A Certified Wealth Strategist (CWS) is a professional who has attained a higher level of education and training in financial planning. As the name suggests, they specialize in working with high net-worth clients — typically those who have at least $1 million in liquid assets. But a CWS’s expertise goes beyond just offering a client financial advice. If you choose to work with a financial advisor with the CWS designation, you’re also getting someone highly skilled at nurturing client relationships.
In short: It’s a certificate that signifies that an advisor has a more complex and comprehensive understanding of common issues facing high net-worth individuals than others in their field.
The CWS program, created by the Georgia-based Cannon Financial Institute, takes a three-pillar approach in pursuit of a successful advisory business: client-interaction skills, business management and technical know-how. Mastering these critical areas gives a financial advisor a solid foundation to successfully run their own wealth management practice after earning the CWS designation.
It’s a holistic approach that takes into account a client’s entire financial picture and current life situation to help them connect their aspirations with a concrete way to achieve them. And because high net-worth individuals tend to have other outside advisors, a CWS has the knowledge and communication skills to act as a client’s point person in most wealth-related matters.
For example, whereas other types of financial advisors tend to be transaction-oriented, wealth-management strategists focus on client relationships. Put another way, they measure success against a client’s goals rather than against a market benchmark. In addition to addressing investment and insurance needs, a CWS can advise clients on liabilities, estate planning, executive compensation and business succession, among other related concerns.
Because a CWS is focused more on long-term strategy than short-term tactics, they tend to retain clients longer, have more assets under management and earn more than other financial advisors, according to Cannon.
To apply for the CWS designation, applicants must have three years of experience as a wealth manager and a four-year degree from an accredited school. In addition, applicants are required to complete a 32-week course.
The course includes a combination of classroom instruction, reading assignments, independent online study and exams. Topics studied include technical wealth-management issues like distributing charitable gifts and choosing trustees. But an equal emphasis is placed on lessons designed to sharpen interpersonal skills and help advisors develop a blueprint for a wealth-management business.
Each program participant must submit a final project on their business plan and how they will implement it. The capstone projects are then submitted for evaluation to a board before the certificate is awarded.
CWS holders are usually already working as professional financial advisors of some sort before they earn the designation, with a combination of other financial certifications or college degrees as well as years of experience.
The CWS designation is optional and doesn’t give any specific powers or privileges to its holders. It does, however, tend to go hand-in-hand with higher earnings, according to the Cannon Financial Institute.