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What Is a Certified Fund Specialist (CFS)?

Dori Zinn
certified fund specialist

A certified fund specialist (CFS) is a financial services professional who has acquired advanced expertise in choosing and managing mutual funds. The certification is typically obtained by those already working in the financial industry, including accountants, investment bankers, brokers, money managers and certified financial planners. Learn more about the qualifications for earning a CFS credential and how working with one can up your investment game. 

The Certified Fund Specialist Designation

The CFS certification indicates that a financial professional is skilled at managing mutual funds and developing sophisticated investment strategies. Developed in 1988 and issued by the San Diego–based Institute of Business and Finance (IBF), the credential is among the oldest certifications a financial pro can earn. 

When you work with a certified fund specialist, they’ll be able to advise you not only on the best mutual funds, but also related topics, including exchange-traded funds (ETFs), real estate investment trusts (REITs) and close-ended funds. Taking all your other investments into consideration, a CFS can offer you advanced fund analysis and advice on asset allocation, portfolio construction, risk management and estate planning. Note, though, that a CFS is not licensed to buy or sell mutual funds unless they obtain a Series 6 license.

The goal of a certified fund specialist is to help clients understand their investments without overcomplicating them. A good CFS should be able to clearly explain which stocks and securities are worthwhile investments and which ones should be skipped. In addition, they can handle specific requests for your fund portfolio and recommend actions based on what is best for you and not necessarily what is best for everyone else. 

CFS Requirements and Program Overview

certified fund specialist



Once a candidate enrolls in the CFS program, they’ll have up to a year to complete the self-guided course, though IBF estimates that most people finish in about 15 weeks. The curriculum is divided into six modules and includes supplemental reading material as well as practice exam questions. To become a certified fund specialist, students must pass three proctored online exams and complete a case study. 

Before taking the final exam, candidates need to have either a bachelor’s degree or 2,000 hours of related work experience in the financial services industry. Once certified, a CFS is required to take an additional 30 hours of continuing education every two years. This ensures that they stay abreast of contemporary investment tools and market best practices. The cost for the initial course is $1,365, which includes registration, tuition, textbooks and shipping, reference sheets, practice exams and a diploma.

Besides the CFS certification, IBF offers other professional certifications for those in the financial industry. Those include certified specialties in the management of annuities, income, taxes, and estates and trusts. In addition, an individual can earn a master’s of science degree in financial services from IBF. To date, IBF has trained more than 16,000 people in the financial-services industry.

The Bottom Line

certified fund specialist



According to IBF, one in three Americans owns shares of a mutual fund. And while the number of people doling out financial advice is large, not everyone can show they’ve mastered the ins and outs of mutual funds, ETFs and other similar investments. A certified fund specialist has demonstrated expertise in the management of mutual funds, with the education and designation to prove it. If you’re an investor looking for someone with specific knowledge of mutual funds, working with a CFS might be your best bet. 

Tips for Finding Investing Experts

  • Not everyone who calls themselves a financial expert is actually one. Before you fork over your hard-earned dollars to someone, research to see if they’re legitimate. Definitely ask if they are a fiduciary, which means they’re required to act in your best interest and not in theirs, and inquire about any certifications, education and work experience. See what type of clients they work best with and what their specializations are. Request a Form ADV, or other forms a financial firm files with the Securities & Exchange Commission. You’ll learn about a company’s fee structure, their assets under management (AUM), and if they have any disciplinary issues on record.
  • To make sure your money is working hard for you, consider consulting a financial advisor. Finding the right advisor that fits your needs doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in just 5 minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors that will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.

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