I recently attended the Institute for Credentialing Excellence (ICE) annual conference in Palm Springs California. Attendees learn best practices for creating and maintaining certification programs accredited by ICE’s National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). The NCCA was created in 1987 by ICE to help insure the health, welfare and safety of the public through the accreditation of certification programs created to assess competence of individuals working in a particular profession. NCCA-accredited programs certify individuals in a wide range of professions and occupations including nurses, automotive professionals, respiratory therapists, emergency technicians, crane operators and financial advisors. To date, NCCA has accredited approximately 300 programs from more than 120 organizations.
Today, there is an alphabet soup of close to 300 designations that financial services and retirement plan professionals can use to indicate their knowledge and experience. At the same time, fewer than 5% of these programs have gone through the painstaking process of independent program specific accreditation. Why so few accredited programs? Because the amount of time and resources needed to achieve and maintain an accredited program is more than most designation organizations are willing to commit to.
Independent third-party program accreditation signifies that CRC® certificants are an elite group of qualified retirement professionals. Note the subtle but important difference that InFRE refers to our CRCs as “Certificants” who have completed an accredited “Certification” program, versus “Designees” that have completed a “Designation” program.
Almost half the states have enacted regulations or legislation or have issued special notices regarding the use of professional designations with seniors by registered representatives and investment advisor representatives. Most of these regulations allow designations to be used if they are independently accredited, like the CRC®, or are offered by an accredited college or university. Unfortunately, there is no language in the regulations that clearly explains the distinction between an independently accredited certification and a designation offered by an accredited college or university. Although “institutional accreditation” is an appropriate and valid means of ensuring the public that institutions of higher education such as colleges and universities are meeting certain governance and academic standards, “program accreditation” is a much higher standard that requires the certification program itself demonstrate adherence to rigorous standards related to governance, responsibility to stakeholders, exam process, and recertification with continuing education requirements.
In the case of the CRC®, it took almost two years to become accredited. The process includes creating an up-to-date comprehensive practice analysis, linking the practice analysis to a psychometrically valid and reliable exam that measures competency and submitting a comprehensive application. As one of many ongoing requirements, InFRE conducts a practice analysis once every five years to ensure that the CRC® program stays relevant and assesses up-to-date knowledge and skills required to assist consumers with retirement planning decisions. We will be conducting out next practice analysis in 2013.
NCCA accreditation was a vital building block to offering an industry-wide and consumer-accepted retirement certification. It is probably the most important initiative undertaken by InFRE that helps us accomplish our non-profit mission of enhancing the retirement preparedness of the American worker by offering a highly credible certification that tangibly demonstrates a Certificant’s knowledge and competency. In the months and years to come, you are going to see more information and education provided to consumers regarding how to find qualified advisors and how to distinguish between credible and less credible designations. As such, InFRE is keenly aware of our responsibility to offer and maintain the pre-eminent certification in the field of retirement counseling and CRC® accreditation is a very important example of how we meet that responsibility. I hope you are as proud as I am that you hold one of only very few financial marks used by retirement professionals today that is accredited.