Merrill Lynch has teamed up with the College for Financial Planning to offer Merrill's brokers a proprietary designation. Brokers who complete a 12-module course will receive a Certified Financial Manager designation they can use on business cards and in marketing materials. Modules seven through 12 follow the coursework of the college's Accredited Asset Management Specialist (AAMS) designation program, a college spokesperson confirms. But Merrill products and services will be "introduced in a planning context" throughout the modules, says a Merrill Lynch spokesperson. The college isn't aware of any other firm that has used its materials to create an in-house designation.
The voluntary program covers portfolio construction and management, analysis and valuation of securities, and investment strategies for small-business owners and highly compensated executives. Reps must pass a test on each module and sit for a comprehensive proctored exam. All testing and awarding of designations is done by the firm. The coursework cannot be applied to any designation program offered by the college, a college spokesperson says.
Clients are told that the designation comes from an in-house program, the Merrill spokesperson says. The spokesperson didn't elaborate on how the firm will ensure the disclosure is made or whether the firm's use of its own products in the program will be disclosed.
The college's AAMS designation program has been popular among large firms. The college offers corporate enrollments that provide tuition reimbursement for brokers. Firms such as A.G. Edwards, Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, Edward Jones, PaineWebber, Piper Jaffray and Raymond James provide tuition reimbursements for the AAMS program and other college programs.
Asked why Merrill has set up its own designation instead of just encouraging reps to take the AAMS program, the Merrill spokesperson provided the following response: "We encourage our financial consultants to focus on the total financial relationship with clients, so it is crucial to provide them with a wide array of training to enable them to respond to clients' financial planning needs with appropriate strategies."
It's not unusual for the college to help firms create proprietary training programs, says the college spokesperson. "This is something we've done fairly often."