Advisors who hold certain obscure professional designations may want to think twice about touting their alleged specialties on their business cards, mailings or other advertisements—at least in the state of Massachusetts.
Last fall, the Massachusetts Securities Division proposed new regulations that would prohibit broker/dealer agents and investment advisors reps from using designations that do not require “a meaningful education or training process encompassing sufficient course work, examinations and experience.” We’re not talking about widely held designations like the CFP (certified financial planner), but rather, designations like the CEPS (certified elder planning specialist), which some financial advisors and insurance agents have been using together with high-pressure sales tactics to target seniors in Massachusetts.
The division explains in its proposal that many designations appear to be part of a “larger, systemic trend that targets” seniors citizens with retirement funds. “The division is particularly concerned about the use of designations that falsely convey a certain expertise in matters dealing with seniors and their special financial needs,” the proposal says.
Massachusetts isn’t the only state that’s worried about this kind of advertising. On Jan. 1, the Nebraska Department of Banking & Finance “requested” in special notice that firms prohibit the use in that state of all professional designations that imply the holder has a specialized knowledge of the needs of senior investors.
The Massachusetts division was requesting comment on the proposed regulations through Nov. 30, 2006. The Financial Services Institute (FSI), the advocacy organization for independent b/ds, and the Securities Industry Financial Markets Association (SIFMA, formerly SIA) have both responded (the latter after the deadline, on Dec. 11) and said the proposals might further complicate the regulatory environment.
The FSI points out that if more than one state develops its own regulations on the matter, advisors advertising in multiple states would incur increased costs and separate regulatory burdens for each.
One advisor with Wachovia Securities says states are getting fed up with the regulatory agencies since the agencies have yet to make any definitive rules about the senior designations issue. “The states are taking matters into their own hands,” she says. In the meantime, regulators are in the middle of a major and joint effort to combat fraud targeted at seniors in advertising for free seminars as well as promotional materials for products and services. Calls made to the Office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth were not returned at press time.