a group of advisors comparing financial advisor certifications

How to Compare Top Financial Advisor Certifications

Certifications help you build trust with clients, elevate your practice, and advance your career.

How do you choose the certification program that augments your experience and delivers tangible value?

wealth advisor certifications

Exploring Professional Designations for Financial Advisors 

Define your objectives. Find your direction. 

The constantly-evolving nature of wealth management requires ongoing education to stay current. But if you’re looking to do more than just keep up, a financial advisor certification can advance your career further.

How do you categorize and compare the best designations for financial advisors? CIMA versus CFP? CPWA versus CFA? RMA versus CRPC versus RICP?

Just keeping the acronyms straight is a project.

Many certification programs offer some value. A handful offer significant value—especially when you have a clear idea of what you want to get out of them.

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Financial Advisor Certification Types 

Most well-respected industry credentials aim for comprehensive education. But their curricula will naturally elevate different areas of specialization and emphasize different capabilities. 

Investment Management

Certifications that focus on investment management and consulting enable you to integrate a complex body of knowledge to provide custom portfolio construction and objective guidance to sophisticated individual and institutional investors.

Wealth Planning

Wealth management certifications enable you to specialize in serving the complex financial planning needs of high-net-worth individuals and families, applying sophisticated multi-disciplinary competencies.

Retirement Management

Retirement management and planning certifications enable you to build effective retirement plans that optimize income, mitigate risks, and guide clients throughout a secure retirement.

How Do the Best Designations Complement Each Other?

Two well-respected financial advisor designations—CFA® and CFP®—are often compared to IWI’s advanced certifications. Explore how these educational programs dovetail with IWI’s advanced specializations to support career growth.  

chartered financial analyst logo

Chartered Financial Analyst® (CFA®) 

This program is suited to analytically-oriented professionals in research, analyst, and investing roles. Charter holders acquire a broad base of fundamental skills across banking, economics, accounting, corporate finance, and portfolio management.  

certified financial planner logo

Certified Financial Planner™ (CFP®)

This widely recognized designation is open to experienced financial planning professionals, students, and career changers who work with - or want to work with - clients, helping them plan and manage investments, insurance, taxes, and estate plans. Curriculum delivery varies across more than 300 education providers who offer certificate-only, bachelors, masters, and doctoral programs. The program is accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). 

certified investment management analyst logo

Certified Investment Management Analyst® (CIMA®)

This multi-disciplinary certification provides a useful and relevant balance of advanced theory and practical knowledge for advisors, consultants and analysts. It goes well beyond the fundamentals, with deep dives into advanced portfolio construction and management, and sophisticated risk management techniques. It delivers the tools, knowledge and capabilities needed to preserve and grow wealth for U/HN investors. 

certified private wealth advisor flag

Certified Professional Wealth Advisor® (CPWA®)

This advanced wealth management certification is designed specifically for seasoned advisors and wealth managers who work with - or who want to work with - U/HNW clients. It combines a holistic and multidisciplinary approach with deep dives into critical areas of wealth planning and preservation - including wealth transfer, behavioral finance, family dynamics, tax management, and legacy planning. 

retirement management advisor logo

Retirement Management Advisor® (RMA®)

This specialized retirement advisor certification differentiates your retirement advising practice with elevated capabilities and specialized knowledge. It enhances expertise by providing retirement specific capabilities with an emphasis on addressing client needs, risks and readiness.

Compare Financial Advisor Certification Details 

Whether you’re in the early stages of your career or a seasoned professional, the best financial advisor certifications elevate your capabilities and your credibility. 






Sponsoring Organization

Investments & Wealth Institute

Investments & Wealth Institute

Investments & Wealth Institute

CFP Board of Standards

CFA Institute

Ideal For

Financial advisors and investment consultants

Financial advisors who work with high-net-worth clients

Financial advisors who work with clients nearing retirement

Financial advisors

Financial advisors, portfolio managers, and securities analysts

Curriculum Focus

Discretionary investment management: investment policy and plan design, portfolio construction, investment fundamentals and advanced theory, behavioral finance

Advanced wealth management: planning strategies for high-net-worth individuals, asset protection, tax and estate planning, legacy planning, family dynamics

Needs analysis, distribution methods, tax-efficiencies, and healthcare requirements

Financial planning, education, insurance, investment, tax, and estate planning

Investment expertise across all asset classes, economics, accounting, corporate finance, and portfolio management

Typical Time Commitment

9 months

6 months

6 months

18-24 months

3-4 years

Minimum Work Experience Requirement

3 years (financial)

5 years (financial)

3 years (financial)

3 years (financial)

4 years (investment)

Education Requirement with Top 25 Business Schools/Faculty






Adherence to Code of Ethics/Standards










Continuing Education Requirement






professional browsing the best financial advisor certifications

What Makes a Financial Advisor Certification “Advanced?” 

