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Understanding professional designations

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Understanding professional designations can be key to choosing insurance and financial advisors.
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In medicine, professional designations say something about an individual’s education and expertise. The same is true when it comes to the people who provide insurance and financial advice. Understanding an advisor’s qualifications and experience, and asking the right questions, can guide you when choosing a professional to help you achieve and maintain financial health.

If patients or colleagues want to learn about your professional qualifications, they can check the initials next to your name. In medicine, professional designations say something about your education and expertise. The same is true when it comes to the people who provide insurance and financial advice.

"Anyone who has a designation has gone beyond the compulsory level of licensing, and put in the extra time and effort to increase their knowledge, all for the benefit of the client," says Judy Wood, CFP, CLU, Senior Insurance Advisor, OMA Insurance.

The major financial and insurance designations include:1

  • Certified Financial Planner (CFP) — granted by the Financial Planners Standards Council. An advisor with a CFP is well positioned to help you with personal financial planning and offer advice on insurance and investment products and strategies. This is an internationally recognized standard for financial planning.
  • Certified Health Insurance Specialist (CHS) — formerly known as Regis­tered Health Underwriter (RHU), established by the Institute for Advanced Financial Education. The CHS designation positions financial advisors to provide informed advice on living benefits, e.g., disability insurance, critical illness, long-term care insurance, basic and extended health insurance, drug and dental insurance, emergency medical insurance for travellers, etc.
  • Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU) —which has existed for over 80 years, and refers to a professional financial advisor specializing in income replacement, risk management, estate planning, and wealth transfer solutions.
  • Chartered Financial Consultant (CHFC) — a financial advisor with advanced knowledge in wealth accumulation and retirement planning strategies utilizing a variety of insurance and investment vehicles.

As a client, you may not readily know your prospective advisor's background, education and experience. By having at least one of these designations, an advisor demonstrates that he or she may have a more well-rounded or specialized body of knowledge.

Knowing this can help you to narrow down who you want to work with, says Ms. Wood — something that's useful when so many advisors are vying to offer you insurance and financial advice.

In addition, maintaining one of these designations also means that the advisor has made a commitment to continuing education, and to abide by a code of conduct. So those are important criteria too, says Ms. Wood.

(There are other industry designations. For a listing, please visit the website of Advocis, the Financial Advisors Association of Canada, at:

For insurance advisors specifically, Advocis notes that, in addition to reviewing your basic insurance needs, they need to look at the big picture and should also consider estate planning, retirement planning, and overall financial picture and long-term goals.2

In selecting any insurance or financial advisor, it is in your best interest to learn about his or her training and experience, just as patients might do with you. To help you become comfortable with your decision, it is worth asking other questions, such as:3

  • How long have they worked in the industry?
  • What kind of products and services do they offer?
  • Who are the insurance providers they have contracted with?
  • Who are their clients?
  • Do they have experience with other physicians? (A background with clients who have similar needs and goals would be helpful; ask for references.)
  • How will they help you reach your goals?
  • How are they compensated?
  • What level of service/guidance do they offer?
  • How often will they contact you to review your needs?

By asking the right questions, understanding professional qualifications, and dealing with the appropriate experts, you can help to ensure your financial health.

For assistance in finding the right insurance solutions to suit your needs, please contact OMA Insurance Services to schedule an appointment with a non-commissioned OMA Insurance Advisor at 1.800.758.1641, or email Additional information is also available on the Insurance Services website at:


1. Advocis. Financial designations. [Internet].Toronto, ON: Advocis; 2011. Available from:

2. Advocis. Choosing an insurance advisor. [Internet].Toronto, ON: Advocis; 2011. Available from:

3. Canadian Securities Administrators. Questions to ask when choosing a financial advisor. Montreal, QC: Canadian Securities Administrators; 2009. Available from: