The Investment and Wealth Institute’s oldest certificate program is still its most popular, but the institute’s training for advisors wanting to attract wealthy clients is rising quickly as more advisors aim to serve clients with substantial assets, according to the institute's CEO.

More advisors also are seeking advanced training to cultivate high-net-worth, ultra-high-net-worth and retiring clients, CEO Sean Walters said in an interview.

In a survey conducted for the institute in the second half of last year of 1,000 investors with at least $500,000 in investable assets, 65% participants said advisors who hold multiple designations can deliver a broader range of services; 55% said advisors who hold multiple designations have deeper technical expertise; and 49% said it is important for an advisor to have more than one designation.

The institute, based in Greenwood Village, Colo., aims to prepare advisors with advanced training in the “people”  skills that will be needed by advisors in the coming years to supplement their “numbers skills,” Walters said.

“The importance of soft skills in the financial planning process is not new but these people skills are going to be more prominent in the future,” Walters said. “More advisory teams are going to need to learn to incorporate them in their practices.”

The Institute, which has 20,000 members, offers three credential programs that it says build on the basic training provided through other certifications, all of which are focused on teaching advisors how to attract and serve specific clients.

The Certified Investment Management Analyst remains the institute's most popular certification program. Offered more than 20 years ago, it is designed to help advisors deal with the complicated situations high-net-worth and ultra-high-net-worth clients face, Walters said. 

The institute's other two programs, however, are gaining in popularity, according to the CEO.

The Certified Private Wealth Advisor certification takes the original program a step further and teaches experienced advisors how to deal with clients who have such things as closely held businesses, and other complicated assets. It is the fastest growing credential program of the Institute, Walters said. The credential also is designed for advisors who work with or want to work with high-net-worth and ultra-high-net-worth clients.

The third and newest certification is the Retirement Management Advisor, which is designed to prepare advisors to help clients in the decumulation phase of their lives by leveraging their assets.

“I do not see us as an entry level certification program,” Walters said. “We offer more advanced training. The value of an advisor to the client is their depth of knowledge, not just their ability to crunch numbers.

The survey showed that almost all clients—97% to 99%—value an advisor’s knowledge, his or her accuracy in handling an account, and trustworthiness as the top desired characteristics.

The Institute analyses the needs of advisors and builds the certification programs to fit those needs, he added. Sessions on global financial planning, cross-border clients and private market investments have been added to fill new needs. “Eighty percent high-net-worth and ultra-high-net-worth clients have some form of closely held business, and 93% of charitable donations come from those same clients,” Walters said.

That complicates their finances and requires advanced knowledge on the part of the advisor. “These clients are going to need more than a 60/40 portfolio and an annuity.”

Dorothy Bossung, senior director at Choreo Advisors, a national wealth management firm, holds all three IWI certifications. She said she feels the added education gives her more resources to help clients, especially high-net-worth clients, which is her focus.

“I use these resources every day in analyzing how my clients are doing,” Bossung said in an interview. For instance, for one 69-year-old client, Bossung talked with him about getting more involved in the market, not less. “People may find the market scary right now and want to stay in cash.”

She is talking to others about when to roll over 401(k) assets. Another of her clients has wealth in his parents’ generation and she is planning how to minimize taxes when the money is passed down.

Other foundational credentials provide good, broad-based information “but they do not apply as much to high-net-worth clients. These clients require specialized training,” she said. Having the advanced training “elevates my business every day.”

The Investment and Wealth Institute is holding its annual conference, Experience 2024, in Las Vegas this week and it is also celebrating its 40th anniversary next year.