When clients pay for financial advising and wealth management services, they expect solutions that demonstrate competence, sophistication—and most importantly, results. A general, technical certification is the minimum expectation. Since basic investment information is available at the click of a mouse, institutional clients, sophisticated investors - and their families -  don’t need product pushes or cookie-cutter solutions.

What Criteria Should You Consider When Choosing a Financial Advisor or Wealth Management Certification Program? 

Across the realm of financial advisory certifications and education, various organizations offer programs promoting a range of perspectives, agendas, and products. To choose the best financial advisor, wealth manager, or retirement planning certification, ask questions about the organization that’s providing the education, how the curriculum is developed, reviewed, and delivered, and the value it will provide. 

Who provides the certification program? 

Look for an authoritative organization with a solid reputation. Ask about the organization’s history and stability: Are they well managed, do they foster active industry connections, and will they be around in the future to help you continue learning? 

Is the certifying organization objective? 

Some organizations may function within a narrow agenda or promote specific financial products. Look for educational offerings that are supported by continually evolving academic theory, real-world best practices, and informed industry analysis.  

Is the program standards-based? 

Accreditation by an international or national standards organization such as ANAB or NCCA helps ensure the program meets essential requirements and is guided by accepted best practices.  

Are certificants held to an enforced code of ethical and professional responsibility? 

A documented Code of Professional Responsibility indicates that the certifying body adheres to a high standard of ethical behavior that’s essential for building and maintaining client trust and loyalty. Understand whether such a code is in place—and whether it’s enforced by revoking certification from those who fail to uphold it.  

Is the curriculum rigorous and advanced? 

An advanced certification can be a significant investment of your time and effort. It’s not easy—but it’s not meant to be. Demanding courses will require you to move beyond your existing knowledge and genuinely learn something new so that you can deliver positive results for your clients. 

How is the curriculum developed, reviewed, and updated? 

Look for instruction, research, and resources that are both peer-to-peer and peer reviewed, ensuring the information encompasses the most effective, modern, and best-practices-based approaches in the financial advisory industry. 

Is the information current and relevant? 

Education and credentials should directly address contemporary investment and wealth management challenges.  

How are the courses delivered? 

Certification courses may be online, in person, or hybrid (a blend). Courses may be on-demand and self-paced, or you may be required to attend or complete courses on a set schedule. Determine what model will enable you to fit the learning into your professional and personal life.  

What is the total cost of the certification? 

You should be able to easily find and calculate program costs. Look for upfront costs as well as expected costs for any required continuing education to maintain your certification. In addition, some programs may offer scholarship assistance to qualified applicants.

Why Might I Choose to Get Multiple Financial Advisor Certifications? 

What comes after CFP? Already have your CIMA?  

In the ever-evolving financial industry, advanced and specialized knowledge translates to a distinct business advantage—and helps you maximize your career and business growth.  

Multiple certifications?

Additional certifications may be a way to keep your skills fresh and knowledge up to date. Advantages of multiple certifications include:

  • Documented and verifiable skills and knowledge, increasing over time

  • Broadly applicable skills that benefit clients and teams

  • Layered capabilities to serve more sophisticated clients with complex requirements

  • Ability to apply certification renewal and continuing education (CE) credits across multiple certifications*

*When you hold multiple certifications from Investments & Wealth Institute. Other certifying organizations may have different rules.

Always be learning.

If you're not ready or able to add a full certification program, look for opportunities to create a custom learning path to advance your education.

  • Certificate programs or short, multi-part courses can provide a structured learning experience on a single, focused topic area.

  • Online learning through webinars and on-demand recorded presentations can keep you in touch with current or emerging topics.

  • Podcasts can help you stay engaged with industry conversations wherever and whenever you can tune in.

Am I Ready for an Advanced Financial or Wealth Management Certification?

Explore the certification requirements for IWI’s premier programs.

Do you want to deliver the sophisticated investment advice, services and solutions today's investors need?

Certified Investment Management Analyst® (CIMA®) certification is the highest level of investment education client-facing advisors can get.

hatem zarrouk cima certification holder

Do you want to provide U/HNW clients with wealth planning that addresses their unique and complex needs?

Certified Private Wealth Advisor® (CPWA®) certification is designed for advisors who work with—or aspire to work with—high-net-worth (HNW) clients.

alyssa dalby cpwa certification advisor

Do you want to differentiate your retirement advice with elevated capabilities and specialized knowledge?

Retirement Management Advisor® (RMA®) certification gives you tools to build custom retirement income plans, mitigate clients' risks, and master the retirement planning advisory process.

Why RMA?
moe allain rma certification advisor

Are you looking for group certification programs for your firm? 

IWI certifications bring tangible value to your teams and your clients. 

Explore Partner Solutions

Looking for personalized guidance?

We’re here to help.

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Schedule a Call

Speak to an enrollment counselor.

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