Expertise refers to the human capital an advisor has compiled over her career. Some credentials that signal expertise include: educational background, licenses, work experience, professional designations, and certifications.
Many advisors have undergraduate degrees. Some also have Masters degrees, including MBAs, although licensing generally does not require a college education. Some professional designations require a university degree, but not all.
The Series 6, 7, 63, and 65 licensing exams are among the most common for financial advisors. These qualification exams are administered by FINRA (the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority). The exams are only meant to enforce a minimal level of knowledge regarding products, regulations, and risks. Passing an exam does not prove an advisor is capable of providing good advice.
There’s a broad selection of certifications and designations available to advisors. These are usually bestowed by industry associations on those who complete a series of courses. Some may administer exams and or require ongoing continuing education credits.
FINRA’s site reports over 200 professional designations. Some are more rigorous than others (and some are defunct). The CFP® and CFA®, which have become de facto industry standards in the financial advisory space, require a voluminous course of study and professional experience. The CFP® requires continuing education; the CFA® does not.
Consider those credentials that appear most relevant for your needs. If you need advice with estate planning or contract negotiation, find a licensed attorney in the relevant State. If you seek accounting advice, work with a licensed Certified Public Accountant (CPA). If you seek broad assistance across a variety of personal financial needs, you may want a Certified Financial Planner (CFP®). For in-depth security analysis of individual stocks and bonds, consider a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA®).
Remember that having a credential is helpful and a license may be a legal requirement, but neither guarantees competence and expertise.