AFC Certification, Part of a Better Path to CFP Certification

The CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ (CFP®) certification, granted by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards is probably the most widely recognized credential in the field of personal financial planning. If you want to practice financial planning, you will likely want to become a CFP® practitioner. However, the required 6,000 hours of experience can be a seemingly insurmountable obstacle for some newer planners, especially those wanting to avoid brokerage and insurance sales careers.

It’s a Catch 22

New planners may be hesitant about going into practice before completing the CFP Board’s experience requirement, even under the mentorship of a more experienced planner. In order to gain experience, they need to deliver personal financial planning services to clients, but they must do so while lacking the credibility and credential that comes with the CFP® marks of distinction. So their clients must be willing to work with them instead of an actual CFP® practitioner.

That credibility gap can be closed a little by working under the supervision of a CFP® certificant or associating with an established network of financial planners, but is there anything more to be done to establish credibility, gain useful knowledge, and build core skills? Are there other credentials worth pursuing while on the way to meeting CFP® certification experience requirement?

There is another relevant credential that’s worth attaining along with CFP® certification. It’s actually worth attaining even if you are already a CFP® certificant. It’s the Accredited Financial Counselor® (AFC®) certification granted by the AFCPE, the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education.

The AFC® certification ultimately complements the CFP® marks quite nicely; however, it’s 1,000-hour experience requirement makes it attainable while completing the 6,000-hours necessary for CFP® certification. Even under the CFP Board’s 2-Year Apprenticeship Exception, AFC® certification may be attained in as little as six months.

AFC® certification vs. others

But why the AFC® certification? Aren’t there many other certifications or designations that can be attained while gaining experience for CFP® certification? Yes, there are, but AFC® certification is different for two very significant reasons.

First, the AFC® certification program emphasizes certain skills more so than CFP® certification program education requirements do. Specifically, interpersonal communication skills and consumer credit concepts are hallmarks, better preparing you to actually counsel clients, not in a behavioral health context but in a behavioral finance one. After all, your financial planning advice is only ever as good as your ability to communicate it to a client.

The second thing that separates AFC® certification, it’s a National Commission of Certifying Agencies (NCCA) accredited certification program, just like the CFP® certification. Of all the alphabet-soup, personal finance certifications out there, there is a mere handful that have attained NCCA accreditation, and the CFP® and AFC® marks are arguably the most widely recognized.

Best path to CFP® certification includes the AFC®

A newer planner can potentially practice as an AFC® certificant for a couple of years, before he or she is able to add the CFP® marks. Experienced mentors and a supportive network of colleagues to consult are still beneficial and encouraged, especially when getting started, but my recommended path to becoming a CFP® practitioner includes obtaining AFC® certification along the way. This is the best and most efficient way to maximize both skill development and professional credibility.

6 thoughts on “AFC Certification, Part of a Better Path to CFP Certification”

  1. Great article, thank you Dylan. Obtaining an AFC® designation is no doubt a helpful approach for any one working towards a CFP® certification. In addition to the benefits you cite may suggest a few more great reasons? Accredited Financial Counselors are skilled at providing clients with affirming and supportive strategies which help them resolve inconsistencies between their stated financial goals and their level of commitment to saving and investing. A CFP with AFC skills can better help clients actualize their goals when financial behavior is a barrier to optimal savings goals. Additionally, not every client who approaches a CFP for services is as prepared to start saving and investing as they think they are. Some clients are far worse off financially than they think and can leave an initial consult with a CFP feeling deflated. An AFC is trained and skilled at turning situations like these into opportunities by helping clients create action plans which will move them towards financial well-being and the ability to build wealth. Thanks Dylan for getting this conversation started!

  2. I paid attention to my money as I grew up with the influence of my Grand Father. He taught me well. I am a defense contract laid off for 3 years now. During my time off, I was studying for a AFC certification. During my studies, I inquired just about any place I could in the State of Maryland as to whom would accept the AFC certification. I found no one that would even recognize this cert from FINRA. I thought I could be a customer representative in a bank or even teach financial literacy (as I do in my church). I could not find any company or banking institution that would honor this certification. It would have been nice so I could get a job in the field.

    1. Hi Bill,
      The only place I know you can use the marks to get employment with the AFC marks is the company that holds the military contract to educate/counsel military members, Zeiders is the current contract holder.

  3. As a recent recipient of the CFP(R) mark, and a holder of the AFC(R) for several years, I appreciate the education and specificity required to attain the AFC(R) designation. Unlike the broad education and skills requirement of the CFP(R), which I equate to that of a general practitioner, I have found that the AFCPE continues to do a great job of honing in on it’s ability to assist an under-served niche of people. While rapidly increasing in numbers each year, those in the lower and middle income brackets remain largely ignored by most of the folks in the financial industry. Thankfully, the AFCPE has recognized the need and is training it’s AFC(R) practitioners to meet the growing demand. I look forward to being a part of this necessary evolution in financial planning, and can’t wait to see what the AFCPE is going to do next.

  4. As a young AFC® who has passed the CFP exam and is currently accruing more experience before earning the CFP® mark, I couldn’t agree more with this post! Straight out of college I knew I wanted to eventually have a financial planning practice for middle-income families and younger professionals, but because the CFP curriculum leans heavily towards the issues of higher net worth and older clients it seemed like there was a gap. Many financial topics (debt management, credit, budgeting, money psychology, etc) that are relevant to most of society were missing.

    I’m glad that I heard about AFCPE early on so that I could take this “better path.” I think the killer combo of CFP+AFC is what truly covers the general “comprehensive” financial planning spectrum of technical knowledge needed as professionals as we help people build wealth over time and advance through life stages.

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