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What is a CEBS?

How do businesses and employees learn to trust the person running their retirement plan? Having a specialized certification from one of the top business schools in the nation doesn’t hurt. A CEBS not only gets to place an acronym after their name, but they stand out among other financial professionals specializing in employer-sponsored retirement plans. You can work with a financial advisor to help you with your retirement planning if you’re unsure which retirement plans might be right for you. 

Certified Employee Benefit Specialist (CEBS) Explained

The Certified Employee Benefit Specialist (CEBS) designation is a designation that is typically earned by those that negotiate and administer employee benefits packages. This is a symbol of professional knowledge and integrity in the space. Obtaining a CEBS designation typically takes years of work and study as the process requires both testing and educational requirements.

The International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans (IFEBP), which sponsors CEBS, considers it the premier designation in its field. Part of its luster comes from having The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania conduct its courses. For Canadian students, Dalhousie University performs the same function.

The IEFPB is a non-profit education and research organization based in Brookfield, Wisconsin. Though the IEFPB was founded in 1974, the CEBS certification program was started in 1977. About 14,000 people have earned the designation since then.

Career-minded employee benefits professionals seek the CEBS designation to distinguish themselves from colleagues with extra financial training. However, it doesn’t confer any exclusive powers or privileges.

CEBS Requirements

What is a CEBS?

CEBS candidates must complete five self-paced online courses and pass their associated examinations. Students can take instructor-led online classes or can work on their own. The college-level curriculum includes two courses on health and group benefits and two on defined contribution and defined benefit retirement plans. The fifth is a bridge course for understanding more complex principles for other certifications. However, candidates can take courses in any order.

Course content covers economics and finance as well as the day-to-day administration of employee benefits plans and retirement plans. The examinations are computer-based and require a 70% correct score to pass. Each two-hour test consists of 100 multiple-choice questions.

There are no prerequisites, either educational or professional. Unlike most professional designations, the CEBS requires no work experience in the field. However, students cannot use any other courses to satisfy the requirements.

Taking the first two courses and the bridge and passing the examinations entitles a student to certification as a Group Benefits Associate. Taking the second pair of courses and the bridge and passing the examinations entitles the student to certification as a Retirement Plans Associate. Both these designations also fall under the auspices of the IFEBP.

Other CEBS Hurdles

Every two years, CEBS graduates have to earn 30 credits by taking courses from the IFEBP, ISCEBS, local chapters and other organizations. Their continuing education can include group benefits and retirement plan management and administration, wealth management, and personal financial planning. Meanwhile, CEBS graduates also can study plan design and governance, plan funding and finance, cost containment, regulatory developments, and professional ethics.

Graduates also must follow a set of principles of conduct. They have to promise not to allow personal financial gain to interfere with the best interests of plan participants and others. CEBS principles also rule out dishonesty, deceit, fraud and knowingly illegal activity.

CEBS Designation Benefits

Those with the CEBS designation can put initials after their names as evidence of their commitment to and training in the benefits field. They also can join any of the ISCEBS’s 43 chapters and attend its annual Employee Benefits Symposium.

CEBS graduates are typically experts in planning, negotiating and administering employee health and welfare and retirement plans. As a result, they commonly work in the human resources departments of large corporations. They also may work for health maintenance organizations, insurance companies, financial planners, banks, law and accounting firms and consulting firms.

Cost of a CEBS Certification

What is a CEBS?

Earning a CEBS certification takes approximately three years. Students can complete the course at their own pace, but the IFEBP occasionally changes the certification requirements. Past classes may not count toward future certifications. For instance, in 2018, after revamping coursework from eight classes to five, the IFEBP stopped granting the Compensation Management Specialist (CMS) certification. The CMS had been part of the CEBS certification, as the GPA and RPA certifications are still.

The cost to complete the program is approximately $4,000, but varies based on the course materials you choose. This cost includes fees for course materials, registration and testing. Human resources professionals can earn other certifications similar to the CEBS. The Certified Benefits Professional (CBP), offered by World at Work, requires passing seven exams on strategy, development, design and administration of employee benefits programs.

Another, the Registered Employee Benefits Consultant (REBP), is sponsored by the National Association of Health Underwriters. It is primarily designed for insurance agents and focuses mostly on employer-sponsored health insurance plans.

The Bottom Line

The CEBS is a rigorous certification that requires years of study and completing college-level coursework from a highly regarded educational institution. It lets human resources professionals stand out as having extra education and skills in the administration of retirement plans and employee benefits. If you’re considering a career in planning, negotiating and administering employee health and welfare and retirement plans, this may be a designation you’ll want to pursue. Just try to complete your courses in a reasonable amount of time.

Benefit Tips

  • If you want to know how far your workplace retirement investments can take you, a financial advisor may have the answer. Finding the right financial advisor that fits your needs 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.
  • There are some portions of your retirement plan that you may be able to figure out on your own. If you don’t know how much you need to save for retirement, how much your 401(k) will be worth when you retire, or what role Social Security will play in your plan, SmartAsset’s retirement guide can offer some answers.

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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 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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