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Should You Become a Personal Financial Specialist?

One PFS thinks so. It is a natural area of growth for CPAs as their client relationships deepen. Here's why.

October 22, 2009
by Daniel Snyder

The AICPA's new Personal Financial Specialist (PFS) examination is now available as a live program in the AICPA offices in Lewisville (Dallas), Texas. The well-received PFS exam and case study program that was piloted in 2008 is scheduled again this year on December 7-10, 2009. The program consists of a comprehensive financial planning exam and an interactive case study designed to demonstrate the CPA planner's communication skills. This option allows CPAs to meet all the PFS credential examination requirements in a single four-day session.

"The PFS credential is a natural fit for the CPA," said Jerry Love, a CPA, PFS practitioner in Texas. "It all starts with client expectations. We are our client's most trusted advisor and extending this to their financial planning needs is becoming part of that client expectation, in the long run saving them from poor decisions."

To prepare for this exam, the AICPA is offering a self-study PFS Exam review course. The books can be purchased through CPA2Biz.com.

The PFS Sponsorship program can offset the program fees and some travel expenses. Exam candidates can apply for an award of $2,000. The deadline for applications has been extended to November 15th, 2009. Click here to apply for the PFS Sponsorship program.

Personal financial planning is growing in importance with many CPA firms. Whether the CPA focuses on tax, estate or retirement planning or has branched into investment and risk management planning, each of these areas is integral to the client's overall financial plan.

"Many people become CPAs because they really want to help people," commented Jerry Love. "Financial planning broadens the client relationship to include the whole person instead of just the tax impact of financial decisions, helping them move beyond living paycheck to paycheck, regardless of their income."

As more clients ask questions about their overall financial health, some CPAs may realize that they are lacking in skills and tools required to competently practice. Obtaining the PFS credential helps the CPA to step into this arena. Clearly the tax expertise that clients depend on comes from both education and experience; personal financial planning is no different. Ongoing client interactions, combined with timely education on the core financial planning topics, will allow CPAs to obtain the PFS Credential.

To help in this area of education, in 2010 the PFP Section will be introducing the PFS Education Series geared to provide this core knowledge. The PFS Education Series is a five-course curriculum covering estate, retirement, income tax, investment, insurance, employee benefits and general financial planning. Passing all of these courses will meet the PFS credential's education requirement. The program offers the flexibility of taking only those courses needed to complete your overall education needs.

CPAs who specialize in any form of personal financial planning including income tax, estate, retirement, insurance or investment planning can distinguish themselves as a Personal Financial Specialist. Whether or not a practitioner decides to broaden the scope of his or her practice, the PFS credential demonstrates to clients a commitment to meeting their financial needs. It shows that tax and estate planning skills are part of the overall financial planning that they need. Clients depend on the CPA profession's objectivity, integrity and business experience; when working with a CPA, PFS, they also know they the same standards apply to their financial planning knowledge and expertise.

Visit aicpa.org/PFSpathway for registration and other information on the 2009 PFS exam program.

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Daniel P. Snyder, is Technical Manager in AICPA's Personal Financial Planning Group.