Certificates, certificates on the wall, which are most prestigious ones of all?

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Competition can be fierce in every profession, but in the world of financial services, it's pretty much a given. So you want to be armed with most powerful tools and weapons at your disposal. Ranking high in that arsenal are the financial certifications and degrees you acquire as you advance through minefields or along career paths littered with tripwires designed to purge the industry through its own form of corporate Darwinism.

While having your walls papered with certificates and degrees has become the standard, not all certifications and MBAs are created equal. To put it another way, just because you have a CFP or a CFA, doesn't mean you graduated with a degree in finance from an accredited business school, implying that CFP would lack the firepower of one hanging next to a degree from Wharton. 

"Somebody with a degree in comic book art or folklore-mythology can apply for charter, board certification, or certificates to some of the most well known organizations," said Dr. George Mentz, Wealth Management professor and author.

In fact, the newest trend in standards over the last decade is for certification bodies to partner directly with accredited business and law schools whereby graduates of specialized courses and assessments become eligible for board certification or professional designation, said Mentz.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and other global organizations are trying to improve the way they apply meaning to someone's professional and educational credentials. "Often overlooked is that the Council of Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) already recognizes several premium business school accreditation agencies such as the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP)," he added.

Recently, business and financial certifying bodies such as the American Academy of Financial Management (AAFM); the Investment Management Consultants Association (IMCA) and the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) Board of Standards recommended that designations and certifications be rated or ranked for quality assurance, noted Mentz. "That rating should be based on quality of education, standards, assessment and experience."

The best business schools are already accredited by the ACBSP and many of the best ranked programs have over 100 years of quality education, degrees, diplomas, or world recognition, he explained. "Accordingly, a board certification earned by successfully completing accredited program exams, courses or concentrations provides assurance that the advisor is proficient with college degree level business education and knowledge," said Mentz.

Accredited business schools that also have a separate university institutional accreditation represent approximately the top 10 percent of business degree programs worldwide, he points out. These business programs require learning in the areas of: economics, finance, accounting, management and other key knowledge areas such as ethics. 

On the other hand, the top purveyors of certificates such as CFP and the CFA Institute have offered or may continue to offer certification to those without an accredited business school education and degree, said Mentz.

So what should you be hanging on your office wall? How about combining a degree from an accredited business school with the prestige of a CFP or a CFA? This doesn't mean that if you didn't go to Princeton, Yale, NYU or any of the universities with well known business schools, you'll be ignored. There are over 1,000 accredited business programs in the U.S. says Mentz that have specializations in finance, corporate finance, accounting, economics, math, taxation, wealth management, and related financial topics.

Still, when all is said and done, earning the certificates and degrees can only take you so far. It's what you do with them that really matters.

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