Tussle Over Designations at IMCA Rankles Advisors

The Certified Investment Management Associate degree, or CIMA, is an exclusive certification, and some brokers with the similar CIMC designation are finding that out the hard way. The Investment Management Consultants Association, which administers the CIMA certification, decided last year (and recently reaffirmed) that CIMC holders who received that certification based solely on work experience must

The Certified Investment Management Associate degree, or CIMA, is an exclusive certification, and some brokers with the similar CIMC designation are finding that out the hard way.

The Investment Management Consultants Association, which administers the CIMA certification, decided last year (and recently reaffirmed) that CIMC holders who received that certification based solely on work experience must complete the full coursework in order to obtain the CIMA designation. This means attending a week's worth of classes at the Wharton School or its online proxy rather than completing an eight-hour bridge course.

Given the number of affected brokers (various sources place it at about 100), th matter would seem an unlikely lightning rod for controversy. But a group of CIMCs feel slighted by the decision, and they are making their voices heard. Notable among them is Richard Hale of Dayton, Ohio, who believes the IMCA decision is disrespectful to the most experienced brokers. Of course, the designation is open to any advisor who is willing to take the weeklong bridge course and sit for a daylong exam. But, that's just the point: Some veteran CIMC advisors feel that would be stooping, and that, anyway, they've already earned it.

"Where the board lost touch with the membership was the policy that made this course free for newer CIMCs, while excluding the most experienced members," Hale says--he says the older members should be allowed to take the bridge course as well. The dispute over the credentials is the result of a merger--between IMCA and the Institute for Certified Investment Management Consultants (ICIMC), which was consummated in Feb. 2002. It seemed a natural: both organizations were non-profits serving sophisticated, big-time producers. Soon after the merger, the group decided to fade out the CIMC designation in favor of the CIMA. Any CIMC who could present documentation of his testing scores would be allowed to take the CIMA bridge course.

But that was a problem for some: "We obtained the CIMC before actual computerized testing," said one CIMC designate, who requested anonymity. "We didn't keep our grades, or have our results, and it was documentation that was 12 to 14 years old."

As a result, some of the most experienced brokers--some of whom actually helped construct the testing process at ICIMC--did not qualify for the bridge course. People like Hale find this hard to swallow. He received his CIMC degree in 1990, and at the time, there was no test for the degree.

IMCA president Richard Joyner says in a statement that since Hale "did not attend courses or pass an exam" to receive the CIMC, IMCA could not "waive its professional and educational standards" for him.

IMCA board member Ron Surz says the decision to require people like Hale to do the full CIMA coursework "was one of the toughest decisions when we merged the two organizations."

At the behest of Hale and others, IMCA revisited the issue in July but ultimately let its original decision stand. "We knew a number of folks with the CIMC designation were granted it because of accomplishments in the industry, but hadn't taken courses or sat for tests or done what we'd want to see everybody do," says Surz. "It lowers a designation if it's handed out for free."

Currently, there are about 825 CIMC holders and 2,700 CIMAs in IMCA. Approximately 40 percent of CIMC holders have either signed up for or have completed the bridge course.

Hale, unsurprisingly, is disappointed with IMCA's decision, mainly because he feels it shows a lack of respect for his, and others', experience. "These are the people who survived the crash of '87 and the Gulf War in 1990," he said in a statement. "These people were the first CIMCs, and are now being told to start over and pay $6,000 for the privilege."

Lewis Walker, of Walker Capital Management in Atlanta and former head of the ICIMC, the institute that originally administered the CIMC, said he could see both sides of the debate.

"From IMCA's viewpoint, the decision makes sense," he said. "My heart is with those who would like to see a different policy, but I don't think that's going to happen."

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