When you look at the signature after our President, Shannon Edwards’, name, you’ll notice a long list of designations – ERPA, QPA, QKA, APR, and APA. Common credentials like MD., or Ph.D. are easily recognized, but credentials in the qualified retirement plan industry are less identifiable. Even those within the industry may not know the significance of, say, an ERPA designation.
What’s the significance of these credentials when it comes to the service providers working with retirement plans? Are they really indicative of better service, or well-rounded expertise? We looked into some of the most common designations held by the advisors we personally work with, as well as the designations held by our own staff.
FINANCIAL ADVISORS/BROKER DEALERS:
- CPFA – Certified Plan Fiduciary Adviser – Advisers earning this credential, part of the National Association of Plan Advisor’s retirement plan academy, demonstrate the expertise required to act as a plan fiduciary while helping other plan fiduciaries manage their own responsibilities. Education requirements include passing a 75 multiple-choice question, proctored exam focusing on ERISA plan management, as well as earning 20 CE credits every two years.
- RIA – Registered Investment Advisor – Those advisors with the RIA credential are registered with the Securities & Exchange Commissions (SEC) and must adhere to a fiduciary standard of care – i.e., always acting in their clients’ best interests. To comply with the laws pertaining to their fiduciary duty, RIAs must file form ADV Parts I & II. This form requires advisors to disclose all material information a client needs to make an informed decision about specific transactions, or the advisory relationship itself. Education requirements include passing the Series 65 exam.
- CRPC – Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor – This designation, awarded by the College of Financial Planning, applies to individuals who complete the designated study program covering the retirement planning process and pass a final examination. These professionals must also earn 16 continuing education credits every two years to retain the designation, keeping them updated on retirement plan legislation and other changes and trends within the industry.
- CFP – Certified Financial Planner – Individuals with this designation must complete 18 to 24 months of study, pass a rigorous exam, meet ethics requirements, as well as completing three years as a financial planner before receiving the designation.
- CFA – Chartered Financial Analyst – CFAs must pass three six-hour exams, requiring an estimated 250 hours of study, on average, and have four years of qualified work experience. They must also commit to the CFA Institute’s Code of Ethics and Standards of Professional Conduct.
- RICP – Retirement Income Certified Professionals – This credential directly impacts financial advisors working with retirement plans. The program for the RICP credentials involves a course on the Retirement Income Process, Strategies, and Solutions; Sources of Retirement Income; and Managing the Retirement Income plan. The course and designation are generally designed for advisors and financial planners who have already completed requirements for the CFP or CFC designations and seek to specialize in retirement planning.
- RMA – Retirement Management Analyst – The RMA designation also applies only to advisors looking to specialize in retirement plans. Requirements: three years of experience, three College level courses covering 18 subjects, such as Medicare, social security, and long-term care insurance.
- ERPA – The Enrolled Retirement Plan Agent designation is no longer accepting new applicants, making it more and more difficult to find consultants with the credential. None the less, this highly valued designation allows compliance consultants to represent their retirement plan clients before the IRS on issues such as the Employee Plans Determination Letter program, Employee Plans Master & Prototype and Volume Submitter program, as well as IRS Form 5500. ERPAs must pass two 75 multiple-choice question exams covering plan corrections under EPCRS, plan audits, Form 5500 matters, Form 5300, 5307, and 5310 determination letter requests and Master & Prototype, and Volume Submitter Programs, as well as passing tax compliance and background checks. ERPAs must also achieve 20 CE credits every two-year cycle to maintain the credential.
- QKA – Offered through American Society of Pension Professionals and Actuaries, the Qualified 401(k) Plan Administrator designation covers the basic level of plan qualification, along with administrative and compliance requirements for 401(k) plans. To achieve this designation, individuals must pass three separate exams. Each member of TriStar’s staff is required to study for and pass this exam. Our staff currently has four QKAs!
- QPA – The Qualified Pension Administrator credential recognizes QKAs who seek to provide more technical and extensive administrative support for qualified retirement plans. To maintain this designation, individuals must also complete 40 hours of continuing education regarding qualified retirement plans every two years.
- APR & APA – The Accredited Pension Administrator and Accredited Pension Representative designations, offered through the National Institute of Pension Administrators, require individuals to pass several self-study courses and exams emphasizing the administration of defined-contribution plans. Individuals must also complete 15 hours of continuing education each year, as well as continuing their NIPA membership.
At TriStar, we strive to cultivate a culture of well-rounded expertise in regard to retirement plans, and we gladly offer this expertise to both advisors and plan sponsors.
Not all designations are created equally. For information on other professional financial designations, visit https://www.finra.org/investors/professional-designations.
The next time you visit with your retirement plan consultant, compliance service provider, or TPA, ask them about the designations they have earned, as well as their annual continuing education. It really does make a difference!
TriStar Pension Consulting – Oklahoma Based Compliance Consultant & TPA Firm