Make Your Professional Designations Mean Something to Clients

Why aren’t more financial advisers using their professional designations and qualifications better? There is no doubt that there has been an increasing proportion of advisers pursuing professional designations, and an increasing number of niche choices in doing so, and there are more advisers with more acronyms than ever before.

Do they mean anything to potential clients though?

Generally they don’t.  And the reason is because advisers downplay their professional qualifications and designations, and more often than not fail to educate the market on what the mark means for consumers.

Take for instance those with the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) designation – which is just one example of course.  The recipient voluntarily subscribes to higher standards of client care and transparency than other advisers have to.  They have academic learning supporting their expertise, and that learning is in a broad range of personal advice and planning areas. In other words their foundational professional knowledge base has been systematically built – and then tested.  There is then  the small matter of “the case study” – which many fail first time around.  It is a significant body of work for the adviser which is designed to test their ability to apply academic learning into realistic client planning scenario’s.   Moving beyond that learning regime their work is then peer-reviewed and mentored for a significant period of time.

The same can be said of a number of other professional designations and qualifications too of course, and comments that follow apply to those as well.  This is not an article which is suggesting superiority of one particular designation over others.

The point here is attempt to gain understanding on how to apply the professional designation point of difference to create or express its value to potential clients.

If a professional adviser has gone through a 5 or so year period of professional qualification and now has demonstrable competency and standards which are significantly different to the other “financial adviser” who was possibly delivering pizza for a living only 3 months ago, why would they not highlight that difference? Particularly if those different standards and additional layers of expertise result in better advice for potential clients.  Yet so many well qualified professionals simply don’t do so. They content themselves with getting the letters and logo on their business ncard and website and trust that consumers will be able to understand the implications of the pretty picture with associated acronym.

Let’s look at a real example of an adviser I know.

A CFP practitioner of many years standing specialises in risk management. He tells the market he is an “insurance broker”.  He constantly deals with customers who want “the best deal”.  He goes through the same basic “get the engagement” that ordinary insurance brokers go through, which is convince the client that you understand their situation and needs better than the next broker and are able to source the right solution for them.

Virtually all of his competition seem to try and convince potential clients that the best deal is the cheapest deal when it comes to their insurance.

He knows that cheap is not always good, and nor is it always right.  He spends a significant amount of time trying to educate potential clients (at his own expense) on these points.  Sometimes they listen to him, and sometimes they don’t.

The key point in this example is that his higher education and qualification together with the higher practice standards all add up to a far more robust process which considers a wider array of issues and data, and then results in a higher level of education – or delivery of financial literacy – to the client.  It is simply higher quality personal financial advice.

Apart from the adviser himself though, and perhaps other similarly qualified peers, who knows that this is higher quality personalised advice?

What is his value proposition to clients?  What is his unique positioning?  Do clients know?  

The designation itself means nothing to potential clients usually. One acronym is as good as any other acronym to them, right?  And generally consumers are unable to tell the difference between competencies and quality of advice until they have experienced multiple versions of advice.

Professional advisers need to incorporate the benefits of their learning and the processes and thinking that accompany it into the value which they express to clients if the designation is to have relevance.  That has to be done before the consumer samples multiple versions of “advice”.

I’ll continue the example from above to illustrate the point:

The CFP who chooses to specialise in risk management work brings an entirely different knowledge set to the table for the benefit of the prospect.  It is a strategic approach to determining where the optimal balance of risk transferance fits into overall financial wellbeing.  In plain english, the objective on the part of the adviser is to find the right balance of cost, benefits and value which enhance the overall financial position of the clients in the near and long term.

To do that properly there is a more extensive data gathering and needs analysis process, and significantly greater research and consideration phase prior to making recommendations.  This includes consideration (and recommendation) about policy and premium structure in terms of pricing, legal structure or ownership and its fit with the long term estate planning.

Price is no longer the primary consideration.  Suitability for the client throughout their anticipated life stages is the focus.

This is a distinct point of difference from the typical “broking” approach, and one which the adviser needs to articulate well if consumers are to choose him.

Bearing in mind the need to convey the value proposition easily for prospective clients, and with minimal jargon, we might express our positioning and point of difference as follows:

As a Certified Financial Planner specialising in insurance the focus is upon making sure we find the right solution that fits in with everything else in your financial plans.  We don’t just look for the cheapest price and pretend that nothing else matters.  Getting an insurance policy is easy enough for anyone, but I make sure that the type of cover is one that will actually work, that it is set up with the right legal structure to protect your interests, and that its premium structure presents the best long term value for you.  It has to be something which makes sense financially for you, but it also has to create certainty and value.  When it comes to getting insurance we look beyond price, and make sure it is something that is good value overall, and will be adaptable and continue to work for as long as you need it to.

This particular set of words may or may not resonate with readers, but that is not really the issue.  The issue is that well-credentialled professional advisers need to find the way to express what their qualifications and learning, together with their area of expertise and business model, mean for potential clients and how that is different to “normal practices”. 

What is the difference your professional designations and process brings to their planning decisions?

Explain that point in your own words and the acronyms begin to mean something to the market, and will help you gain more business.

Related: Why You Should Think of Prospects as “An Audience”