5 No-Nonsense Steps to the CIMA® Designation for a Financial Advisor

So after being a financial advisor for so many years and being out of school for so long, why would I go through the torture and hard work to achieve the CIMA® (Certified Investment Management Analyst) designation? Especially when most of my clients or potential clients may not have any idea what the CIMA® designation even stands for.

Most of what I try to accomplish as a financial advisor falls under the category of trying to enhance my skills as an advisor or strengthen my relationship with my clients. Working toward the CIMA® designation allowed me to focus on both those goals at the same time. Most of what I do with my clients focuses around the investment of their assets especially during retirement. I wanted to earn a designation that specifically focused on investing clients assets, because that is where I feel that as an advisor I can add the most value. I also wanted to achieve a designation that has a high level of quality and credibility among my financial professional peers. The Investment Management Consultants Association (IMCA) administers the CIMA® designation program. The coursework revolves around the areas of investment policy, investment management, manager search and selection and investment theory and is the only internationally accredited designation available to financial advisors.

To earn this designation you must go through a five step process:

Step 1. The Application

– Three years minimum experience as a financial professional
– Submit to a background check. This is the easy part for most advisors as long as you have had no criminal background or client complaints and unless you have ever had your securities license suspended. If you live by the Golden Rule, (treat others the way you would like to be treated) then this one is a breeze.

Step 2.  The Qualification Exam

– Given at a local testing center which you must pass.  Studying for this at least 9 months, 2 to 3 hours per day. I used Pierre Lamaire at Beta Education for tutoring for the high level math.  IMCA maintains that to acquire the CIMA® designation requires approximately 500 hours of study time, which is difficult to squeeze in when running a Financial Planning Practice.

Step 3.  The Wharton Business School

– Graduate Level Education Program.  This is the notorious part; this is what many in financial advisor circles talk about. You literally go through 40 hours of Graduate Level Coursework in one week. The class is taught by Wharton Professors (shout out to Dr. Jaffe my favorite instructor) which is mostly focused on high level math, finance and statistics. You live on the Wharton Campus for a week and never leave.  You never leave because you barely have time to eat and sleep because you’re always studying. Each day class starts promptly at 8 am and you better not be late because you won’t catch up. Class ends at 5 every day, but no rest for the weary. You have to eat dinner and then it’s back to class for tutoring; our class had a Wharton PhD student each evening as our tutor. After tutoring at about 9 pm we had to meet with our study group as we had to draft an Investment Policy Statement as part of an Essay Project which counted towards our grade.

Step 4.  Certification Exam

– Passing the 4 hour essay certification exam.  This is where I almost lost it, seriously. Who knew a 25 question 4 hour essay exam could be so difficult. Our tutor each evening went over the concepts we had learned and he also gave us some test taking advice. He advised us to read through the test completely and then answer the easiest questions first. When I got my test I frantically read through it looking for the easy questions to mark so that I could go back and do them first. When I got to the last question I realized that there was no such thing as easy questions on this test. Each question had multiple parts and required substantial thought to even begin to answer, and my heart sunk as I realized I had just wasted 20 minutes reading all the questions. Upon leaving the test I ran into one of my study partners who happened to also be an MBA.  He said that the CIMA® Exam was one of the hardest test’s he has ever taken. I left dejected thinking I may have failed, although I knew I got allot of questions right at least enough for partial credit; I wasn’t sure I had done enough to pass. I went home and never stopped my study habits because with this high level math, if you don’t use it you lose it. And I really believed that I may have to take the test again, so I needed to remain sharp.  According to the IMCA website the pass rate for first time exam takers as of Feb. 2015 was only 56%. I took my test back in 2009; I don’t know what the pass rate was for our class. A month or so after taking my test I got a notice in the mail that I passed. I could finally breathe a sigh of relief.

Step 5. Professional Responsibility & Continuing Education

– Adhere to IMCA’s code of professional responsibility and agree to perform ongoing continuing education credits which amounts to 40 hours of continuing education every two years and two of those hours must be devoted to ethics.  In order to help advisors stay on track with their continuing education requirements each year, IMCA provides world-class education. Designation holders have the opportunity to hear from business leaders and top academics in the financial services arena, while simultaneously earning continuing education credits.

Without the CIMA® designation and the ongoing continuing education credits offered through IMCA how else would a financial advisor maintain and keep sharp a high level type of education in finance? Especially in an industry that is constantly changing.  The CIMA® designation is great for financial advisors who wish to become better educated in investments. It also helps advisors learn ways to break down complex investment processes and theory’s and be able to articulate them to their clients.

After all it really boils down to benefiting clients when they understand exactly what it is that you are trying to accomplish with their investments.  Those educational explanations of your investment process can help keep clients on track towards the pursuit of their goals. I think the CIMA® designation has been invaluable to my clients, even if they don’t know what the letters stand for.

To learn more about Chad White, view his Paladin Registry profile.

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