Are You Smarterer Than Your Certification?

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What’s in a certification, really?

Credentials are important, and not just in finance. This is no surprise. But we also know that there are a lot of bad, if not downright crooked finance people out there masquerading behind their three-letter designations. Whether they’re selling a financial product to a client when it’s clearly not in his/her/it’s best interest, or if they’re being downright deceitful and stealing from their clients, it’s bad stuff. On the other hand, we know that there are plenty of smart, ethical people out there operating without credentials. All I’m sayin’ is that credentials don’t come with a “guaranteed moral compass,” and unless polygraph machines go mainstream, a man’s morals are always going to have to be judged by people, based on the person’s actions.

Another thing a certification won’t tell you about a candidate is what they’re like. Within any organization there is a mysterious thing we call culture: it comes in many flavors and is described in many ways (sometimes not at all), but it has a profound impact on the way that organization operates both internally and externally. Corporate culture, as it is sometimes called, stems from the beliefs that an organization (or maybe just the boss) holds, and those beliefs certainly affect whatever it is the organization produces or provides. Finding employees that fit the “culture” is tough, and I found a tool that might help firms find better advisors to add to the team. This tool might be useful for advisors in other regards as well:

A Tool For Employers, A Challenge For Advisors

Independent advisors who are looking to start a firm, hire a freelancer, or just go the extra step to further qualify and specialize financial certifications really ought to get familiar with Smarterer, the Boston-based education startup. Here’s what they have in their About section:

We created Smarterer to provide people a simple, fun, and authentic way to show what they know. Smarterer is a platform designed to score individuals on any and every digital, social, and technical skill under the sun. Using crowdsourced test design and a scoring mechanism similar to the one developed to rank chess masters, in just 10 questions and 60 seconds we can give you a valid score.

Smarterer was born from the problem that there was a critical lack of benchmarking/testing/qualifications for for internet skills like CSS, HTML, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Their product allows all users to take tests, edit questions, and so on, and their algorithm “creates a real-time competition between each question and each test-taker… continuously learning from user interactions and getting smarter about how to rank each question and each user.”
They saw their product being touted by hopeful employees to show their employers some “hard” skills that were once thought “soft.” Now, however, Smarterer has opened their product to employers, giving the organizations the power to create specific tests for their job candidates, and embed them on their site. When they did this, Smarterer grew 1250% in one week.
So how about it, advisors? Would or will you design a Smarterer test for your independent firm? Whether it’s a general screen for basic knowledge and “culture fit” or a more specific quiz for, say, a freelance writer you’re thinking about bringing on, would you create a Smarterer test for the job? And, more generally, could “we” make some cool tests for the industry, and have a little fun? I swear, the tests are actually fun–they’ve got leaderboards and everything. Some of the ones I’ve found are Financial Markets & Securities, and Corporate Finance, but they’re quite general. What about a test for independent advisors?
DJ is a freelance writer, hopeful photographer, and social media has-been. He writes to financial advisors about lifehacks, science, technology, business and marketing for Blueleaf, a software that helps create dramatically simpler, more scalable financial advisory businesses. You can find DJ across the web ( or you can just follow him on Twitter (@djswitz)!
  • Tommy Sikes May 1, 2012, 8:30 pm

    I like the idea of a client test to help evaluate/screen certain client attributes. Like basic computer/internet knowledge (for using BL and other technology) or maybe a basic understanding of financial math (% vs $, compounding, etc.). Might be tough to share some results!

  • DJ Switz May 2, 2012, 3:50 pm

    That’s the beauty of Smarterer, it offers a simple way to benchmark just about anything! And I think that’s a great way to use it, @tesikes3:disqus ! Would be hard to share the results, but you can always show us the quiz!

  • Brian Lynn May 3, 2012, 6:15 pm

    Thank you for this post DJ. We also have one for Investment Bankers ( May be we can create one for Advisors and have you take a peek? 🙂

    • DJ Switz May 9, 2012, 10:38 pm

      Please do! We’d love to give it a go.