By Hal M. BundrickM
NEW YORK (MainStreet) ¿ It seems some financial advisors may try a bit too hard. Perhaps in an effort to obscure a lack of experience, or to mask a less-than-stellar educational background, they hook up a long trailer of "certifications" behind their name. Gaining these credentials may be an honest effort to acquire additional expertise, or, as one research firm believes, it may be an attempt to deceive investors. Now, a new online service aims to help consumers plow through the pile of designations, to sort out the quality from the quantity.
Paladin Research & Registry's "Check a Credential" service allows investors to analyze more than 260 financial advisor certifications and designations. The database is free and there is no registration required to access it.
"Some financial advisors spend years acquiring high-quality credentials that increase their expertise. Other advisors buy fake credentials that they use to deceive investors into believing they are financial experts," says Jack Waymire, Paladin's founder. "Very few investors know the critical differences between real and fake credentials. They assume credentials are legitimate or the advisors wouldn't be using them. But, they are dangerously wrong. There are no industry regulations that protect investors from this deceptive sales practice."
By simply inputting a certification's initials, the service provides a one-page report that documents the designation's sponsor, prerequisites, curriculum, testing, and continuing education requirements. Then a Paladin algorithm calculates a peer group quality rating, ranging from Warnings (scams) to 5 Stars (Best).
Paladin reports finding more than 50 fake or discontinued credentials that are currently being used by advisors in an attempt to "deceive investors into believing they are financial experts."
The research firm says there are four certifications that rank above all of the rest: CFA® (Chartered Financial Analyst¿), CIMA® (Certified Investment Management Analyst¿), CFP® (Certified Financial Planner¿), and CPA® (Certified Public Accountant¿). 35% of CPAs currently provide financial planning advice. "No investor would knowingly select a financial advisor who used deception to gain control of his or her retirement assets," says Waymire. "Investors want real experts who have specialized knowledge that helps them achieve their goals of secure, comfortable retirements. Their biggest risk is unethical advisors who use sleazy sales tactics to look like knowledgeable experts. They use deception because investors would not buy what they are selling if they told the truth. They should be kicked out of the financial service industry."
--Written by Hal M. Bundrick for MainStreet