Can a new set of letters after an advisor’s name transform her into a wealth manager? Maybe not the letters alone, but months of study that give advisors a way to structure their practice around client service, and the confidence to talk with clients more broadly about their financial picture, sounds at the very least like a positive development for both advisor and client.
Last year Sigma Financial Corporation invited about 100 of its top representatives to take part in a special program designed to help seasoned reps make significant changes in how they run their practices, and earn a new professional designation, the Certified Wealth Strategist (CWS). The first two days at Sigma’s Ann Arbor, Michigan, home office were devoted to classes about “how to set up your business, how to go after high-net-worth clients,” says Sigma’s director of firm development, Jennifer Bacarella. After the introductory classes, representatives had the opportunity to choose whether they wanted to go on to get the CWS, which was developed by Athens, Georgia-based Cannon Financial Institute, and the New England Institute of Finance in Boston.
Kenneth Wink, president of Summit Financial Consulting, in Detroit, and co-owner of the firm with his dad, Robert, is a registered rep, an investment advisor, and has insurance licenses. Initially, he was not sure whether to get the CFP designation or the CWS, so he talked to a number of CFPs who told him, he said, that the CWS designation was “more comprehensive and more helpful than the CFP. Everything about the CWS designation is about discipline and being organized. They give you the tools to comprehensively plan for everyone.” Using the strategies learned in the training, Wink says he’s “literally doubled our productivity in one year.”
The coursework takes about 26 weeks, using books, online materials, and videos followed by an exam. “Once you get done with that we reconvene,” for more classes, explains Bacarella, in which “they actually interview you, and videotape you giving your branding message to a client, how you work with your clients,” as the next step toward completing the requirements. “You have to pass the videotape portion; you’re not allowed to use notes or anything, you’re just supposed to [imagine] that you have a client sitting on the opposite side of the table.” The last part of the series is a “capstone” report of 20 to 30 pages that recaps what the reps learned in the course and is the basis for their business plan.
Participation in Sigma’s program was very high. Of the original 100 or so invitees, 24 have completed the required work, with another 73 still enrolled. The firm has invited another 50 top planners to take part in the next round of CWS courses starting this month. Sigma pays two-thirds of the $3,000 tuition, and reps pay one-third.
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