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ENACTING CLARITY TO CLUTTER OF CREDENTIALS

If you've ever been confused by the alphabet soup of credentials trailing the names of financial advisers, welcome to the club.

Industry regulators at the NASD catalog about 70 professional designations for brokers, from AAMS (accredited asset management specialist) to WMS (wealth management specialist).

The NASD rule on the subject: You can't claim a designation that doesn't exist or that you gave yourself and you can't use real designations in a "misleading manner."

That's not enough for securities regulators in Nebraska, who this year became the first in the country to rein in designation proliferation.

"We noticed a lot of designations out there that we had no idea what they stood for," said Jack Herstein, assistant director of the Nebraska Department of Banking and Finance. "We started looking into how some people got those designations and said, 'Enough's enough.' "

Some designations require minimal study followed by open-book exams.

"They're more of a marketing tool," he said.

Nebraska now recognizes just eight designations as acceptable and has asked brokers and investment advisers to stop using all the rest. The approved list: CFP (certified financial planner), ChFC (chartered financial consultant), PFS (personal financial specialist), CFA (chartered financial analyst), CIC (chartered investment counselor), CLU (certified life underwriter) LUTCF (life underwriter training council fellow) and FSS (financial senior specialist).

Herstein said the financial industry has supported the ruling, even though there is no penalty for noncompliance. "They think it's getting out of hand and it's about time somebody did something."

He said his office is willing to consider future additions to the list.

Regulators in other states also are concerned. The North American Securities Administrators Association has warned investors to carefully check the credentials of anyone claiming to be a senior specialist, a popular designation with unregistered financial advisers.

Don Saxon, commissioner of Florida's Office of Financial Regulation, is part of a group of association members charged with coming up with a model that states could adopt to regulate use of designations.

"I have concerns about designations that do little other than mislead consumers," he said.

The NASD's list of professional designations and what it takes to get them can be found at www.nasd.com in the "investor information" section.

Question: My brokerage firm is being taken over by a company in Canada. Are there advantages and disadvantages of having our account in a foreign country?

Answer: Your account will not be in a foreign country. Your brokerage will be a U.S. subsidiary of a foreign company and subject to the same securities regulations as any other U.S. brokerage.

Helen Huntley writes about investing and markets for the Times. If you have a question about investments or personal finance, write hhuntley@sptimes.com or Helen Huntley, Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. Read more questions and answers at blogs.tampabay.com/money.

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