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A Who's Who Guide to Financial Advisers

Chartered Financial Analyst
CFAs specialize in investment strategies that are more advanced, more analytical and more market-centric than those CFPs or CPAs work with, but the average consumer isn't likely to run across one in the quest for financial knowledge.

"There are not too many of these people working with the public," says Johnston at Mohler, Nixon & Williams.

Some of this has to do with how long and difficult it is to earn this particular designation.

"A CFA has worked very diligently for a number of years to study and pass a series of three exams that have quite a low number of people who pass them," says Scott Whytock, a CFP with August Wealth Management.

Unlike the exams required to become a CFP or a CPA, the CFA tests are administered by only one institution, aptly named The CFA Institute. They are offered only twice a year and, as such, can take up to three years to complete.

Upon completion, most CFAs become employed by banks or investment managers who operate mutual funds, pension funds and hedge funds to crunch numbers, analyze data and coalesce the vast amount of financial information into a more usable form relevant to a particular investing decision that needs to be made.

"They're stock pickers," Johnston says. For instance, a CFA working in Merril Lynch's oil and gas sector might comb through financial statements from Chevron to determine whether it's a good financial investment, Johnston adds.

It is also a designation sought out by many chief financial officers (or prospective CFOs) and high-level financial managers in a larger company "as their enhanced ability to study the fine details of securities and a company's financial statements can be invaluable," Whytock adds.

This isn't to say the expertise of CFAs is totally inaccessible to consumers, since there's almost always one on staff at a local wealth management company.

"I, as a CFP, could envision hiring a CFA to assist me in defining and maintaining an investment plan that would fit the needs of my clients, as their area of specific training could be a great addition to my more generalized practice," Whytock says.

Clients looking for a financial adviser who has similar expertise to a CFA and who specializes in working with individuals can look for someone who has a Certified Investment Management Analyst certification.

"This is a high-quality designation that indicates the person knows how to select investments for individuals," Stacy says of CIMA certification.

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