I recently passed the third and final exam in the American College’s Retirement Income Certified Professional ® (RICP®) program. Working through the course was an interesting and informative experience. Here are some impressions if you are considering enrollment.

The material is organized in three courses, each with a different focus, although there is some overlap. The first course, HS 353: Retirement Income Process, Strategies, and Solutions, takes a high level approach to the process. I found its primary value was in broadening my perspective of 1) what needs to be included in a competent retirement income plan, and 2) how the process itself should be structured.

If you’ve completed the CFP® or ChFC® programs, you probably experienced a similar expansion of your perspective on general financial planning as you worked through that material. Like those courses, the RICP material helps you recognize the topic’s complexity and take a more holistic planning approach.

HS 354: Sources of Retirement Income and HS 355: Managing the Retirement Income Plan blend broadly focused material with in-depth discussions of specific topics, such as Social Security’s retirement benefits, distributions from retirement plans and the different strategies for generating retirement income. At the risk of overgeneralizing, I would describe the program’s recommended approach to retirement income planning as conservative, with an emphasis on providing adequate safe income for essential needs as the foundation.

At times it was difficult to wade through the level of detail on some of the more technical topics, especially the tax-related sections. I suspect each student’s background will influence how he or she reacts to the different topics; nonetheless, you might find that some of the material is slow going. Presentations 
You can read the material in a course outline, which is a handy format for test review. You can also view presentations that use several formats. In one format, a narrator discusses the topic, either as a voice-over or filmed while speaking behind a podium and being accompanied by a slide presentation. I could read the outline faster than the narrators spoke so I often skipped most of those presentations.

Much of the material uses a television studio-style presentation of panels with the program’s main developers, American College staff, and external subject matter experts. This is where the program excels, I believe, because the studio presentations were generally very informative. These interviews were the highlight for me: you could tell these professionals were genuine experts and they shared valuable planning insights.

Each learning objective includes an online quiz with a practice exam at the end of each course. Do take the practice exams because their 100-questions format and style closely resemble what you’ll encounter in the actual exam at a test center. Overall, I thought the exams placed too much emphasis on memorizing facts versus conceptual applications of the material. In fairness, though, more open-end responses to conceptual questions would require a different testing and grading format than the current online multiple-choice questions allows.

Time requirement
The study-time estimates to view each course and take the quizzes range from 26 to 30 hours. Unless you can recall everything you encounter in a presentation after one pass, I think those estimates are too low. When I took the first two courses I watched the videos and then read the outline in the weeks prior to the test. That method took more time but I was confident going into the tests and did well. For the final test I was unable to spend as much time on review and although I passed—you need a 70% grade—I missed numerous questions.

Is it worth it?
This is a good educational program and I believe the RICP designation will continue to gain public and professional acceptance. If you’re willing to invest the study time, I recommend it to anyone working in the retirement market.