Professional Financial Certifications

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Understanding professional financial certifications

All members of the Chicago Area Fee-Only Financial Advisors Network hold the professional financial certifications, credentials, licenses and registrations necessary to provide you with expert  financial advice. All members are also Certified Financial Planner™ professionals. In addition, many hold certifications such as CPA, EA, AIF and FSA.

Certified Financial Planner (CFP®)

Certified Financial Planner™  is an international  certification recognized in the United States and a number of other countries. No federal or state law or regulation requires financial planners to hold the CFP® mark, so obtaining it is completely voluntary.  The mark is characterized by its:

(1) High standard of professional education;

(2) Stringent code of conduct and standards of practice;

(3) Ethical requirements governing professional engagement with clients.

Certification is granted in the United States by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. More than 62,000 individuals have earned CFP® certification in the United States. To attain the right to use the CFP® mark, an individual must satisfactorily fulfill all of the following requirements:


Acquire a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited United States college or university (or its equivalent from a foreign university).

Complete an advanced college-level course of study addressing the financial planning subject areas that the CFP Board has determined to be necessary for the competent, professional delivery of financial planning services. Subject areas include insurance planning and risk management, employee benefits planning, investment planning, income tax planning, retirement planning and estate planning.


Pass the comprehensive CFP® Certification Examination. The examination is administered in 10 hours over a two-day period. It includes case studies and client scenarios designed to test students’ ability to correctly diagnose financial planning issues and apply their knowledge of financial planning to real world circumstances.


Complete at least three years of full-time financial planning-related experience (or the equivalent, measured as 2,000 hours per year).


Agree to be bound by the CFP Board’s Standards of Professional Conduct, which consist of a set of documents outlining the ethical and practice standards for CFP. ® Individuals who become certified must complete the following ongoing education and ethics requirements in order to maintain the right to continue to use the CFP:®

Complete 30 hours of continuing education every two years, including two hours on the Code of Ethics and other parts of the Standards of Professional Conduct to maintain competence and keep up with developments in the financial planning field.

Renew an agreement to be bound by the Standards of Professional Conduct.

The Standards prominently require that CFP® professionals provide financial planning services at a fiduciary standard of care. This means CFP® professionals must provide financial planning services in the best interests of their clients. CFP® professionals who fail to comply with the standards and requirements may be subject to the CFP Board’s enforcement process, which could result in suspension or permanent revocation of their CFP® certification.

NAPFA Registered Financial Advisor

The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA) is an association of fee-only financial advisors who have a fiduciary responsibility to their clients.  Certification requirements include:

Completion of the CFP® requirements as set forth by the CFP Board.

Completion of 60 hours of continuing education every two years.

Successful completion of the Candidate Fitness Standards and background check.

Adherance to the NAPFA Fiduciary Oath, Standards of Membership and Affiliation, and Bylaws.

Signing a Code of Ethics that includes agreeing to abide by the Standards of Professional Conduct and Terms and Conditions.

Certified Public Accountant (CPA)

Certified Public Accountants are licensed and authorized by the state to practice public or private accounting. CPA licensing requirements in Illinois include:

150 semester hours of education including a bachelor degree with 24 semester hours in accounting and 24 semester hours in accounting and/or related subjects.

Successful completion of the Uniform Certified Public Accountant Examination (Uniform CPA Exam).

A minimum of 12 months of work experience, under the direct supervision of a qualified licensee, while demonstrating competency in accounting, attest, compilation, management advisory, financial advisory, tax and consulting skills.

Successful completion of an approved ethics course.

Completion of 80 hours of continuing education every two years, including 4 hours of ethics.

In addition, 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 and competence. It also requires that they fully disclose any conflicts of interest (and obtain client consent if a conflict exists), maintain client confidentiality, disclose to the client any commission or referral fees, and serve the public interest when providing financial services.

Registered Investment Adviser (RIA)

A Registered Investment Adviser (RIA) is a person or firm that has filed with the Federal Securities and Exchange Commission or State Securities Commission and adheres to certain disclosure requirements. The RIA is not a professional designation. This qualification is necessary for the rendering of investment advice. Investment Advisers who manage less than $100 million are generally state registered.

Enrolled Agent (EA)

EA is a designation awarded by the Internal Revenue Service  to individuals who wish to represent persons before the IRS. Applicants must pass a comprehensive, two-day exam held by the IRS on all aspects of tax law, including tax filing procedures.

Chartered Fund Specialist (CFS)

CFS is the oldest designation in the mutual fund industry. Training is provided by the Institute of Business & Finance, whose 60-hour curriculum is an intermediate- to advanced-level course on mutual funds, ETFS, REITs, closed-end funds and similar investments. Training focuses on how mutual funds work, how to measure performance and how to choose the best mutual funds for a particular client. Topics include fund analysis and selection, asset allocation, portfolio construction, risk management, taxes and estate planning. The course culminates in a final exam administered by the National Association of Securities Dealers.

Accredited Investment Fiduciary® (AIF)

AIF® designees are licensed by the Center for Fiduciary Studies, a part of the fi360 Company. Designees receive training on best fiduciary practices and implementation.

To acquire and retain their AIF® certification, advisors must:

  • Successfully complete a 90-minute, closed-book, 60-question AIF® exam, with at least 75% correct answers;
  • Successfully complete six hours of continuing professional education, four hours of which are fi360 Training continuing education;
  • Sign and agree to abide by a code of ethics.

Fellow, Society of Actuaries (FSA)

An actuary is a business professional who analyzes the financial consequences of risk. Actuaries use mathematics, statistics and financial theory to study uncertain future events, especially those of concern to insurance and pension programs. They evaluate the likelihood of those events, design creative ways to reduce the likelihood and decrease the impact of adverse events that actually do occur.

Achieving Fellowship status in the Society of Actuaries is based primarily on completing specified educational requirements, with no requirement related to a certain number of years of practical actuarial experience. The FSA designation signifies demonstrated knowledge of the business environments within which financial decisions concerning pensions, life insurance, health insurance, and investments are made including the application of mathematical concepts and other techniques to the various areas of actuarial practice. The Fellow has further demonstrated an in–depth knowledge of the application of appropriate techniques to a specific area of actuarial practice.