How to Choose a Retirement Designation

With the release of the 2019 Retirement Plan Professional’s Designation & Certification Guide , I thought I’d share some ideas to help you decide which designation to pursue.If you want to compete effectively in the retirement industry, especially in today’s regulatory environment, you have to specialize.When I was an Edward James Investment Adviser, I remember coming out of some of the best sales and investment training in the industry, and then trying to sell and service retirement plan clients. I can tell you from experience in this industry, if you’re not specialized, if you’re not educated, if you don’t have some specialized retirement training under your belt, you’re not qualified to sell or service a retirement plan and plan sponsors know it.A while back, with the help of, we conducted a designation survey where we asked plan sponsors what they thought and when asked, 95 percent of plan sponsors felt it was important for professionals who work with retirement plans to obtain credentials that indicate they have specialized and current training. And 90 percent would be more inclined to work with a professional that had a retirement designation over one that did not have any.

5 Considerations When Choosing Which Program to Pursue

Here are 5 things you should consider when choosing a designation or certification program.Your decision should be driven by: FIRST: Your goals or objectives.What it is you want to gain or learn? Is it just to have a credential, a designation, maybe to meet your firm requirement for signing on as a fiduciary? Or do you want to learn about plan design or plan administration, or fiduciary responsibilities? SECOND: What format suits you best?Maybe you like online or self study with books sent to you? Or maybe you prefer the classroom where you get peer interaction and case studies and actionable takeaways? THIRD: It’s important to consider your time frame.Some programs take years and others can be completed in a weekend. FOURTH: Your level of commitment.When I mean commitment I’m referring to both cost and continuing education.Costs vary in price from $700 up to $8,600.Continuing education- well, we all know continuing ed is not easy to stack on to all of the other things that you already must get. Ensure whatever program you choose you’re committed to the cause because CE can vary from zero up to 20 hours a year. FINALLY: Consider what value you get?What do you get by getting that designation or certification? What ongoing benefits are added on to the program for you after the initial training?Related: Advisors: Consider a Different Path – the Guru Path

Common Mistakes to Avoid

1) Putting too much value on the time commitmentFirst is, it’s important to understand that just because a program doesn’t have rigorous academic requirement, doesn’t make it any less valuable than one that might take a couple years to get.Also, just because the program is difficult to get, doesn’t mean it’s going to provide you necessarily with a bigger benefit or carry more weight with plan sponsors.What’s going to be the most valuable to you is going to be the program that helps you accomplish your goals, and what you’re looking to achieve, so that you can more confidently and competently service plan sponsors based on where you’re at today. 2) Avoiding programs with a lot of ongoing CE requirementsAlso, don’t necessarily consider a designation simply because of the lack of continuing ed programs. I know we’re all inundated with all of the CE that we have to keep up for our other programs, for our licenses. But a designation program or a certification program can carry a tremendous ongoing value by providing a lot of really robust ongoing education resources to help you keep up with industry regulations and trends and provide ongoing value long after the initial training program is over.Also, please remember that if you truly want to be a 401(k) expert, an expert in this space and continue on that path of specialization – experts are students first, students always. So professional enrichment, professional continuing education, should be a priority for you.The designation decision guide was created to, 1) compare apples to apples all the programs out there. But 2) help you understand what’s available, so you can decide what to pursue first and next, and next.Don’t ever stop learning, don’t ever stop growing. Always re-assess where you’re at from a knowledge standpoint and what you need to learn and know in order to become better, more knowledgeable, and more competent to help more plan sponsors in more ways. 3) Picking a program because you think it carries weight with plan sponsorsFinally, when picking a program to take, don’t put too much weight on what you think plan sponsors will value most.In our survey, 91 percent of plan sponsors said they don’t know the difference between the different designations. Picking what you think might carry more weight with plan sponsors, is really kind of pointless. Pick what satisfies your objectives and goals.

Wrap up

Now, is the time to decide if you’re going to commit to specializing and becoming a valuable asset to plan sponsors as a competent and qualified 401(k) professional. I think the changing regulatory landscape demands it.Download the Designation & Certification Guide and decide which designation program you’re going to pursue as a starting point or next on your path to becoming a 401(k) expert. Click here to download the Retirement Plan Professional’s Designation & Certification Guide.

Which program should you pursue?

That’s a great question. It really depends on your goals. But if you want my personal opinion based on the questions I get asked the most from advisors and my personal experience with a limited number of programs, read this article to see the 3 programs I recommend you START with if you’re new to the business.