For a change this month I’m not here to give you any tax or financial advice or to report on any new tax rules. Instead I am here to let everyone know that I recently received the Personal Financial Specialist (PFS) designation from the AICPA. This might not mean anything to some of you but it is very important to me and I just wanted to share with you what it does mean and how I received the designation.
The PFS designation is something that not all financial planners can hold – you need to first be a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) before you are eligible. This is a distinguishing factor for the PFS designation that more familiar designations such as the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) do not require. As anyone who has suffered through the CPA exam can tell you, this is very important and can speak volumes about the person holding the designation. Everyone who holds the PFS credential has a solid background in accounting and taxation and these are areas that are extremely important to financial planning.
Being a CPA isn’t the only requirement for receiving the PFS designation. Previously there were several paths you could take in order to qualify for the designation and passing other exams like the CFP or the CFA could qualify you as a PFS. However now the AICPA is moving to a more structured “pathway to the PFS” that includes their own unique exam and I was lucky enough to be included in the beta test group as they worked on this pathway. While being in a test group for anything can often be a bumpy ride I could not be happier with how everything turned out.
As a member of the beta group I spent a week at the AICPA offices in Dallas back in the fall of 2008 for a case study and exam. Leading up to that week we had an outline of materials to cover which I studied as much as possible, knowing that there would be an exam at the end of the week. Well one of those proverbial “bumps” in the road was encountered on the first day when they announced they would be giving us the exam on the first day instead of the last! Surprised but undaunted I managed to pass the exam. This turned out to be a great decision because it allowed us not to stress about the exam as we ran through an extensive financial planning case study the rest of the week. We were split into teams and each given a portion of a clients’ overall plan to work on. The rest of the week was a combination of learning and planning and it culminated in a presentation to the “clients” played by our instructors for the week.
In addition to this exam that is now required for the PFS designation there is also a work experience requirement along with continuing education requirements. At the time of taking the exam I was still working with Grant Thornton and did not have much financial planning experience, working mainly in the tax field there. Now that I’ve been with LK Benson & Co. for over a year I have acquired the necessary work experience in financial planning and have now been given the PFS credential.
In case you couldn’t already tell, this designation is very important to me and our firm. While other designations might tell you what a person does for a living, they don’t really tell you who they are. The community of PFS credential holders is an exclusive group and when you see the letters PFS next to someone’s name you know you are working with a distinguished and trustworthy financial adviser. If you’d like to learn more about the PFS designation you can go to this site.