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By Kevin Seibert, CRC®, CFP®, CEBS, Managing Director, InFRE

As the Bob Dylan song goes, “The Times They are a-Changin”.  Regardless if the DOL fiduciary rule is delayed, modified or repealed in the coming weeks or months, most retirement companies are in the process of implementing plans to meet rule requirements. Although these plans may be tweaked if and when the Trump administration decides to do anything other than accept the rule as is, most companies will find it difficult to entirely undue changes that are “Blowin’ in the Wind”.

Implementing changes to business structures related to compensation and potential conflicts of interest are complex and extremely time consuming. Although these elements of the rule appear to be the primary focus for companies thus far, how to train advisors to act in the best interest of their clients under a duty of care standard also needs to be addressed.  Unfortunately, there is no minimum competency standard guidance for training advisors to act in the best interest of their clients within the DOL rule.

I’d like to suggest, however, that training via a comprehensive and credible retirement designation program such as the Certified Retirement Counselor® (CRC®) program can be at least one of the answers to how the industry can help advisors meet the duty of care standard.    Working with our academic partner Texas Tech University, the CRC® program was created in 1997 by InFRE to ensure that Certificants meet a minimum competency standard for fulfilling their responsibilities as retirement counseling professionals. Based on original research and analysis by a team of more than 100 retirement practitioners in both public and private sectors and a network of university-based faculty, the CRC® was designed to enable professionals to meet the increasingly-complex challenges facing today’s retirees.  The study materials were originally developed over a two-year period and are regularly updated to address trends in the retirement industry, regulatory changes and to meet the professional development needs of today’s retirement professionals.

The CRC® curriculum distinguishes itself from other retirement designations in that it covers both retirement income and accumulation planning.  In particular, the distribution planning content also helps retirement professionals apply a consultative process oriented approach when helping clients make informed retirement planning decisions.  In the most recent update, a new course entitled Principles of Retirement Education and Counseling was added. This course places emphasis on what it means to be a retirement “counselor” versus just having technical knowledge of investments and regulations. Importantly and as it relates to the DOL rule, the CRC® Code of Ethics includes as one of its’ principles, “Acting in the best interest of the client or retirement plan participant”. Click here to find previews for each of the recently updated study guides.

The CRC® is accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA).  Independent third-party “program” accreditation for a professional certification program provides impartial, third-party validation that the program has met recognized credentialing standards for development, implementation, and maintenance. Accreditation is also an indication to consumers that all who hold an accredited certification possess a consistent level of knowledge and competency pertaining to their profession.

As one of many ongoing accreditation requirements, InFRE regularly conducts a detailed retirement industry-wide practice analysis to ensure that the CRC® program stays relevant and assesses up-to-date knowledge and skills required to assist consumers with retirement planning decisions.  Each practice analysis is conducted by a committee of practitioners representing all certification stakeholders and then validated by other subject matter experts in the profession. The resulting CRC® Test Specifications contain the procedural oriented domains of practice and associated tasks and knowledge statements which are the blueprint for the CRC® examination. In the case of the CRC®, it took almost two years to become accredited. Out of the 170 designations listed on the FINRA website, only 7 are shown to be independently accredited.

To be sure, the CRC® program is not the only answer to helping retirement focused advisors meet the duty of care standard under the DOL rule. The curriculum, however, will go a long way toward providing Certificants with a holistic retirement planning understanding of how to put their clients’ interests first. Once candidates pass the exam and meet other certification requirements, CRC® Certificants can also tangibly demonstrate that they have completed a highly credible foundational training program that measures their knowledge and understanding of important retirement planning concepts and that requires a commitment to ongoing professional development and adherence to a code of ethics.

For more information about the CRC® program contact Kevin Seibert at 847-382-9032 or kseibert@infre.org.