Explaining the CPWA® Certification

I am pleased to have a few letters behind my name these days: CPWA®, which stands for Certified Private Wealth Advisor®. During 2015, I undertook the Investment Management Consultants Association’s (IMCA®) rigorous CPWA program and successfully passed the exam to earn the title. The Certified Private Wealth Advisor credential is an advanced certification created specifically for financial advisors who work with high-net-worth clients on the life cycle of wealth: accumulation, preservation, and distribution. Intended for current practitioners already working with high-net-worth clients, CPWA designees must have a full five years of work in the field under their belts.

From early on in my career, I’ve been pushed along by a handful of wonderful clients who presented me with the challenge and opportunity to master some of the more complex planning needs that can come along with wealth:

tricky tax situations, management of unusual philanthropic vehicles like the various forms of Charitable Trusts, and establishing Private Foundations and large estate transfers. I had learned a lot along the way, and the CPWA course was a fantastic deep dive that really helped complete my understanding of and proficiency with the comprehensive planning strategies that address the needs of high-net-worth clients.

As the only advanced credential in the wealth management arena, the CPWA certification is a challenging educational program focused on wealth management topics including: tax planning, alternative assets, planning for executives and closely held business owners, risk management and asset protection, retirement planning, advanced estate and charitable planning, and family dynamics and legacy planning. The program is a six month course of study that culminates with an intensive week-long, in-person lecture and study session at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business under the tutelage of some of Booth’s most outstanding professors of finance and accounting and some legendary practitioners in the field of wealth management.

We practiced identifying and analyzing challenges facing high-net-worth clients and developing specific strategies tailored to meet client goals like minimizing taxes, monetizing and protecting assets, maximizing growth, philanthropy, and transfer of wealth. We were wowed by hotshots like the brilliant, fast talking Michael Kitces, known as a financial planning guru, the warm and wise Stacy Allred, Managing Director of Merrill Lynch’s Center for Family Wealth Dynamics and Governance, and the seriously knowledgeable Steven G. Siegel, an attorney and consultant who has specialized in tax and estate planning for over 40 years. One of many highlights for me was a deeply engaging session with Booth’s Professor of Accounting, Dr. Merle Erikson, on business valuation. The subject is key to an aspect of my work I find especially interesting: assessing individual privately held companies and projects that are looking to raise investment capital. Erikson is passionate about his subject, was an absolute wealth of information and insight, and he really fed my own deep interest and enjoyment of this part of my work.

I was pleased to see that the curriculum included a fair nod to Socially Responsible Investment, drawing knowledge and research from the luminaries in our field to deliver the key foundational concepts and distillations of what is now over 30 years of research and experience. However, as the only SRI advisor in the program, I definitely still felt like the fringe element in a room full of wealth managers from the conventional finance world, most of whom work at large financial institutions like Merrill Lynch, UBS, and Pershing Advisors. It was also interesting to me to note the gender disparity in the room as women represented just 25% of the total participants. This is not so surprising since the higher levels of the finance industry are notorious for having serious underrepresentation by women. Nonetheless, the group was great to be a part of and the whole process a wonderful adventure for me, and I’m honored to join the ranks of Certified Private Wealth Advisors.

IMCA® and Investment Management Consultants Association® are registered trademarks of Investment Management Consultants Association Inc. and denote the highest quality of standards and education for financial professionals. CPWA® and Certified Private Wealth Advisor® are registered certification marks of Investment Management Consultants Association Inc.

This article first appeared in the Spring 2016 edition of the Natural Investment News

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