4 Certified Senior Designations Worth Holding


In recent years, the number and scope of professional designations available have grown, and many financial advisors are now unsure of which credential will serve them most effectively. This is especially true for specialized designations for retirement planning and working with the specific financial needs of older adults. As the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes, the major driver of the growth in jobs for financial advisors is the aging population. The large baby boomer generation is on the way to retirement, and longer life spans are leading to prolonged retirements, adding to the demand for financial planning services aimed at older adults. Here, we take a closer look at some of the designations used and whether they are worth pursuing for those looking to offer financial advice on retirement planning, retirement income, longevity planning, and estate planning.

Key Takeaways

  • Many financial advisors are specializing in retirement planning and income.
  • As a result, these advisors have sought targeted training and education to validate their expertise and signal their skills to those who need it.
  • Several professional credentials and designations are now available for financial planning for older adults, with certified senior advisor (CSA) being the most recognized.
  • Chartered advisor for senior living (CASL) was a popular certification no longer available for new applicants (though existing license holders are still required to continue their education).
  • Some designations, like the certified senior specialist (CSS), face restrictions from state bodies and are not recognized as valid in some areas.
  • Another well-rounded certification option is the chartered senior financial planner (CSFP).

What Are Designations Focused on Older Adults?

Several designations have been created in the financial planning industry in recent years. Designations focused on the needs of older adults primarily involve financial strategies for individuals aged 50 and older.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) do not officially recognize any professional titles such as “retirement advisor” that financial professionals use. Nevertheless, this financial planning consumer demographic has been increasingly targeted from almost every direction by the financial services industry, including banks, insurance companies, and independent financial and estate planners.

With potentially larger portfolio balances, given their longer investment timeline and a growing need for retirement and succession planning services, there are ample needs and opportunities for working with older clients.

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) does not approve or endorse any professional designation. The designation’s inclusion in its database doesn’t mean that FINRA considers the designation acceptable for use by a registered representative.

4 Main Designations

Here are four main designations that financial professionals may use to signal expertise in the financial planning needs of older adults:

Certified Senior Advisor

Offered and recognized by the Society of Certified Senior Advisors (SCSA), a CSA is the best-known advisory certification on this list. Candidates need to pass a certification examination on the social, medical, cultural, financial, and legal aspects of aging to become a license holder.

There is no prescribed training or education program, but the SCSA offers resources like textbooks and live course training. Preparation for the exam usually takes 50–60 hours. Candidates must also complete 30 hours of continuing education and pass a criminal background check every three years to maintain their certification.

CSAs are typically professionals in different fields who work exclusively or frequently with the aging and want to supplement their professional knowledge with the designation. Many advisors who earn this designation work primarily with fixed or indexed annuities. However, some nonfinancial professionals, including estate planning attorneys, healthcare professionals, and administrators, carry this designation. CSAs must inform consumers that the designation alone does not imply financial, health, or social expertise. 

Chartered Advisor in Senior Living (CASL)

Offered by The American College, CASL applicants need to have worked with older adults for a minimum of three years before they can take the required examination. Applicants must also adhere to The American College’s code of ethics.

A CASL advisor is tested on retirement distributions from pensions and Social Security, planning for health and long-term care needs, and effective estate planning strategies. The CASL designation is no longer offered to new students. However, existing certificate holders are required to participate in the Professional Recertification Program to keep their credentials.

Certified Senior Specialist (CSS)

CSS requires more course work than the others in retirement planning, estate tax planning, annuities, Social Security, and Medicare. The exam covers long-term care and issues related to the care of adults 80 and over, the demographics of the population of older adults, charitable estate planning techniques, and reverse mortgages.

The CSS license is issued by Certified for Senior Studies, although not all jurisdictions recognize the designation. For example, California treats this license differently than the CSA since the designation can’t be used by agents or brokers to sell insurance to adults 65 and over. For this reason, the CSS license holds much less value than some of the other licenses.

Chartered Senior Financial Planner (CSFP)

Issued by the Association of Chartered Senior Financial Planners, the CSFP designation trains recipients in advanced retirement and estate planning strategies. To take the exam, trainees must have two years of insurance experience, two years of securities experience, or be a licensed attorney or CPA. Three-day training sessions are available before the exam, and 16 hours of continuing education are required every two years.

Like other exams, the CSFP designation prescribes a code of ethics and demonstrates a holder’s proficiency in preretirement, post-retirement, and asset protection strategies.

Broad Based Designations That Serve Seniors

While designations for expertise in the financial needs of older adults may differ substantially in the academic training, none of them can compare to the curricula for established and respected designations such as Chartered Financial Planner (CFP), Chartered Life Underwriter, or Chartered Financial Consultant.

If you wish to position yourself as an expert in financial planning for anyone, including older adults, you should first consider earning one of the more traditional, comprehensive designations. Afterward, you could earn one of the designations focusing on older adults. At that point, your competence in the needs of this demographic would mean a great deal more as you’ve honed in on a specific topic while having a broad background in financial planning. You would also be subject to a code of ethics that can be enforced.

Pending Consequences

Given they often have access to savings that are meant to take them through their retirement years, older adults are frequently targeted by scam artists and charlatans. The National Council on Aging (NCOA) reports that in 2022, there were 88,262 complaints of fraud, resulting in $3.1 billion in losses from people age 60 and over. This may vastly underrate the problem, given that such frauds often go unreported, according to the NCOA. The most common scams involve impersonating government officials, supposed sweepstakes winnings, and robocalls.

As a result, state and federal regulators have taken notice of inadequate training and the business approach many certificate holders take to the financial matters of older adults. One of the main limits regulators face when dealing with this problem is that no overarching agency monitors the financial designation community like there is for insurance or securities licensing. Therefore, any “rogue” credential must be dealt with state-by-state.

What Is the Best License Designation for Working With Older Adults?

The Certified Senior Advisor (CSA) designation is the most recognizable professional license. Though it still falls well short of the breadth and depth of wide-scale professional licenses, it remains a strong option for those looking for specific certification in the financial matters of older adults.

Is It Worth Getting a Designation for Working With Older Adults?

There are mixed opinions on the value of these license designations. Some argue any sort of formal training and exam provides value and boosts your credibility as a financial planner. Others point out the gap in education between these license designations and broader financial planner certifications. As long as your clients understand the limits of what the designation means, there is some value in pursuing them.

Are All Designations for Working With Older Adults Recognized?

No, such license designations are often recognized on a state-by-state basis. Each state will have its own reporting requirements, and many limit the recognition of some designations. When a designation is limited in a state, the financial advisor can’t use that title while pursuing sales of insurance or securities. To check whether your license is recognized in a specific state, check with that state’s Department of Insurance.

The Bottom Line

While the differences between designations such as the CFP and CSA may be apparent to those in the business, most people looking for financial advice may have difficulty comprehending the gap in training between the two. Although it would be unfair to label every financial professional who holds a designation for advising older adults as dishonest, the increasing pressure from state regulators is making the future of these designations uncertain.

Advisors considering whether to pursue a designation for working with older adults may want to check with their state’s insurance commissioner and securities bureau before enrolling in a program. While bogus designations can fool prospects and clients at least temporarily, regulators are certain to rectify the situation eventually.



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