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.