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CFFP Adds Sports and Entertainment Designation to Growing List of Professional Certifications

Merrill Lynch advisors will have exclusive access to the designation for a year before the College for Financial Planning opens up the course to others.

The College for Financial Planning, acquired by Kaplan Professional Education in 2018, has launched a professional designation for advisors focused on sports and entertainment. 

Sports & Entertainment Accredited Wealth Management Advisor, or SE-AWMA, is the first of its kind, according to a Monday announcement, and joins CFFP’s 20 other designation programs.

The idea for SE-AWMA came from Merrill Lynch. Andy Sieg, president of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, wanted to ensure clients who worked in the sports and entertainment industries were aware of the full suite of products and services available to them.

“They have unique needs: They often have lumpy income events—a lot of money at one time that has to stretch out over a long period of time, shorter careers, agents and family members and the advisors have to understand how to navigate that dynamic,” said Merrill Lynch managing director Kevin Walsh. “These clients are a great example of a client type that benefits from human advisors and benefits from specific advice."

The two organizations started with the blueprint for the Accredited Wealth Management Advisor, a designation program for advisors with high-net-worth clients, and the core curriculum for the Certified Financial Planner program to create the module for SE-AWMA. 

Dr. Chris Woehrle, chair of tax and estate planning and a CFFP professor, is the lead faculty member of the program. 

The three-credit-hour course is available to graduate-level students who have up to three months to complete it. Out of the approximately 2,000 advisors that serve such clients, the wirehouse benchmarked 200 advisors for the SE-AWMA. Merrill advisors will have one year from May 17 with exclusive rights to the designation before CFFP opens the doors to other advisors. 

Walsh said Merrill advisors who are not interested in the SE-AWMA still need to have at least one of the required designations to serve these professionals, including the Certified Financial Planner designation, the Certified Investment Management Analyst designation or others.

In February, Merrill rolled out an internal training course for advisors that have at least one client in the sports or entertainment industry. Though that course is not attached to a designation, Walsh said the firm is working to develop an internal accreditation for top-producing sports and entertainment-focused advisors. Merrill didn’t share the number of advisors who have completed the hour-long training but did say office management teams and client associates are eligible to participate. 

Merrill has a series of internal designations developed throughout the years to help educate advisors on particular niches in the client base. For example, it created a Family Wealth Advisor designation that focuses on wealth transfer and has several internal programs for advisors who advise defined contribution plans.

“Merrill Lynch is one of the top firms that has the most certified financial planners on staff and that’s by design,” said Dirk Pantone, president of the CFFP.

Morgan Stanley launched its Global Sports and Entertainment division in 2014, managing over $35 billion in assets under management as of 2018. That division recently was listed as one of the approved institutional financial advisors for the NFL Players Association, an NFL players union, joining Goldman Sachs, Bernstein Private Wealth Management and hundreds of independent advisors.

UBS Global Wealth Management launched the Athletes and Entertainers Strategic Client Segment in 2020, led by former football player Adewale Ogunleye.

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