The “Big Three” Financial Adviser Credentials

By Matthew R. Adams on October 11, 2017

We typically put a high amount of trust in our doctors for our personal healthcare needs.  An M.D. is a certified medical doctor, who has gone through years of intense study in his/her field, adheres to a code of ethics and owes a fiduciary duty to patients.  Yet, when it comes to personal finance and people’s life savings, consumers are often either tricked or remiss when it comes to hiring an adviser that adheres to a similar standard of care.

Part of the problem is the baffling array of “financial credentials” in the marketplace today.  The Wall Street Journal found at least 115 of them – nearly double what existed just a decade ago.  This is incredibly confusing for the consumer, as many credentials have similar acronyms, although the length of study and dedication to the field greatly vary.

At Dowling & Yahnke, we consider the “big three” certifications to be paramount in our field:  Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA), and Certified Financial PlannerTM (CFP®)Certified Public Accountant (CPA).  The Wall Street Journal agrees: “In the financial realm, many well-established credentials, including the certified public accountant, chartered financial analyst and certified financial planner designations, require long study, demand continuing education and enforce strict codes of ethics. To become a CPA, for example, one must pass a 14-hour CPA exam…the CFA requires roughly 900 hours of study in accounting, economics, ethics, finance and mathematics, and only 42% of candidates pass its three required exams, a process that can take several years.” 1

Differences between the various Financing Certifications

So, when it comes to your life savings and the decision on who to hire, ask this simple question first – which professional credentials do you have, and what are their requirements?

As Jason Zweig of the Intelligent Investor notes, “among the best are the CFA, CPA and CFP®, which all require rigorous study, continuing education and adherence to high ethical standards. Many other financial certifications are marketing tools masquerading as fancy diplomas on an adviser’s wall.”2

At Dowling & Yahnke, we constantly strive to excel in our field.  Most of our advisers have at least two of the “big three” credentials that matter in personal finance. We take great pride in having nine CFA charter holders, 17 CFP® practitioners, two CPAs, and post-graduates from world-renowned business schools including the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, the Harvard Business School, the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.  We believe knowledge separates us from other investment advisory firms.

As an independent, fee-only, registered investment adviser, Dowling & Yahnke provides comprehensive portfolio management and retirement planning while adhering to an exceptional standard – the fiduciary standard.  The knowledge base of our CFA, CFP® and CPA professionals leverages various financial planning tools to deliver world-class service in helping our clients reach their financial goals.


WSJ – Is Your Adviser Pumping Up His Credentials? Jason Zweig, 10/16/2010
WSJ – The 19 Questions to Ask Your Financial Adviser, Jason Zweig, 08/25/2017


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