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What Is a Certified Exit Planning Advisor (CEPA)?


If you’re a business owner, you’ll most likely be facing many complicated decisions when it comes time to retire. After all, selling a business is a major life event. To help you navigate this complex transition, consider consulting a certified exit planning advisor (CEPA), an expert trained to help you align your goals and build transferable value into your company. If you’re looking for financial advice as a business owner, consider working with a financial advisor who can help you create a financial plan or look at the ramifications of a potential exit.

What a CEPA Designation Means

The CEPA program, created in 2007 by the Exit Planning Institute, is an in-person, MBA-style program. The five-day course is held several times a year across the U.S. (Cities offering the program in 2020 include Atlanta, Cleveland, Chicago, New York and San Diego). Advisors who earn this credential are specially trained to help business owners create an exit plan — a blueprint for selling your company for maximum benefit. 

A certified exit planning advisor isn’t just concerned with your business goals; they consider your personal and financial objectives as well. A CEPA takes a holistic approach to help you develop a business strategy that integrates all aspects of your life. 

When you work with a CEPA, you’ll get an expert who will examine issues related to your professional industry; your tolerance for risk; your timeline for retirement; and other critical areas of operating a business. They’ll help you decide when’s the best time to sell your business and how to minimize your taxes from the sale.

CEPA Requirements and Program Overview

certified exit planning advisorTo become a certified exit planning advisor, candidates must have at least five years of full-time or equivalent experience working directly with business owners. Many CEPAs come from the banking or insurance industries or are accountants, estate planners or lawyers. Candidates must either have an undergraduate degree or additional relevant work experience. They must also be a member of the Exit Planning Institute in good standing.

Over five immersive days, CEPA candidates gain proficiency in 23 key areas, as taught by nationally recognized experts in exit planning. Topics covered in the weeklong course include value acceleration methodology; estate planning; private equity; incorporating charitable intent; and other related concepts.

There is also a day devoted to practicing management and building a marketing strategy. The CEPA program culminates with a closed-book, proctored final exam.

How a CEPA Differs From a Certified Exit Planner (CExP)

The certified exit planner (CExP) designation has been offered by the Business Enterprise Institute (BEI) since 2009. Like certified exit planning advisors, CExP candidates study advanced exit planning strategies and go on to advise business owners on, among other things, valuing their business; transferring ownership; maintaining continuity; and handling financial proceeds.

Differences in CEPA vs. CExP

The CExP program starts with a two-day boot camp that participants can complete online or in a live setting. After that, candidates embark on a series of nine courses offered online. Each module concludes with an exam. This differs from the CEPA program, which only has one final test. CExP students also have to create two sample exit plans with BEI’s plan-creating software.

The CExP designation is cheaper to get and you can take it from the comfort of your home. Students have one year to complete the advanced courses, which typically take 100 to 120 hours of study, according to BEI’s estimate. The CEPA program, in contrast, is a five-day, in-person program, held several times a year. 

The CExP advanced course series costs $1,795. The boot camp is $995 if taken online and $1,495 when taken live. At $5,695, the CEPA program is much more expensive, though there is a $1,000 early-bird discount.

Similarities in CEPA vs. CExP

Like CEPA candidates, CExP candidates must also have experience advising businesses in some capacity. Approved credentials include attorney, certified financial planner, certified public accountant, chartered life underwriter and chartered financial analyst. Individuals who have specializations within those fields may also qualify.

Both programs cover similar topics. The CExP workshops teach candidates to create exit plans; lead or participate in exit planning advisor teams; and how market their services to increase their income. 

Professionals with the CExP designation must take 30 hours of continuing education every two years to maintain their certificates. CEPAs must complete 40 hours of continuing education every three years.

The Bottom Line

certified exit planning advisorFor business owners, hiring a certified exit planning advisor means working with an expert specifically trained to understand the complexities of selling or otherwise leaving a business. It can help you define your professional, financial and personal goals, and develop a holistic strategy to achieve them by the time you leave your company. For advisors, earning a CEPA designation means developing new, advanced skills that will allow you to expand your client base. 

Tips for Business Owners

  • A financial advisor can help you properly exit your business or help you better understand the impacts on your personal finances. Finding a financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three vetted 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.
  • If you’re getting ready to transfer or sell your business, consider working with a certified exit planning advisor to develop a strategy that takes into account your goals and needs. You can also have a plan for any proceeds of such a sale by estimating potential returns with our investment calculator

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