You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know
Everyone has to start somewhere.
I started my career in the 401k industry standing in the middle of a room at a finals presentation trying to convince 12 board members that they should hire me, fresh out of brokerage training with no knowledge of ERISA what-so-ever.
I was not qualified to service that plan as I was what industry specialists refer to as a “blind squirrel.”
Good thing they didn’t hire me and good thing it’s not too difficult to shake that status with an ample selection of retirement designation and certification programs that can provide the knowledge necessary to be a valuable 401k advisor.
The second part of the value equation in the retirement industry is, of course, experience but you can leverage that by partnering with other experienced and knowledgeable advisors and providers until you’ve got a few plans under your belt.
What programs should you take if you want to become a 401k specialist?
When advisors ask me what programs they should start with, I typically recommend they first go through the process of understanding that what drives the decision when choosing a designation ultimately needs to be based on what they’re trying to accomplish.
Then I refer them to the Retirement Plan Professional’s Designation & Certification Guide to understand what’s available.
And finally, I provide the following recommendation.
For a baseline overview of the legal and technical issues of setting up a retirement plan (think “401k Plans 101”), I’d recommend you take ASPPA’s Retirement Plan Fundamentals (RPF) 1 and 2 courses.
As described on ASPPA’s website, this program is designed to convey the broad base of knowledge covering the issues, terminology, and requirements of retirement plan administration and goes through the life cycle of starting, operating and closing down a plan.
Successful completion of the RPF certificate program also counts toward the requirements for many of ASPPA’s credentialed memberships so it gets you started if you want to go on to pursue the QPFC, CPC, QKA or QPA credentials.
I strongly feel the Professional Plan Consultant (PPC) Program is the next logical step since this program begins to build on your knowledge by laying out a process for servicing retirement plans that cover an overview of ERISA at a high level, best practices for implementing a prudent process, and shares resources and strategies for developing a service model that meets industry best practices.
This program is meant to help advisors that want to work at the plan level to take a consultative approach and go in as the quarterback to help plan sponsors understand and manage their key responsibilities. It is a very practical look at how to service a 401k plan.
Disclaimer – I created the PPC program based on my experience in seeing a gap where the technical knowledge failed to lead to practical application so I’m completely biased here.
If you’re ready to jump in full boat and become a true 401k plan specialist, the third program I’d recommend on your quest would be the Accredited Fiduciary Investment Analyst (AIFA) by fi360.
They’re both excellent next steps.
The content in the CPFA program appears to meet similar learning objectives as the AIFA program, while the AIFA program definitely gives you a very real, revealing look at how to go into a practice and find and close the compliance gaps through proper process and documentation from a fiduciary angle.
Another disclaimer – I went through the AIFA program (held that credential for years) so I can personally attest to the value I felt it provided, but as the former Managing Director of FSS, a former division of fi360, again, I may be a little biased here.
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