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A Guide to EXIT PLANNING CERTIFICATIONs 

It’s an indication of the maturity of the exit planning movement that there are now multiple options for certifications in exit planning and related disciplines. In this post, we’ll provide a view of the landscape plus share some of our long-time XPX members’ experiences with exit planning certifications.

The Exit Planning Exchange (XPX) is an association of advisors to privately-held businesses in the lower middle market. Our membership includes 12 different professions, and roughly 55% of our members have at least one professional certification. This variety of occupations reflects the diverse skills required to support the owners and managers of mid-market businesses, with exit planning advisory being the uniting factor.

At this point, fewer than 10% of our members have a specific exit planning certification. But they all make significant contributions to our collective understanding of exit planning as a key discipline for privately-held businesses.

Here we will take a close look at the available certifications and then show you the distribution of these certifications among XPX members. In the final section, we’ll explain why many advisors choose not to pursue certification.


EXIT PLANNING CERTIFICATION OPTIONS

CEPA from EPI

The CEPA (Certified Exit Planning Advisor) program was created by EPI (Exit Planning Institute) in 2007. It approaches the exit planning process as a business strategy. It focuses on holistically serving the business owner with Value Acceleration Methodology™, which “integrates exit strategy into business, personal, and financial goals of the business owner.”

  • Prerequisites: To enter the certification program, you need to have at least five years of experience working directly with business owners in a qualified capacity as well as an undergraduate degree or equivalent.
  • Certification Process: It’s a five-day in-person MBA-style course that takes place six times a year in various cities around the US. To receive this exit planning credential, you will need to pass a closed-book proctored exam upon completion of the course. (The courses are held virtually in 2020 due to Covid-19.)
  • Cost Structure: CEPA program is one of the most expensive in the market. The 5-day program will run you around $6,000 (the virtual 5-day programs in 2020 is around $3,000).

XPX Member Experience (Corby M.): “I’m a CEPA and got certified about a year and a half ago. Before that, I’m actually a certified cost estimator analyst. The certification process and experience -- I was really glad I did it. I started into the practice of exit planning about five years ago. We love getting owners to that triggering event, the understanding, the value gaps and the importance of actually building value in the company. The CEPA cert connected a lot of dots for me, and confirmed a lot of what I knew and helped take a lot of disparate knowledge and congeal it. I found just having a week to think about what we do; it was that we got to work “on” the business rather than “in” it for a week -- I found that really helpful. We all benefit from having that holistic view that EPI does tend to focus on their macro process.”

CExP FROM BEI

The CExP (Certified Exit Planner) certification was created by BEI (Business Enterprise Institute) in 2009. This multi-disciplinary training and education program thoroughly covers all stages of exit planning and has systematic testing throughout the course. It’s a rigorous 3-step process with both online and in-person options.

  • Prerequisites: To enter the CExP training, you must have a qualifying professional designation and already serve businesses in an advisory capacity.
  • Certification Process:

Step 1: The first requirement is the Boot Camp for Advisors™, which introduces the Exit Planning process and how to begin implementing it with your clients. It can be attended in person, live-streamed online, or taken online at your own pace at home. (In 2020, only live-stream or online options are available due to Covid-19.)

Step 2: The second requirement is the Advanced Exit Planning Series, which is a comprehensive online education tool comprised of nine modules covering various topics. There is a mandatory multiple-choice test after each module.

Step 3: The final piece is the CExP certification, which can be obtained after the above steps have been completed, including passing the tests, case studies, and creating sample Exit Plans using BEI’s Exit Plan software.

  • Cost Structure: The 3-step program and CExP Certification will cost you somewhere between $4,000 and $5,000, depending on whether you chose to do the in-person workshops or the online course.

XPX Member Experience (Clark L.): “My experience with BEI is that John Brown, although being an attorney, saw so many dysfunctional assets, because of his merger and acquisitions experience, built a codified process fully aware of the fact that you’re going to have to have an accountant, you’re going to have to have a wealth manager, you’re going to have to have an attorney, you’re going to have to have all these disciplines. But if you help the owner follow the seven steps, then the statistical likelihood of a better outcome far outweighs the lack of not having a plan. It’s the old story; if you don’t have a map, then you don’t know where you are, let alone where you’re going. That’s why I would think that if you’re looking for a process-driven platform that can then follow on with interaction with the circle of trusted advisors, then it would probably be BEI…”

CBEC from PES

The CBEC (Certified Business Exit Consultant) is a certification offered by PES (Pinnacle Equity Solutions) since 2010. The program focuses on teaching effective communication skills and the necessary tools to assist business owners with the exit planning process.

