Lisa Featherngill
Lisa Featherngill
What’s New With the Personal Financial Specialist (PFS) Credential?

How you can obtain the PFS credential.

July 22, 2010
by Lisa Featherngill, CPA, PFS

The AICPA and PFS Credential Committee have been working hard to provide a clear pathway for CPAs to obtain the personal financial specialist (PFS) credential. We are excited that several of these initiatives are currently being rolled out to the CPA community. We have partnered with The American College (AC) and Keir Educational Resources (Keir) to provide an exceptional education curriculum as well as a review course to prepare you for the exam.

Education Material

A few years ago, it became clear that there was little educational framework to prepare a CPA to become a PFS. We spent the past two years evaluating offerings by several institutions and financial education providers. We chose to partner with AC not only because they are one of the foremost providers in financial planning education but also because the education material aligns with the curriculum tested in the PFS exam. The courses offered by AC cover all of the basics in financial planning including estate, retirement, tax, investments, insurance and the financial planning process. The AICPA will be offering these courses to its members as text-based self-study courses. Completion of this course work is not required to take the PFS exam. It is provided as in-depth education for CPAs who need more guidance in these subject areas. These courses will be available for sale later this summer, through CPA2Biz at a substantial discount from prices normally offered by AC. Each course will include the basic package of material including: the textbook, supplemental guide and CPE test questions. In addition, an optional audio review CD and video lecture DVD will be available as further study aids on the topics covered in the materials.

The addition of these six education courses supplements the existing AICPA financial planning educational opportunities including the ongoing schedule of PFP section web seminars and the annual Advanced PFP Conference in January. There is no reason that a CPA cannot build a solid education foundation in financial planning to help prepare them to meet their client’s needs.

Review Course

The experienced CPA financial planner may only wish to take the review course before sitting for the PFS exam. The AICPA has partnered with Keir, an organization that provides education and exam preparation materials for financial professionals, to provide a review course which includes short books or digests, in each of the 6 areas of the exam, a financial calculator book, a case study book, practice questions and supplemental material that pertains to the CPA/PFS standards. This course is currently available for sale on the CPA2Biz website and provides up to 32.5 hours of CPE.


The 2010 PFS exam will be offered at testing centers located around the country from November 1, 2010 through December 17, 2010. You can decide when and where to take the exam. The format will be multiple-choice with 230 questions, 50 percent of which will be based on small and large case studies, emphasizing the holistic approach that should characterize a CPA financial planner’s relationship with their clients. The total time allowed for the exam is 6.5 hours.

This is a change from prior years when the exam was offered once and included a three (or four) day case study. Feedback from members initiated this change to a shorter exam offered at multiple locations on multiple dates.

Qualifying for the PFS Credential

The qualification requirements are divided into three areas: education, experience and exam. The requirements haven’t changed, but you should be aware of the expiration of certain exams to meet the examination requirement:

  • Education: To apply for the PFS credential, you must have at least 80 hours of financial planning education in the past five years. This is broadly defined and includes many tax courses.
  • Experience: You must have at least 3,000 hours of personal financial planning experience in the past five years. Note, up to 1,000 hours of tax compliance experience can count toward the total experience requirement.
  • Exam: Successful completion of a PFP-related exam is required. The following exams fulfill this requirement:
  • Personal Financial Specialist (PFS) exam
  • Certified Financial Planner (CFP) exam
  • Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC) exams
  • Until December 31, 2010, the following exams qualify: Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) exam, FINRA Series 65, 66 or 7 exams

Why the PFS Credential?

The PFS Credential Committee crafted this message to highlight the unique skills that a CPA, PFS brings to a client.

All financial planners are not created equal. A PFS is more than a financial planner -- he or she is a CPA with the powerful combination of extensive tax expertise and comprehensive knowledge of financial planning. This knowledge is critical to obtaining the most valuable, objective advice possible. All areas of personal financial planning, including estate, retirement, investments and insurance -- have tax implications and Personal Financial Specialists have the right combination of experience, ethics and expertise to get the job done right.

The CPA financial planner is in a unique situation to make sure that all of the client’s financial planning needs, including the tax implications, integrate appropriately from the beginning and that the right professionals are at the table to meet the client’s needs. The PFS credential demonstrates the CPA’s competence in financial planning to both the client and to other professionals.

PFP Section

The PFP Section membership is a great platform from which to access each of these programs. Section members receive significant discounts on these programs, more than paying for itself. In addition, the Association of CPA Financial Planners is funding $400 sponsorships for PFP Section members for the 2010 exam and exam review course to reduce the cost for 2010 and encourage the growth of the PFS credential within the CPA community. If approved for the sponsorship, the cost to a section member for the exam review course and the 2010 exam would only be $275! Considering the 32.5 hours of CPE and meeting the credential’s examination requirement, this package is a great way to establish yourself as a credential holder.


A lot is happening with the PFS credential. New educational materials are becoming available to enhance the financial planning skills of CPAs at all levels of experience. A review course is available to prepare for the exam. The 2010 PFS exam is being offered with the scheduling flexibility our members requested. With the economic environment that we are in, now IS a great time to be a PFS credential holder. Remember, if you plan to satisfy the exam requirement with a CFA or one of the FINRA Series exams, you must satisfy the requirements and apply for the credential by December 31, 2010.

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Lisa Featherngill, CPA, PFS is the director of Wealth Planning at Wells Fargo Family Wealth in Winston-Salem, NC. She chairs the PFS Credential Committee of the AICPA.