Financial Designations 101

Guest Blog Post by Scott Frank

Financial designations are confusing enough just looking at the laundry list of them that exist in the financial services today. Good thing we are only going to cover six of the most common financial designations you likely encounter on a day to day basis.

As you are shopping around for your next financial professional, make a list of the level of expertise that is important to you. While many of the sources you can use to search for financial advisors don’t allow you to filter based on designation, you can at least know what to look for when you use sites like NAPFA and the CFP Board.

Here a list of the six most common financial designations and what they stand for:

CFP®. Certified Financial Planner. These financial advisors create financial plans and can help you manage just about every aspect of your financial life. They look at the big picture and help you plan for your financial life accordingly.

CFA. Chartered Financial Analyst. Financial advisors with this designation do a lot of portfolio management and investment analysis. They are considered among the elite in the financial services industry and truly understand how investments work and how to structure them within client portfolios.

ChFC. Chartered Financial Consultant. Like the CFP® designation, this one signifies advanced knowledge in financial planning. That means a broad range of knowledge: taxes, estate planning, investing, and insurance. 

CPA. Certified Public Accountant. Known for its rigorous exam, this profession deals mainly in taxes and accounting rather than financial planning, but that doesn't mean they don't know anything about other areas. They mainly stick to accounting and taxes, though. 

CFS. Chartered Fund Specialist. Need specific financial advice about mutual funds? Here's your specialist. Got questions about REITs or ETFs? This is your guy. 

CIMA. Certified Investment Management Analyst. Not for planning, but more for managing your investments, the CIMA is trained in due diligence, risk management, and asset allocation. 


At the end of the day, the most important thing is that you find a financial professional that you trust. Designations go a long way to confirm a financial professional’s authority and credibility in a particular area of finance, but it isn’t everything.


If you visit the FINRA website, you can also look to see how much time and energy goes into a financial professional earning a certain designation. Not all letters are equal when it comes to the amount of effort it takes to earn. To become a CFA, for instance, takes as much time and (if not more) as earning a bachelor’s degree. While others only take a 10 hour course and passing one exam.

Scott Frank is the founder of Stone Steps Financial, a fee-only financial planning firm located in Encinitas, California. Scott started Stone Steps to help young professionals and families understand their financial lives and position themselves to reach their fullest potential.

Scott and I became friends after meeting at a conference and I asked him to write some thoughts a guest topic for this site.