How to Find a Financial Advisor’s Credentials and Certifications

by Nina Gass

A person typing on a computer

When you are ready to partner with a financial advisor, the first step involves identifying a credentialed and experienced professional. Even with trusted referrals from your social circle, you still want to ensure you’re only considering only those financial advisors that will best meet your needs. . 

Unfortunately, even you friends and family members may not realize that someone they recommended doesn’t hold specific certifications. That’s why it makes sense to research any financial advisor you are considering and verify their credentials.

This guide provides trusted sources that help you identify a financial advisor who has the credentials to deliver sound financial advice

Finding a Financial Advisor

Primer on Credentials and Certifications

Before listing options on where to find a financial advisor, it’s also important to know what to look for when reviewing those professionals.  

There are a wide range of potential credentials and certifications for financial advisors, often leading to confusion. While a financial advisor may appear to hold a long list of them, some are more substantial than others. The type of advisor that’s right for you depends on what type of help you need.

  • A Certified Financial Planner (CFP®) must complete up to two years of study, take an extensive exam, and work for three years or complete a two-year apprenticeship. They’re also held to rigorous ethical standards by their licensing board. Look for a CFP if you need holistic financial planning help. CFPs may have a specific area of focus, such as working with small business owners or young families.
  • A Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) must take numerous exams and complete four years of work experience to get their certification. Look for a CFA if you need help managing your investments. 
  • A Certified Public Accountant (CPA) must undertake a rigorous amount of study, testing, and experience to obtain their credential. Look for a CPA for help filing taxes or with tax planning issues.

Other certifications that may be important include Chartered Investment Counselor (CIC), which is a subcategory of the CFA certification for those working in portfolio management or an investment counseling role. With the emergence of alternative investment products, there is also the Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst (CAIA), which specializes in products like hedge funds. A CPA who has completed additional coursework in the area of financial planning will hold a PFS, or personal financial specialist designation.

Financial Advisor Directories

Here are some of the top financial advisor directories and what to look for on those sites:

The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors

Start with their Find an Advisor search engine by entering a zip code or location. You will receive a list of local companies and individual information about each of their financial advisors to go through and learn more about, including their credentials. 

For example, in the image above, you’ll see this financial advisor’s credentials located next to her name. As members of The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA), each financial advisor must regularly submit validation of these credentials. 

The Alliance of Comprehensive Planners

Similarly, this professional organization offers a way to search their directory of fee-only financial planners. Enter an address, city, or zip code to receive a list of financial planners in the mile-radius area of your choosing. 

From there, you will get a list of recommended financial planners. Select one and you will see their credentials and certifications as shown below. Their credentials also appear next to their name when you get your search results. 

XY Planning Network 

This directory of financial advisors expands your search options, allowing you to locate a financial advisor by location, specialty, or keyword. Your list of potential financial advisors delivers a quick snapshot of their background, expertise and specialties, and credentials. 

From there, you can click on “View Advisor Profile” to learn more about their ideal clients, contact information, social network profiles, how they charge, and fee options. There are also links to their SEC records so you can confirm advisor and firm registrations. 

Garrett Planning Network 

This directory offers a similar financial advisor search engine to XY Planning Network by providing different search parameters. After selecting one of the potential financial advisors, you’ll get a comprehensive profile on what they offer in terms of their credentials and where they earned them from, experience, and specialties as shown below.

Other Criteria to Check

Even with the required certifications and credentials, the firm or financial advisor may not have a clean record, so you want to make sure they have both. The SEC provides the Investment Adviser Public Disclosure website where you can search a firm by name. Also, brokers and their firms can be checked by visiting the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s website’s Broker Check tool. 

Related article: It’s Now Harder to Find Out How Your Advisor Gets Paid

What to Ask

Even after checking these financial advisor directories, talk with your top financial advisor prospects to get additional information and answers to these questions

  • What agency (agencies) oversee your business?
  • What are your professional designations?
  • How do you get paid?
  • Are you a fiduciary (someone legally obligated to put their client’s interest’s first)?
  • How long have your held these credentials?
  • Do you have experience working with clients like me?
  • What other ways have you continued to further your financial education and experience?
  • Can you supply me with at least two references?

Between your research and these answers, you will increase your chances of finding the right financial advisor for your needs. Even if an advisor provides all the right answers, if your gut is telling you they’re not the right fit, move on to another advisor. Your comfort level with an advisor and the ability to hold honest, sometimes difficult, conversations is just as important as the credentials they hold.

My Financial Counsel Can Help

My Financial Counsel matches clients exclusively with advisors who are CFP fiduciaries. That means you can find an advisor who is pre-vetted, doesn’t take commissions, and is required to have your best interests at heart. We have an easy and confidential survey to get started here.

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