Do you need to be certified in order to do your work?


As a proponent of what I call “integrative financial coaching” I get to help people not only with improving their finances, but also help them heal their relationship to money, allowing them an easier path towards success in more areas of their life.

With this in mind, the question sometimes arises: “Are you a CFP [Certified Financial Planner]?

I have been through financial coaching training, and have worked with people from a wide variety of backgrounds, but I am not a CFP.

Don’t you think that you should be?

That depends on how important the certification is.

Being lettered

When you’ve become officially certified in an trade or status, you get the ability to add letters after your name (these are officially known as post-nominal letters). They can be religious or professional, academic, or honorary. Here are just a few:

  • MD (Doctor of Medicine)
  • PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
  • CPA (Certified Public Accountant)
  • CFP (Certified Financial Planner)
  • EMT (Emergency Medical Technician)
  • LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor)

These letters are granted by certification boards. For example, the PhD is usually awarded by a university.

Certify me

Certifications are used to foster confidence and credibility. It says “I have passed tests and acheived a certain standard that is recognized by an official source.” This is no different than buying organic at the grocery store. When you see the organic label, it means that the USDA has determined that, for example, 95% of the ingredients in the product are organic. When you buy the product because it’s organic, you are buying based on your confidence of the organization that grants that organic status.

I don’t think I would want a doctor or nurse working with me that wasn’t officially allowed to be called an MD or RN. But vetting everyone solely by their letters may be a bit too quick a judgement. For example, it is always possible to fake a degree, or to get a certification from a lax organization. Also, the organization does not necessarily imply anything about the person certified; the Harvard grad may have slept his way through, while the University of Nowhere grad may have worked his tail off.

My point being is that not only do you need to decide if you trust the certification, but also the organization that gives the certification. If you trust the certifier, you trust what they’re certifying.

Which leads me to CFP. According to the CFP Board (an organization I confess I know nothing about) the requirements to become a CFP don’t seem that onerous. But I’m not looking to be a straight financial planner. The work that I do involves a psychological component as well. Do I need to get a LPC certification while I’m at it? What do I do if the work I do doesn’t quite fit into an official box?

And another concern: what if I disagree with some of the standard tenets of the certification board? I’m not saying that I do (or don’t), but to be certified means that you sort of have to tow the party line, doesn’t it?

Because I lack official certification in this realm, all that it means for me is that I need to be honest about it. Nowhere do I claim to be anything that I’m not. Also, I recognize that this may drive some people to seek assistance elsewhere. While this is a drag, I can’t really complain about it. Some people will want the credibility that only letters after one’s name can provide. Others can take their credibility from word-of-mouth reviews and online testimonials.

So what that you’re not certified

You may not have any interest in being a CFP, LCPC, or anything like that. But perhaps there’s work you want to do, that you burn to do, and you don’t know how to get started.

A common thought that goes through people’s minds is: “I’m not qualified.” And the second thought usually involves something like this: “I’ll go to school and get a degree.

I find that many people want to do work in a field where they don’t have a degree, and think that the first step is getting a degree. And just like profiessional certification, sometime this is so.

But not always. I can personally attest that getting a degree in something does not in any way ensure competence in a particular field. I can also assure you that throughout my entire career, I have never worked in the field of my degree.

What if, instead of (or in addition to) signing up for school for your new vocation, you instead found a way to do the work right now? If you’re an engineer, could you build your own projects at home, and hone your craft right now? If you want to be a photographer, do you have to go to photography school, or could you just study at home and start taking pictures right now? Don’t you think if you went to an employer and showed them what you’ve been up to in your workspace for the past few years, that that would bear as much weight as a degree?

Good but not everything

On balance, I think degrees and certifications are a good thing. The jury is still out for my own CFP (though you may very well hear more about this in the coming posts) and equally so, the jury is still out on whether going back to school is best for you.

But in the meantime, don’t let the lack of official sanction deter you from doing your work. Don’t pretend to be anything you’re not, of course, and know that some people may not be interested in your work until you become “official” in their eyes. But others may just give you a chance.

But enough about me. What work do you want to do? What can you do to start right now?


  1. saulofhearts

    This is something I’ve experienced firsthand. I went through the process to become a yoga instructor only to back out at the very end because I had issues with all of the New Age questions on the final exam. It’s the kind of thing where, if someone asked me if I’m a CYT, I’d technically have to say no, even though I did literally everything except the paperwork. Luckily, yoga is the kind of thing where teaching style and experience count more than paperwork, so hopefully it won’t affect me too much if I ever offer classes!

    • Mike

      Hi Saul. Right, the context of vocation matters a lot here. Like I said, I tend to require my doctors to be certified, but, for comparison, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a Certified Yoga Teacher until you just mentioned it, so clearly that’s not a big deal for me!

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