What is a Senior Designation?
Financial professionals can use designations and titles to imply they are experts at assisting older adults with the complex financial situations. Some designations include: Senior Specialist, Elder Planner, or Retirement Adviser. Often these titles are merely abbreviated and follow the name of professional. Many people do not understand the acronyms or the meaning of these titles.
A lengthy set of initials or fancy titles used by financial professionals may not mean much. Certain designations are nothing more than a marketing program designed to sell investment products to older adults. Certification requirements for receiving and maintaining a "senior" designation can vary greatly; in some cases it can be relatively easy in terms of time and effort to receive a "senior" designation—even for a person with no relevant experience.
By using professional designations, brokers or advisers seek to establish themselves as professionals with special knowledge and expertise. Before investing with a broker or an adviser:
- Verify the broker or adviser is properly licensed and has no disciplinary concerns;
- Understand the products being sold and the amount of compensation being paid to the broker or adviser; and
- Investigate whether the senior designation used has merit or is a meaningless marketing tool.
Unlicensed Financial Service
Bogus designation programs use the promise of high commissions to lure brokers, insurance agents, investment advisers, accountants, and lawyers to offer investments that they may know very little about. For this reason, investors should verify they are dealing with licensed individuals and purchasing properly registered products. Licensing and registration adds transparency to the process.
False Sense of Security
When dealing with complex or unfamiliar topics like investing, retirement planning, or estate planning, consumers should seek out a professional that legitimately possess the required knowledge and expertise. Individuals misusing professional designations provide a false sense of security to consumers.
Misleading Marketing Ploys
Professional designations are designed to portray a sales agent or adviser as having some expertise, knowledge, or ability that others do not. While some designations require extensive education, entail high standards, and serve as alternatives to state-required examinations, many require nothing more than a fee and some forms to obtain the designation. Bogus designations serve no purpose other than to convince a customer that the sales agent or adviser has some accolades.
Generally, bogus senior designations are used to target older adults and market the agent as a seasoned veteran in the financial services industry. investors should review licensing records of agents and advisers to determine their experience in terms of their years in the industry and whether they have negative information reported on their license.
Investigate Before You Invest
Know What the Letters Mean
FINRA has a directory of professional designations in which investors can search by designation, abbreviation, or acronym. The directory will show the certifying organization, its education and experience requirements, any disciplinary process, and how to file a complaint.
Investors should also research the issuing organization independently online. Since the issuing organization needs to sell their product, they often promote how easy it is to obtain the designation. Investors should be wary of easily-obtained designations since they are more a marketing tool than a meaningful measure of the agent or adviser.
Know What the Letters Mean
Contact the issuing organization to inquire about the person using the designation. Are they a member in good standing? How long have they been member? Have they ever been disciplined? When did they last complete continuing education requirements?