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Senior woman planning her retirementSalespeople and marketers working in the financial services profession, as well as college students, can earn the Accredited Retirement Plan Consultant (ARPC) certificate to show they have proficiency and professionalism sufficient to help employers create effective retirement plans for workers. That includes plan features and designs as well as how to educate, advice and communicate with eligible employees about the plan, not to mention marketing the plans. They can also address required reporting and compliance demands. Meanwhile, a financial advisor can offer individuals, whether they are employees or not, valuable advice on creating, adjusting and monitoring their own personal financial plan.

ARPC Issuing Body

The Society of Professional Asset Managers and Recordkeepers (SPARK) is the sponsor of the ARPC certificate. The nonprofit was formed in 1998 and acts as an advocacy group on federal retirement policy. The membership of SPARK includes many of the financial industry’s top companies, including BlackRock, Fidelity, Charles Schwab and Merrill Lynch. In addition to the APRC certificate program, SPARK provides research, training and other resources on cybersecurity, fraud, compliance and industry best practices.

The ARPC has been offered since 2004. About 150 financial professionals currently hold the certificate. So it’s not an especially common certification.

ARPC Certification Requirements

The ARPC designation is primarily intended for people already working in sales and marketing in the retirement plan field. With the exception of students, applicants must have a year of full-time experience.

SPARK further defines a year of experience as at least 2,000 hours of working in financial services. That has to include at least 400 hours spent selling, marketing or providing services to retirement plans and plan participants.

Applicants must provide a recommendation letter from a current work supervisor. The recommendation letter has to verify the type and amount of the application’s work experience.

Students currently enrolled in a college or university can apply without the required job experience requirement. Instead, they need a recommendation from a faculty member or department head to qualify.

Student applicants won’t receive their ARPC until they complete a year of professional work experience, however. The relevant work experience can include an internship.

The ARPC Exam

"Employer-Sponsored Retirement Plan" written on a sheet of notebook paperARPC applicants also have to pass a certification exam. This is a 100-question multiple-choice test that must be completed within two hours with a passing score of 73% correct. The exam questions are designed to test the applicant’s knowledge of how to determine an organization’s retirement plan needs, evaluate the effectiveness of organization’s current retirement plan, formulate a suitable retirement plan solution, present it to the employer and assist in implementation and follow-up.

No coursework is required to sit for the exam. However, applicants can take an online ARPC course that presents material based on the exam outline.

Costs to Get an ARPC

ARPC applicants have to pay a $350 application fee and taking the exam costs another $150. The optional self-paced online ARPC training course costs $850. Applicants who pay for the SPARK ARPC course can have the $350 application fee waived.

ARPC certificate holders pay $150 annually to renew the designation. Each year they also have to complete 10 hours of continuing education courses. SPARK offers five-hour continuing education courses that meet the requirements for $150 each.

ARPC Jobs and Privileges

ARPC holders work in marketing and sales in the retirement field. Earning the APRC designation allows the holder of the certificate to use the ARPC certification logo on business cards and stationery. Beyond that, there are not particular powers or privileges associated with holding this designation.

Comparable Certifications

There are several other professional designations that can be earned by financial services workers in the retirement field.

Accredited Retirement Plan Specialist (ARPS) is a SPARK designation for administrative and recordkeeping professionals working in retirement plan operations. Similar to the ARPC certificate, ARPS holders have demonstrated a year of experience and the ability to pass an exam.

Certified Retirement Counselor (CRC) is offered by the International Foundation for Retirement Education. Applicants can earn the certificate by registering and passing a four-hour 200-question exam that costs $520.

Bottom Line

Happy retired coupleSales and marketing professionals working in the retirement plan industry can demonstrate their proficiency at designing employer-sponsored retirement plans by earning the ARPC designation. Earning the certificate requires having a year of relevant experience, obtaining a letter of recommendation and passing an exam. The designation, which is not particularly common among financial professionals, can also be earned by college students.

Tips on Retirement

  • Consider working with a financial advisor to develop, implement and fine-tune a personal financial or estate plan. Finding a financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in five minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors who will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • Are you saving enough for retirement? SmartAsset’s award-winning retirement calculator can help you determine exactly how much you need to save to retire.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/South_agency, ©iStock.com/Andrii Dodonov, ©iStock.com/kupicoo

Mark Henricks Mark Henricks has reported on personal finance, investing, retirement, entrepreneurship and other topics for more than 30 years. His freelance byline has appeared on CNBC.com and in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance and other leading publications. Mark has written books including, “Not Just A Living: The Complete Guide to Creating a Business That Gives You A Life.” His favorite reporting is the kind that helps ordinary people increase their personal wealth and life satisfaction. A graduate of the University of Texas journalism program, he lives in Austin, Texas. In his spare time he enjoys reading, volunteering, performing in an acoustic music duo, whitewater kayaking, wilderness backpacking and competing in triathlons.
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