Blackhorn Partners


Today there is a combination of letters for just about everything under the sun and it’s easy to get confused by each professional designation. The field of wealth management and financial planning is no exception, but there are a few certifications that are very important and ones you should look for when hiring someone to handle your financial resources.

Financial Planning

  • Certified Financial Planner ™ (CFP®) – Individuals certified by CFP® Board have taken the step to demonstrate their professionalism by voluntarily submitting to the CFP® certification process that includes thorough education, examination, experience and ethical requirements. The CFP® is issued by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. Pre-requisites  require a designee to hold a Bachelor’s degree ( or higher ) from an accredited college or university as well as three years of full-time personal financial planning experience. The designee is then required to complete the CFP® certification examination. In addition, the designee is required to complete 30 hours of continuing education every two years.
  • Chartered Financial Consultant® (ChFC®) - Those with the ChFC® designation has been prepared to meet the advanced financial planning needs of individuals, professionals, and small business owners. The ChFC® is issued by The American College. The American College is accredited by the Commission on Higher Education of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools. The ChFC® is issued to professionals who have three years of full-time business experience within the five years preceding the awarding of the designation. The designee is then required to complete nine required and three elective college level courses from The American College. The required course of study includes insurance and financial planning, income taxation, planning for retirement needs, investments, and estate planning. The average study time to earn the ChFC® exceeds 450 hours, Designees must then pass a series of written examinations as well as attest and adhere to The American College’s Code of Ethics. In addition, the designee is required


  • Chartered Life Underwriter® (CLU®) – CLU® stands for Chartered Life Underwriter® and is awarded by The American College. The course of study involved in this designation provides in-depth knowledge on the insurance needs of individuals, business owners and professional clients.

    The CLU® curriculum focuses on the role of planning for insurance needs. Pre-requisites require the designee to have three years of full-time business experience within the five years preceding the awarding of the designation. Designees must complete eight or more college-level courses, five required and three electives, representing an average study time of 400 hours. Topics for required courses include insurance and financial planning, life insurance law, estate planning, and planning for business owners and professionals. Elective courses include advanced topics such as income taxes, group benefits, retirement planning, and health insurance. Designees are required to complete 30 hours of continuing education every two years.
  • Registered Employee Benefits Consultant® (REBC®) – The REBC® designee has completed five college–level courses representing a total average study time of 250 hours. Required topics include advanced studies of group benefits, and planning for retirement. Additional electives cover executive compensation, personnel management, managed care, and qualified retirement plans. The designation is offered by The American College, a nonprofit educator with an 84-year heritage and the highest level of accreditation, in association with the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors (NAIFA).

Investment Management

  • Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA®) – A CFA is a professional designation given by the CFA Institute (formerly AIMR) that measures the competence and integrity of financial analysts. Candidates are required to pass three levels of exams covering areas such as accounting, economics, ethics, money management and security analysis. A CFA must have completed four years of investment/financial career experience and hold a Bachelor’s degree.

    CFA members are all held to high ethical and professional standards and must put their clients’ needs ahead of their own, maintain independence and objectivity, act with integrity, maintain professional competence, and disclose any conflicts.

    The CFA Program curriculum is updated every year to ensure that candidates learn the most relevant and practical new tools and skills to properly assist their clients in navigating the dynamic and complex environment of financial analysis.
  • Certified Investment Management Analyst SM (CIMA®) - The CIMA® certification signifies that an individual has met initial and on-going experience, ethical, education, and examination requirements for investment management consulting, including advanced investment management theory and application. Prerequisites for the CIMA® certification are three years of financial services experience and an acceptable regulatory history. To obtain the CIMA® certification, candidates must pass an online Qualification Examination, successfully complete a one-week classroom education program provided by a Registered Education Provider at an AACSB accredited university business school, pass an online Certification Examination and have an acceptable regulatory history as evidenced by FINRA Form U-4 or other regulatory requirements. CIMA® designees are required to adhere to IMCA’s Code of Professional Responsibility, Standards of Practice, and Rules and Guidelines for Use of the Marks. CIMA® designees must report 40 hours of continuing education credits, including two ethics hours, every two years to maintain the certification. The designation is administrated through investment Management Consultants Association (IMCA).

    The CIMA® certification has earned ANSI (American National Standards Institute) accreditation under the personnel certification program. The American National Standards Institute, or ANSI, is a private non-profit organization that facilitates standardization and conformity assessment activities in the United States. CIMA® is the first financial services credential to meet this international standard for personnel certification.

Accounting/Tax Planning

  • Certified Public Accountant (CPA) – CPAs are licensed and regulated by their state boards of accountancy. While state laws and regulations vary, the education, experience and testing requirements for licensure as a CPA generally include minimum college education, minimum experience levels, and successful passage of the Uniform CPA Examination. In order to maintain a CPA license, states generally require the completion of 40 hours of continuing professional education (CPE) each year. Additionally, all American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) members are required to follow a rigorous Code of Professional Conduct which  requires that they act with integrity, objectivity, due care, competence, fully disclose any conflicts of interest, maintain client confidentiality, disclose to the client any commission or referral fees, and serve the public interest when providing financial services. The vast majority of state boards of accountancy have adopted the AICPA’s Code of Professional Conduct within their state accountancy laws or have created their own.
  • Personal Financial Specialist (PFS SM) – The PFS credential demonstrates that an individual has met the minimum education, experience and testing required of a CPA in addition to a minimum level of expertise in personal finance planning. To attain the PFS SM credential, a candidate must hold an unrevoked CPA license, fulfill 3,000 hours of personal financial planning, business experience, complete 80 hours of personal financial planning CPE credits, pass a comprehensive financial AICPA’s Code of Professional Conduct, and is encouraged to follow AICPA’s Statement on Responsibilities in Financial Planning Practice. To maintain their PFSSM credential, the recipient must complete 60hours of financial planning CPE credits every three years. The PFS SM credential is administered through the AICPA.

Estate Planning/Planned Giving

  • Accredited Estate Planner® (AEP®) - the Accredited Estate Planner® designation is available to documented attorneys, Chartered Life Underwriters, Certified Public Accountants, Certified Trust and Financial Advisors, Chartered Financial Consultants, and Certified Financial Planners.  An AEP® designation is awarded by the National Association of Estate Planners & Councils to recognized estate planning professionals who meet special requirements of education, experience, knowledge, professional reputation and character. A minimum of five years of experience in estate planning and related activities is required in addition to certain educational achievements.

    The National Association of Estate Planners & Councils (NAEPC) is an organization of professional estate planners and affiliated Estate Planning councils focused on establishing and monitoring the highest professional and educational standards. NAEPC fosters public awareness of the quality services rendered by professionals who meet these standards. NAEPC builds a team approach involving cross-professional disciplines to better serve the public’s need in estate planning.
  • Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy® (CAP®) – The advisor earning the CAP® designation has taken three graduate school courses in philanthropy including planning for impact in the context of family wealth, charitable strategies, and gift planning in a nonprofit context. The courses are offered through the Irwin Graduate School of The American College, a nonprofit educator with an 84-year heritage and the highest level of academic accreditation. CAP® advisors must meet experience, ethics, and continuing education requirements to use the credential.


Professional Designations