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What Is a Certified Wealth Strategist (CWS)?


A certified wealth strategist (CWS) is a professional who has attained a higher level of education and training in financial planning. As the name suggests, they specialize in working with high net-worth clients — typically those who have at least $1 million in liquid assets. But a CWS’s expertise goes beyond just offering a client financial advice. If you choose to work with a financial advisor with the CWS designation, you’re also getting someone highly skilled at nurturing client relationships.

The Certified Wealth Strategist Credential

The CWS program, created by the Georgia-based Cannon Financial Institute, takes a three-pillar approach in pursuit of a successful advisory business: client-interaction skills, business management and technical know-how. Mastering these critical areas gives a financial advisor a solid foundation to successfully run their own wealth management practice after earning the CWS designation.

It’s a holistic approach that takes into account a client’s entire financial picture and current life situation to help them connect their aspirations with a concrete way to achieve them. And because high net-worth individuals tend to have other outside advisors, a CWS has the knowledge and communication skills to act as a client’s point person in most wealth-related matters.

For example, whereas other types of financial advisors tend to be transaction-oriented, wealth-management strategists focus on client relationships. Put another way, they measure success against a client’s goals rather than against a market benchmark. In addition to addressing investment and insurance needs, a CWS can advise clients on liabilities, estate planning, executive compensation and business succession, among other related concerns.

Because a CWS is focused more on long-term strategy than short-term tactics, they tend to retain clients longer, have more assets under management and earn more than other financial advisors, according to Cannon.

CWS Certification Requirements

SmartAsset: What Is a Certified Wealth Strategist (CWS)?

To apply for the CWS designation, applicants must have three years of experience as a wealth manager and a four-year degree from an accredited school. In addition, applicants are required to complete a 32-week course.

The course includes a combination of classroom instruction, reading assignments, independent online study and exams. Topics studied include technical wealth-management issues like distributing charitable gifts and choosing trustees. But an equal emphasis is placed on lessons designed to sharpen interpersonal skills and help advisors develop a blueprint for a wealth-management business.

Each program participant must submit a final project on their business plan and how they will implement it. The capstone projects are then submitted for evaluation to a board before the certificate is awarded.

CWS holders are usually already working as professional financial advisors of some sort before they earn the designation, with a combination of other financial certifications or college degrees as well as years of experience.

The CWS designation is optional and doesn’t give any specific powers or privileges to its holders. It does, however, tend to go hand-in-hand with higher earnings, according to the Cannon Financial Institute.

Comparable Certifications

SmartAsset: What Is a Certified Wealth Strategist (CWS)?

Cannon has been granting the CWS designation since 2007. During that time it’s become widely accepted among the financial advice community. That said, there are some other financial advisor certifications that overlap with the interests of a CWS.

Certified Financial Planner (CFP)

CFPs are required to follow a strict fiduciary code of ethics that requires them to always act in a client’s best interests. Granted by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, applicants must complete a college-level program of study in personal financial planning, pass an exam, have a bachelor’s degree and three years of related experience. The CFP designation focuses less on business development and practice management than the CWS does.

Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)

Administered by the CFA Institute, a CFA credential indicates an advisor possesses advanced understanding of investment analysis and portfolio management. Candidates must have a bachelor’s degree or equivalent and meet the professional conduct criteria to apply. The self-study courses comprise three levels, each with associated exams, and takes about four years to complete. Roughly 150,000 financial advisors around the world are certified CFAs, which is known as one of the toughest financial credentials to earn.

Investing Tips

  • Do you have questions about how to build your investment portfolio? A financial advisor can help with this. 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.
  • A CWS might be right for you if you hold at least $1 million in assets. They have extensive knowledge of wealth management practices, including investment and retirement planning; work exclusively with high net-worth clients; and have training in operating a sustainable advisory business.

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