Financial Advisers Abusing Senior Specialist Labels

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau says seniors are confused by use of more than 50 specialist designations.

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Seniors are being confused and, most likely, mislead by the proliferation of special "senior designations' being used by tens of thousands of financial advisers, the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) said. It released a study that found more than 50 such designations in use, and said many of them require no study and are not formally approved or recognized.

Older couple speaking to a financial consultant
Older couple speaking to a financial consultant

The agency said it will ask the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and Congress to expand their authority over the designations, including greater oversight of financial advisers who use them. It also will recommend stepped-up oversight by state lawmakers.

"We found that these so-called advisers may use any of more than fifty different senior designations to promote their services to older Americans," CFPB director Richard Cordray said in prepared remarks. "With such a bewildering array of titles and acronyms, it is no wonder that older Americans are often confused and misled by these titles."

"The designations can be earned from places as varied as a three-hour online course offered by a for-profit company to a two-year graduate degree from an esteemed university," he added. "Our research found that the training and standards required to attain these credentials varies enormously."

[Read: How to Protect Your Elderly Parents From Being Scammed.]

If its recommendations were carried out, the number of currently used senior designations would decline, agency officials said during a telephone press briefing.

"We need to educate and inform not only older Americans but also the caretaker generation," Cordray said. Older Americans "should not have to fend off unscrupulous advisers who are trying to raid the life savings of seniors. Those in our generation need to take time to learn about these financial products and services so we can help ensure that our parents and other older Americans are able to make the best financial decisions for themselves."

Agency officials did not document the extent of financial abuse of seniors related to how financial advisers represented themselves. But they said the problem threatens to get worse due to the nation's growing elderly population. And they singled out so-called "free lunch seminars" as a "particular problem associated with senior designations."

"These events are often marketed as educational seminars," the agency said, "when in fact they are staged sales events to sell investment and other financial products."

The agency's report included 48 specific senior designations used by financial advisers. The list described the required coursework needed to obtain the designation and whether it had been approved by any accrediting organization:

1. Accredited Estate Planner (AEP)

Two graduate level courses as components of masters or doctorate program

Regionally accredited curriculum

2. Accredited Pension Administrator (APA)

Four self-study courses

Not accredited

3. Accredited Pension Representative (APR)

Four self-study courses

Not accredited

4. Accredited Retirement Advisor (ARA)

None

Not accredited

5. Accredited Retirement Plan Consultant (ARPC)

None

Nationally accredited (NCCA)

6. Accredited Retirement Plan Specialist (ARPS)

None

Not accredited

7. Board Certified in Estate Planning (BCE)

Now the "CES" designation, but still honored by conferring organization

8. Certified 401(k) Professional (C(k)P)

Three levels of coursework with online and classroom options

Curriculum offered at regionally accredited institution

9. Certified Asset Protection Planner (CAPP)

24 hours of classroom or online study

Not accredited

10. Certified Estate and Trust Specialist (formerly Board Certified in Estate Planning) (CES)

Six self-study modules

Not accredited

11. Certified Estate Planner (CEP)

Five- to six-month average combined study of eight modules (online and classroom)

Not accredited

12. Certified Financial Gerontologist (CFG)

Self-study program of six courses

Not accredited

13. Certified Financial Planner (CFP)

21 semester hours in financial planning topics

Nationally accredited (NCCA)

14. Certified Healthcare Financial Professional (CHFP)

None

Not accredited

15. Certified Income Specialist (CIS)

Six-module self-study program to be completed within 15 weeks

Not accredited

16. Certified Pension Consultant (CPC)

None (candidates must pass eight exams)

Not accredited

[READ: Is an Online Financial Adviser Right for You?]

17. Certified Retirement Counselor (CRC)

None

Nationally accredited (NCCA)

18. Certified Retirement Financial Advisors (CRFA)

Optional four-day classroom course or self-study course

Nationally accredited (NCCA)

19. Certified Retirement Planner (CRP)

Seven units of CRP preliminary and advanced coursework and five retirement planning techniques seminars

Not accredited

20. Certified Retirement Services Professional (CRSP)

Institute of Certified Bankers approved employee benefit/retirement services training program. (This condition is waived if the candidate has five or more years of experience in ERISA and IRS code/regulations.)

Not accredited

21. Certified Senior Advisor (CSA)

CSA training course, plus one class from approved list of prerequisites

Nationally accredited (NCCA)

22. Certified Specialist in Estate Planning (CSEP)

Six core and two elective self-study courses

Not accredited

23. Certified Specialist in Retirement Planning (CSRP)

Five core and two elective courses

Not accredited

24. Certified Wealth Preservation Planner (CWPP)

24 hours of classroom or online study

Not accredited

25. Chartered Advisor for Senior Living (CASL)

15 semester hours of specified coursework related to senior clients and financial planning

Regionally accredited

26. Chartered Estate Planning Practitioner (CEPP)

Three segments of self-study

Not accredited

27. Chartered Healthcare Consultant (CHC)

Six courses, 18 semester hours

Regionally accredited

28. Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU)

Five courses, 15 semester credit hours

Regionally accredited

29. Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor (CRPC)

Online instructor-led or self-study course. Course is equivalent of up to three undergraduate credit hours

Regionally accredited

30. Chartered Retirement Plans Specialist (CRPS)

Online instructor-led or self-study course. Course is equivalent of up to three undergraduate credit hours

Regionally accredited

31. Chartered Senior Financial Planner (CSFP)

Three-day in-person course

Not accredited

32. Chartered Trust and Estate Planner (CTEP)

None (Designation awarded for previously completed education)

Accredited by the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs

33. Graduate Certificate in Retirement Planning

Four self-study courses equivalent to 12 semester credit hours

Regionally accredited

34. Master Certified Estate Planner (MCEP)

Classroom or self-study course (eight modules)

Not accredited

35. Personal Retirement Planning Specialist (PRPS)

Six weeks of self-study with 24 hours of webcast recorded lectures

Not accredited

36. PLANSPONSOR Retirement Professional (PRP)

Online coursework, two-day onsite seminar and attendance at a multi-day, instructor-led training session

Not accredited

37. Professional Plan Consultant (PPC)

16 hour 401(k) training program

Instruction offered through regionally accredited Robert Morris University

38. Qualified 401(k) Administrator (QKA)

None (candidates must pass four exams)

Not accredited

39. Qualified Financial Planner (QFP)

None (meta designation intended to reduce confusion by qualifying financial planning designations according to standards)

Not accredited

40. Qualified Pension Administrator (QPA)

None (candidates must pass six exams)

Not accredited

41. Qualified Plan Financial Consultant (QPFC)

None (candidates must pass two exams)

Not accredited

42) Registered Employee Benefits Consultant (REBC)

Three required courses related to retirement planning and group benefits

Regionally accredited

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43. Registered Financial Consultant (RFC)

Two self-study courses

Not accredited

44. Registered Financial Planner (RFP)

None

Not accredited

45. Registered Paraplanner (RP)

Completion of an internship and 10-module course (self-study or instructor-led)

Regionally accredited

46. Retirement Income Certified Professional (RICP)

Three courses, nine semester credit hours

Regionally accredited

47. Retirement Management Analyst (RMA)

Pass a Retirement Income Industry Association-approved education program

Not accredited

48. Retirement Plans Associate (RPA)

Two retirement planning courses and one elective

Not accredited