Top Three Benefits Of Specialized Educational Certifications

Michael Madden, Contributing Editor & Research Analyst, Wealth Solutions Report

Alts And ETF Education Experts Explain Why Advisors May Choose To Go Beyond General Certifications To Seek Topic-Specific Education

Broad-based and intensive educational certifications undoubtably boost advisors’, planners’ and other professionals’ careers, open doors, attract clients and lend the credibility of authority and respect of the discipline needed to attain those certifications. But beyond the familiar standard industry certifications, many new and specialized certifications have arisen in wealth management, catering to specific needs and subject areas. 

Aaron Filbeck, Managing Director and Head, UniFi by CAIA

One institution targeting specific needs is the Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst Association (CAIA), which, in addition to its core two-exam CAIA Charter requiring 200 hours of study time, launched the UniFi by CAIA platform for wealth management professionals in April of this year under the leadership of Aaron Filbeck, Managing Director and Head of UniFi by CAIA.

Approximately 9,000 professionals enrolled for UniFi’s first certificate program, “Fundamentals of Alternative Investments,” and CAIA plans to launch other programs over the next two years to cover private debt, digital assets, private equity, real assets and hedge funds.

Nate Geraci, Co-Founder, The ETF Institute

Another educational institution providing specialized certifications is The ETF Institute, which provides wealth management professionals with certification, education and training on ETFs through its Certified ETF Advisor (CETF) program, launched in September 2021. With a typical study time of 10 to 15 hours and a continuing education requirement of 15 hours every two years, the CETF program currently has approximately 300 members.

Nate Geraci, who co-founded The ETF Institute, also hosts the ETF Prime podcast and is President of RIA The ETF Store

To explore the potential benefits of gaining specialized certifications for wealth management professionals, we asked Geraci and Filbeck the following question:

What are the top three benefits to advisors from specialized educational certifications, and how do they choose the right ones for themselves and their clients?

Here are their answers:

Aaron Filbeck, Managing Director and Head of UniFi by CAIA

As the wealth management industry evolves and the client base diversifies, advisors find it necessary to specialize. Generalist skillsets and broad subject matter knowledge are incredibly important but, after the foundations are covered, the natural progression is to deepen knowledge in places that will best serve their clientele. The top three benefits to advisors include:

  • Differentiation in an increasingly competitive market,
  • Subject matter expertise that allows them to ask better questions to service providers and
  • A combination of breadth and depth that allows them to serve the client more holistically.
Breadth and depth

When selecting a specialized certification program, advisors should examine the rigor and applicability of the content and how it relates to their needs. Some programs are highly rigorous while others provide a more introductory overview of a topic. Both have their place. 

Beyond the content itself, advisors should pay attention to the types of organizations offering specialized certifications. Professional bodies and mission-driven educational providers tend not to have investment products to sell, which can lead to a more objective explanation of complex concepts.

Nate Geraci, Co-Founder of The ETF Institute

If there’s one constant in wealth management, it’s change. Markets and investment solutions are continuously evolving, which creates a never-ending need for education. In my opinion, the most successful advisors proactively pursue educational opportunities to stay ahead of the constant change. 

A unique aspect of wealth management is that it doesn’t matter if an advisor actually uses a particular investment or solution – they still must possess the ability to speak intelligently about it with clients. If advisors do utilize the investment category or solution, then proper education is obviously even more critical. 

Demonstrating proficiency in certain areas can be an important differentiator for advisors serving unique client niches, particularly in a largely commoditized space. Those clients may require specialized solutions, which will dictate the areas where advisors should focus their educational efforts. 

The single most important factor when choosing specialized certifications is whether they will positively impact clients. If enhancing knowledge in a particular area has no impact on the client experience, what’s the point? 

Advisors should also consider where the puck is going, not where it has been. For example, are clients more likely to ask questions about mutual funds or ETFs? Gold or crypto? Forward-thinking advisors should embrace innovation and assume their clients do as well. That framework will help guide advisors toward the right certifications.  

Other key considerations include the overall program time commitment, cost and credibility of the organization and individuals supporting the designation. That organization should also be committed to the same type of educational evolution they expect from advisors.

Michael Madden, Contributing Editor & Research Analyst at Wealth Solutions Report, can be reached at

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