I started the process of becoming an Accredited Financial Counselor®, to gain more skills and for people who prefer want to work with certified professionals.
Years ago, I wrote a post called, “Do you need to be certified in order to do your work?“
I recognized that certification imparts a kind of authority, and that in many fields (such as medicine), this is a crucial thing, at least for me.
But I also put forth the idea that in order for the authority to really take hold, one really needs to trust the certifier. VeriSign says your site is secure, but do you trust VeriSign?
Ultimately, I said:
On balance, I think degrees and certifications are a good thing. … 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.
In general, I’ve found this to be true in my coaching practice. Not having letters after my name has never come up once in any of my consultations.
But that said, it’s unknowable how many conversations I haven’t had because of this.
While certification may not be necessary, at least for a financial coach, it certainly could help. At the very least, it couldn’t hurt.
And that’s why, I have signed up to become an AFC®: Accredited Financial Counselor®.
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Learning about the AFCPE
I admit that the AFC®, and it governing body, the AFCPE, was relatively new to me. When I wrote that aforementioned post, I didn’t mention it, as I hadn’t heard of it.
I found out about the AFC® through FinCon, that conference for financial professionals that I go to every year now. The AFCPE had a booth there, and I spent some time chatting with them about their mission, which appeared to be very aligned with mine.
Last year, I sought out some people who had their certifications, or who were going for them, and got some more feedback. It seemed right up my alley.
The primary aim of the Accredited Financial Counselor® certification is:
Providing you with the knowledge and experience to meet individuals and families where they are, help them build a strong financial foundation, realize their goals and achieve lasting financial well-being.
Again, this sounds good. This sounds like what I offer.
So what is required to become an AFC®? Three main things (well, four if you count the fees)
- Education: For most people, this is self-study, with books and other learning materials.
- Experience: 1,000 hours of documented experience in the field
- Exam: An official proctored examination
The Education and Exam aspects of this certification are not something I’m that concerned about. I was very good at book learning and standardized tests in school, and so even if the content is challenging (and I do hope it is), this is a strength.
The Experience is going to be a little more challenging. It’s not that I don’t have 1,000 hours under my belt, it’s just the documentation of such. It’s not as simple as it would be if I held a full time job in financial education.
And yes, I did ask if I could submit my site as proof, but they said they would only take 50 hours maximum. Guess I have to start tracking some hours.
AFC® versus CFP®
The 1,000 hours requirement isn’t a blocker by any means, but it’s useful to contrast that against the more well-known certification for financial professionals, the CFP® (Certified Financial Planner).
The CFP® has the similar Education/Experience/Exam pathway, but the Experience part requires 4,000 to 6,000 hours in a three year period.
Know what that is? A full-time job.
That’s one of the reasons why a CFP® has been a non-starter for me.
But the other reason is that a CFP® doesn’t quite get at the heart of the, well, the heart of what I do and want to do.
Consider the vocational pathways of the CFP®:
It’s just so…mechanical. Assets under management. Investment portfolios.
People need this sort of help, sure. But where is the emotional component? Where is the humanity?
A CFP® isn’t quite aligned with the Empathic Finance path. I work with the whole person, not just their portfolios.
Watch this space
The path toward AFC® certification is a long one, and I fully expect there to be lots of interesting stops along the journey.
But I’m looking forward to the process, not just the destination. I love an opportunity to learn more about financial wellness, make connections with others in the field, and so to become more effective in my work of helping people like you.
Maybe I don’t need letters after my name. But if it helps me do my work, then bring on the letters.
What matters most to you about working with a financial professional? Is it credentials, recommendations, or something else? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.