What’s in a Name? : Designations Used by Financial Professionals May Not Mean as Much as You Think

By Christopher Pugh, Fall 2015 Intern

Some financial professionals use designations such as “senior specialist” or “retirement advisor” to imply that they are experts at helping senior citizens with their investment decisions. While these professionals may be experts at helping seniors with investments, the designations they are using to market themselves are not evidence of their expertise. The Securities Exchange Commission and FINRA do not endorse “senior specialist” or “retirement advisor” designations. When an investor sees these designations after a financial professional’s name, they must keep in mind that these designations can be given by many different professional organizations that may sometimes require very little effort or experience to receive the designation.

The requirements for being designated as a “senior specialist” or “retirement advisor” vary greatly. In some cases, a financial professional may need to pass rigorous exams and have several years of experience working with seniors to receive a specialist designation. Other “senior specialist” or “retirement advisor” designations may be relatively quick and easy to obtain, even for an individual with no relevant experience.

Investors should always research the individual financial professional and their firm before investing money. Investors cannot rely on the “senior specialist” or “retirement advisor” designations the professionals put on their marketing materials because there is no consistency in what it means to have such a designation.

To find out more, check out the Understanding Investment Professional Designations page on FINRA’s website. It describes the education and experience required for many professional designations. In addition, you can find out whether the granting organization for a particular designation requires continuing education, offers a public disciplinary or investor complaint process, or provides a way to check the status of a financial professional.

For more information on how investors can protect themselves from fraud, visit the SEC’s Investor.gov website.