The Investment Management Consultants Association announced Wednesday that its popular CIMA certification is now accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), making it the first of the major wealth management designations to meet international ISO standards. The group has been working towards getting the accreditation for four years. IMCA expects that the CIMA certification will become the industry standard for all those who call themselves investment managers when all of the regulatory reforms now in the works fall into place.

“No matter how this regulatory fight shakes out, and who gets supervision of whom, we believe CIMA will be positioned as a new standard for investment advice,” said Sean R. Walters, CEO and executive director of IMCA. Walters said he expected the CIMA would replace the series 7 or 65 as the baseline required for working in the securities industry.

IMCA has not been in touch with regulators, however, to discuss such a possibility. “We don’t advocate—take positions,” said Walters. “We’re waiting to see how this whole regulator tension thing falls down.” There are already a few states where the CIMA certification exempts an advisor from taking the 65. “We haven’t really pushed that but it’s something we may begin to work towards,” said John Granzow, president of IMCA, a CIMA himself and an advisor at Wells Fargo Advisors.

Having an industry designation that is accredited can make a big difference, especially today when there are hundreds of them and when investors are demanding more sophisticated advisors and advice. Plus, 60 percent of states say that financial advisors can only include a designation after his or her name on business cards and marketing literature if that designation is accredited.

CIMA vs CFP

Only one other wealth management industry designation is currently accredited and that is the CFP (certified financial planner credential), though it is accredited nationally rather than internationally, said IMCA. A couple of retirement-planning credentialing groups are also working towards accreditation. The CFP would still be the primary credential for those who do financial planning, Walters said. He added that the CFP and CIMA are complimentary, rather than competing, designations. More than 60,000 advisors hold the CFP, versus 6,200 who hold the CIMA. About a third of CIMA holders also have a CFP.

IMCA membership is dominated by wirehouse financial advisors: about 61 percent of IMCA advisor members work for a wirehouse, compared with 9 percent who work for an independent broker/dealer, 8 percent who work at an RIA, another 8 percent who work for a regional and 7 percent who work at a private bank. The average member has $272 million in assets under management, 250 households or clients, and 18 years of experience in the industry. The number of CIMA certificants has grown 40 percent over the past three years.

IMCA also expects the new international accreditation will help IMCA expand internationally. There are currently a couple hundred each from Australia and Canada.

The process for getting the CIMA certification is intense. An investment manager must have 3 years of experience, and pass a background check to take a prequalification exam. Then if the advisor passes that test, he or she is eligible for a week of intensive coursework at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, followed by the final certification exam. The average pass rate of the qualification exam is 58 percent, and the average for the certification exam is 54 percent.

In order to get accredited, IMCA was evaluated on a range of activities as well as its CIMA certification policies and procedures to make sure that the program is open, transparent and conflict-free, that there is an appeals process for complaints, that the organization is well managed, that the decision-making body is autonomous and that the certification process recognizes those with superior skills appropriate to the profession.

“Examination is really one of the key factors in any certification program,” said Walters. “They need to be well developed, multiple choice, no trick questions, not graded on a curve. It’s criteria-based.”