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What Is a Certified Pension Consultant (CPC)?

Mark Henricks
·5 min read
Umbrella with pension road sign
Umbrella with pension road sign

Earning the certified pension consultant (CPC) designation demonstrates that an employee benefits professional has mastered the ability to plan, set up, manage and maintain company-sponsored retirement plans. CPC holders may work as insurance agents, financial planners, pension actuaries or company plan administrators. There are several other certifications that also offer pension expertise. You can read about them below. A financial advisor can help you plan for your retirement so that you have enough money to live well after you conclude working.

Designing, implementing and administering a retirement plan calls for a number of specialized skills. CPC holders may be expected to take the lead in researching plan alternatives, selecting a suitable choice, creating a design that meets employee needs, communicating details of the plan to employees and overseeing distributions and loans, all while following regulatory requirements and keeping good records.

Since retirement plans are an important concern for employees, having a well-designed plan can make an employer more attractive to talented job candidates. Employees’ interests are protected by many laws and regulations, so the people charged with setting up and running them need to be well-trained in the right way to go about it.

The CPC is issued by the American Society of Pension Professionals and Actuaries (ASPPA), a nonprofit organization based in Arlington, Virginia. The ASPPA was founded in 1966 as a professional actuary group and has expanded its services to also address the needs of business owners, third-party administrators, record keepers, consultants and others in the retirement field.

The ASPPA is one of four organizations that make up the nonprofit American Retirement Association. ASPPA issues several credentials for people working in the retirement plan industry, of which the CPC is the most advanced.

CPC Certification Requirements

In order to receive a CPC, candidates first have to meet the prerequisites. One way is to have three years of experience working in the plan industry. Alternatively, CPC candidates without sufficient work experience can complete the retirement plan fundamentals certificate program offered by the ASPPA as a substitute for on-the-job training.

After satisfying the prerequisites, CPC candidates have to fulfill the requirements for the qualified pension administrator program. This requires passing a set of six exams. Next is a test covering six CPC modules, including four core subjects and two electives.

Finally, there is the CPC exam. This consists of eight essay questions on business entities, coverage and non-discrimination, 401(k) plans, defined benefit plans, distributions and loans, fiduciary responsibilities under ERISA, ethics and plan design. Candidates have four and a half hours to complete the essay answers.

Renewing the CPC

Couple consulting with their pension advisor
Couple consulting with their pension advisor

The CPC has significant continuing education requirements. Certificate holders are expected to complete 40 hours of continuing education every two years. Two credits have to be on ethics. The continuing education credits can be earned by taking a number of programs from the American Retirement Association. Options include webcasts, conferences, exams and other certificate programs. CPC credits can also be earned by volunteering with the organization, serving as a speaker at a professional meeting, publishing an article or presenting a webcast.

In order to receive a CPC designation, applicants have to join the ASPPA. When they are renewing every two years, they have to renew this membership as well to keep their certificate active.

The ASPPA has a formal complaint process for CPC holders. Complaints can be submitted confidentially to complaint@asppa.org, but won’t be considered formal if they are anonymous. Complaints are evaluated by a review panel. A CPC named in a complaint can respond and, in the event of a finding against a certificate holder, request an appeal.

Comparable Certifications

The CPC is an optional certification that doesn’t provide holders with any particular powers or privileges. It may be sought by company plan administrators or third-party providers of planning or retirement plan products and services. Other comparable certifications in the retirement plan field include:

Certified retirement counselor (CRC) is offered by the International Foundation for Retirement Education in partnership with Texas Tech University. CRC applicants have to pass a four-hour proctored multiple-choice examination. The exam costs $550.

Certified retirement services professional (CRSP) is an American Bankers Association credential. Candidates must have five years of experience working in the retirement plan field and pass a 150-question multiple-choice exam that costs $550.

Certified employee benefits specialist (CEBS) is offered by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans. It requires completing five courses presented by the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and passing a final exam. The entire program about $4,000.

Bottom Line

"PLAN FOR RETIREMENT" sign
"PLAN FOR RETIREMENT" sign

The certified pension consultant designation is the top certificate offered by the American Society of Pension Professionals and Actuaries. CPC holders have demonstrated mastery of the requirements for designing, implementing and managing company-sponsored employee retirement plans. Before engaging a CPC, consider working with financial professionals who have similar designations, such as CRC, CRSP and CEBS.

Tips for Retirement Planning

  • An employer preparing to set up an employee retirement can get help with the task by working with an experienced financial advisor. Finding such a professional doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in five minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors who will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.

  • Make sure you have sufficient savings for the lifestyle you want in retirement by using a retirement calculator.

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