The Exceptional Advisor Model:
Born out of Research, Lived Out by You

Succeeding as an advisor today means demonstrating value – both what clients get for their money and why relationships matter. The Exceptional Advisor® understands what clients need and value. Using advanced knowledge gained through their Institute certifications, advisors can help educate and guide their clients to make the best decision for their individual financial situations.

The Exceptional Advisor

The Exceptional Advisor™ initiative helps advisors differentiate themselves from other professionals in a global and highly competitive marketplace. By concentrating on areas identified through research as key attributes valued by clients, advisors can better demonstrate the advanced knowledge they have earned through their certifications.

The knowledge and skills developed during the CIMA®, CPWA®, and RMA® certification process allow advisors to stand out and provide exceptional service across a wide range of clients. The designations also provide a foundation for individuals to tackle even the most complex investor challenges.


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Certified Investment Management Analyst (CIMA) certification is the highest level of investment education client-facing advisors can get. In an environment that is highly volatile, this certification gives you the know-how to serve your clients with deep investment knowledge.

Learn more about CIMA®

Schedule an appointment with an enrollment counselor



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Certified Private Wealth Advisor (CPWA) is the certification for advisors who work with—or aspire to work with—high-net-worth (HNW) clients. This certification can help you land and service your next HNW or UHNW client.

Learn more about CPWA®

Schedule an appointment with an enrollment counselor



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

Learn more about RMA®

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The Exceptional Advisor Model




The Exceptional Advisor Model

The Investor Research (2020) conducted by Absolute Engagement defined “Exceptional Advisors” as those advisors who:
  • Understand clients’ needs and values
  • Provide meaningful guidance
  • Demonstrate advanced knowledge
  • Provide a personalized approach
  • Act ethically
  • Provide exceptional service

The Research

The research shows that clients value an advisor who demonstrates advanced capabilities, exceptional service, a personalized approach and meaningful guidance. All this is built on the pillars of adherence to high ethical standards and expertise in the field.

See the latest research report:

Investor Behavior in A Market Crisis2021 Investor Behavior in a Market Crisis — This new investor report builds upon last year's findings to illuminate the gaps between client and advisor perceptions regarding their advisory relationship. Fielded in April and May 2021, against the backdrop of the world recovering from an economic recession and the COVID-19 global pandemic, the survey results revealed the depth of client temptations, their fears of market declines, and their understanding of their portfolios. The study also revealed advisors' perceptions of what their clients think of them in addition to critical gaps and opportunities for advisors providing insights and actionable behavioral finance techniques that advisors can utilize to demonstrate and reinforce their value to clients. Sponsored by the Behavioral Investing Institute.

The Evolution of Exceptional

seeds sprouting from the groundThe research shows that clients look for a trusted advisor who demonstrates high ethical standards, puts clients’ needs first, and demonstrates strong technical expertise. These fundamentals form the foundation of the Exceptional Advisor Model.

Check out how The Exceptional Advisor Model has evolved through our longitudinal research.


2020 research report     2020Canada research report cover     2019 research report cover     2017 research report cover     2017 Canada research report cover

Advanced Capabilities: The Value of Designations

Professional designations chartThe research shows that investors use designations as a way to vet potential advisors. Nearly 80 percent of respondents said professional designations would be somewhat or very important in helping make a decision if they were looking for a new advisor today.

The research highlights that HNW investors also value multiple designations, with nearly 70 percent indicating that this allows advisors to deliver a broader range of services and nearly 60 percent indicating this is a demonstration of greater technical expertise.

In addition to supporting credibility, clients believe that having advanced certifications sets their advisor apart in a competitive marketplace. Sixty-seven percent of respondents said they somewhat or completely agreed that the designations or credentials held by their advisor set him or her apart from other advisors.

Explore the Institute’s designations and find which one is right for you.

Compare Certifications

Act Ethically: The Strive for Excellence & Highest Ethical Standards

ethics chartAdvisor characteristics such as trust, expertise, and ethics have always been core to the Exceptional Advisor. High ethical standards matter, according to 83 percent of clients in a recent Investor Study.

82% of clients said knowing their advisor would lose his/her credentials if he/she failed to meet ethics standards, knowing their advisor had met a rigorous set of standards, knowing their advisor had met ongoing standards was somewhat or very important.

The Institute sets the standards and practices for the investment and wealth management professions, and provides the credentials, education and tools required for advisors to best serve their clients. 

Institute Ethics Standards
  • The Code of Professional Responsibility promotes and maintain the high standards of personal and professional conduct. All Institute members are subject to the Code.
  • The Disciplinary Rules and Procedures of the Institute outlines the process, rules and procedures through which CIMA®, CPWA®, and RMA® certificants are held to the Institute's standards and provide enforcement measures. 
  • All CIMA®, CPWA®, and RMA® professionals must agree to continued adherence to the Institute's Marks Usage Guide, which provides guidance on properly using the appropriate marks in different types of communications, as well as an antitrust statement.

Ethics Education Requirements

The Institute also requires all CIMA®, CPWA®, and RMA® professionals to complete two hours of ethics education as part of their 40 hours of continuing education every two-years to maintain their credentials.
See the On-Demand offerings available through the Institute.

Online Education

Communicate Your Value

business people shaking hands and talking at a table
High net worth clients want a deeper understanding of their advisor’s designations. Advisors have a real opportunity to help clients understand the designations/certifications they hold and what those designations mean. While 71% of clients say they are somewhat or very comfortable with their current level of understanding of the designations held by their advisor, 54% say they would like a better understanding. It appears that anything short of a very high level of understanding creates a desire to learn more.

Communication is a missing link

Seventy-three percent of engaged clients said their advisor had proactively shared information on designations/credentials, dropping to 34% among those who were not engaged.

The Exceptional Advisor Toolkit
The toolkit is comprised of online courses, articles, marketing collateral, powerpoint presentations and communication touchpoints—all to help you convey the value of your certification more easily.
  • CIMA®, CPWA®, RMA® Toolkits—Find logos, news releases, client brochures, sample correspondence package, flyers, website copy and presentation decks.
  • General Resources—Find resource you can distribute to clients, including articles, brochures, videos and quizzes.
CIMA Toolkit     CPWA Toolkit     RMA Toolkit     General Client Resources

The Exceptional Advisor Course


The Exceptional Advisor® Course is designed to showcase your expertise and create awareness of your advanced knowledge and certifications, by providing the tools you need to tell your story and help you demonstrate how you fulfill what clients want.

Learn how to communicate the value of your ethics and expertise to clients based on research by Discover the characteristics of an Exceptional Advisor® and learn how to develop communication and targeted action plans.

Learn More and Register

The Community

Join The HIVE, your community of Exceptional Advisors.


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Gain collaboration, confidence and a competitive edge

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Support others so they can thrive

Whether you’re establishing yourself or an industry veteran, whether your clients are individuals or institutions, or whether you’re a firm committed to giving clients the highest-quality advice and service, the Institute gives you the resources you need to be at your best. Together let’s raise the professional standard in the industry.