtain. More rigorous than the AAMS, CFP requires extra education, exams and exceptional professional financial experience. A CFP is a fiduciary, meaning their guidance and services prioritize their clients’ financial interests. A CPF advises on financial pillars such as taxes, investing and retirement.
The Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards provides CPF certification and conducts background checks on prospective CFPs. Additionally, CFPs must provide critical information to the Board, such as criminal history, customer complaints and employment history.
CFP training includes the signature “four E’s” necessary for certification: education, exam, experience and ethics.
- Education: A CFP must have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. After earning a four-year degree, students enroll in a college-level program in personal financial planning. The last step is a CFP Board-registered capstone course that fits their professional pursuits.
- Exam: Upon obtaining the educational requirements, hopeful CFPs must pass an exam. The exam is over 150 multiple choice questions long and takes multiple days to complete. The exam thoroughly tests aptitude in communication, professionalism, risk management and more.
- Experience: CFP applicants must have at least 6,000 hours of financial advising experience. Prospective CFPs with 4,000 of apprenticing experience may apply if they meet other specific standards.
- Ethics: Before receiving certification, every CFP must pledge to follow a code of ethics and a lofty standard of professional conduct. This element of CFP certification relates to the fiduciary duty of CFPs. Consequently, they promise to manage finances with objectivity, integrity, fairness and confidentiality.
AAMS vs. CFP: Which One Is Right for Me?
Typically, financial advisors with less experience go for the AAMS. This certification expands the credentials of new advisors and allows them to better aid expert advisors in their work. That said, the AAMS is no light matter – the course and exam cost $1,300 and require about 100 hours of study. However, the AAMS can be an intermediate step towards achieving the CFP. This is because the AAMS provides the financial advisor with some of the certifications required for the CFP.
The CFP is regarded as the gold standard in financial advising. CFP’s demanding standards and fiduciary status mean that clients receive top-notch service that places their interests beyond all else. As a result, this certification is ideal for professionals whose clients need help creating a financial plan.
So, if you need assistance with your financial plan, you may seek the experience of a CFP. On the other hand, if you’re beginning to build your assets, you may seek the guidance of an AAMS.
Financial advisors can pursue a range of additional certifications to enhance their skills. The AAMS helps newer advisors understand their work and take the next step in their field. The CFP is more rigorous than the AAMS. It can considerably sharpen financial advisors’ skills and help them become experts in assisting individuals with financial planning needs. While both certifications can help you with your various financial needs, it’s wise to explore each financial advisor’s expertise to decide which certification could help you best achieve your financial goals.
Tips for Choosing a Financial Advisor
- Whether you’re looking for a CFP or AAMS, the process of selecting a financial advisor can be challenging. Finding a qualified financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three financial advisors who serve your area, and you can interview your advisor matches at no cost to decide which one is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
- The most important qualification to look for in a financial advisor is adherence to fiduciary duty. Working with a fiduciary advisor ensures that they are legally bound to act in your best financial interests no matter what.
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