What Is a Chartered Retirement Plans Specialist (CRPS), and Do You Need One?

The financial industry is full of acronyms but one of the newest is CRPS—Chartered Retirement Plans Specialist. What is it and could become a CRPS make for a good career move?


The financial services industry is in the middle of changes largely driven by new rules mandated by the Department of Labor. These on-again, off-again rules, known as the fiduciary rule, place all financial advisers under the fiduciary standard—putting their client’s best interests ahead of his/her own.

The CRPS designation is for professionals who want to either focus on or broaden their knowledge of retirement planning. This designation is for advisers focusing on creating and administering retirement plans for businesses and wholesale clients rather than individuals.

Topics addressed in the program include the types and characteristics of retirement plans, IRAs, SEP, SIMPLE, 401(k), defined benefit plans to name a few. The program also includes coursework geared toward non-profit and government plans, qualified and IRA distributions, plan design, installation, and administration, and fiduciary issues.

The CRPS Curriculum

The CRPS Professional designation comes from the College for Financial Planning—the same governing body that issues the well-known Certified Financial Planner or CFP designation. The coursework consists of seven modules including:

  • Introduction to ERISA and the Fiduciary Standard
  • Employer-Funded Defined Contribution Plan
  • Participant-Directed Retirement Plans
  • Retirement Plan Solutions for Small Business Owners
  • Retirement Plan Selection, Design, and Implementation
  • Administering ERISA-Compliant Plans
  • Working with Plan Participants

Although live courses are offered on a limited basis, the coursework is designed to be completed online. The $1,300 enrollment fee includes access to all of the modules broken up into a series of shorter videos for each module. Also included are MP3 files so you can listen to the trainings as podcasts, written study materials, quizzes, and you can contact your professor with any questions or issues.

The class also includes the cost of taking the final exam but make sure to pass it the first time or you’ll pay $100 for each time you have to retest.

Speaking of the test, once you enroll, you must pass the final exam within one year and you have to attempt the test within 6 months of initial enrollment. The test is completely online but you can’t take it at home. Like other standardized tests of this type, you will take it at a certified testing center.

Other Requirements

Students must sign a Code of Ethics document within 6 months of passing the final exam and disclose any criminal, civil, self-regulatory inquiry.

How much will I make?

According to the College for Financial Planning, advisers can expect an average 17 percent increase after becoming a Chartered Retirement Plans Specialist.

Do I have to be a current financial adviser?

You don’t but according to Chris Allen, Marketing Manager for the College for Financial Planning, most people who enroll are already practicing financial advisers. “There are no pre-requisites for obtaining the CRPS designation. However, we would typically only recommend that program to people who have a strong financial services industry background. I'd venture a guess that 90%+ of people enrolled in [the CRPS] program are currently financial planners/advisors in some capacity.” Allen continues, “The CRPS is one of our more challenging programs. We do occasionally have non-industry students enroll and succeed, but it's somewhat unusual.”

Should I hire a CRPS?

What if you’re not looking to become a CRPS but you want to find the right person to help you with your retirement planning? Because the CRPS designation is for professionals who want to work with businesses, you as an individual would not look for this designation before hiring somebody to put together your personal retirement plan. You’re likely in the market for a Certified Financial Planner or CFP.

If you’re a business owner or HR professional tasked with creating a retirement plan or upgrading your current company plan, hiring somebody with the CRPS designation might make that person better-qualified to create and administer a plan.

There is more to picking an adviser than just designations. Ask for references, discuss their pricing structure and when creating a plan that will impact all of your employees’ financial future, get more than one proposal. If you don’t have experience evaluating financial services providers, get help from somebody who does.