  • Prerequisites: Before starting the CBEC course, you’ll need to complete a 10-hour Core Training course online.
  • Certification Process: CBEC certification program consists of live weekly webinars for nine weeks and culminates in an-person two-day meeting in Boston. The live session provides a review of course material, an opportunity to network, and concludes with a final exam.
  • Cost Structure: CBEC course and certification is the least expensive from this list of exit planning certifications and will cost you around $2500.

XPX Member Experience (Frank P.): “I had an employee benefit business which I sold a bunch of years ago. I was doing the consulting work for your typical estate planning and in-business consultation. Once I got out of the employee benefit realm of it, I just sort of said I needed to have a lot more in-depth knowledge as to how to transition out of a business, and so I decided to pursue some certification. I did that with Leonetti’s group, Pinnacle Equity Solutions. It’s funny but I really don’t get questioned as to my credentials, but I imagine just being certified helps. It’s on my business card. All those kinds of things do lend to it. I think if you’re going to be in this marketplace, in terms of helping people transition out of their business, you’re really going to need to get some kind of credentialing. Not so much a credentialing for the initials by your name, but you really need to know what you’re doing. You need to do a lot of reading and also a lot of courses and follow up study, et cetera. I think it’s all valuable. With regards to the marketplace, I really think if you’re going to be a long-term planner, you’ve really got to buckle down and learn this stuff because our clients, the baby boomers, the people we all consult with, are primarily in this position.”

CM&AA from AM&AA

The CM&AA (Certified Merger & Acquisition Advisor) certification from AM&AA (Alliance of Mergers and Acquisitions Advisors) is targeted towards private middle market M&A professionals in corporate finance, advisory, and transaction services.

  • Prerequisites: You need to have a college degree and a professional designation in a qualified field or PhD., J.D, or M.B.A, as well as an AM&AA membership in good standing.
  • Certification Process: This is an in-person program that spans five days and takes place at various universities around the US at least three times a year. There is an optional online exam at the end of the program. (The program is virtual in the summer of 2020.)
  • Cost Structure: CM&AA credential is one of the more expensive ones on the market and will run you around $5,000 for its 5-day program.

XPX Member Experience (Tom L.): “We focus on only transition or exit planning, and not transaction work, if you will. I was a private business owner, three different businesses. After I left my last business about eight years ago, I got hooked on transition planning and ended up going to the AM&AA, got certified through that organization. It’s a little bit more on the transaction side.”

OTHER OPTIONS

The above four accreditations are currently the main ones on the market for obtaining an Exit Planning Certification. However, our members have also partaken in certifications or education related to exit planning from B2B CFO, FFI, and STPI, so we’ll do a quick summary of those programs here.

B2B CFO offers the Certified Business Transition Expert™ training process for the professionals within their firm. They have published books and software to assist with the exit planning process.

STPI (Successful Transition Planning Institute) does not have an exit planning certification. However, it offers workshops that deal with the transitional and emotional side of exit planning for business owners. Some of our members have found their approach useful in rounding out their exit planning toolbox. 

FFI (Family Firm Institute) is an association for professionals serving family enterprises. FFI offers various educational programs as well as certifications in FFI GEN (Global Education Network). You can get FFI GEN Certificates in Family Business Advising and Family Wealth Advising. 


THE XPX MEMBER CERTIFICATION EXPERIENCE

The breakdown of our members by their exit planning certification or chosen methodology is:

Certification Methodology  Breakdown by Methodology

CEPA (EPI)

 23%
 CExP (BEI)  17%
 CBEC (PES)  6%
 CM&AA (AM&AA)  6%
 STPI  6%
 B2B CFO  4%

FFI

 4%

Other - 38%

 38%


The 38% listed as “Other” use their own methodology or approach. The members who chose to get certified, had this to say on the general merits of exit planning certifications:

Clark L.: “What I found the credentialing does is - it should give the business owner comfort and understanding that there’s actually a certification process out there from a credentialing standpoint so that you’re not just there with your CPA hat on or your insurance hat on, your banker hat on, you actually are capable and able to produce a full-blown comprehensive exit plan.”

Tom L.: “With transition planning, obviously, the endpoint there with most business owners is how do I get to a certain point of growth where I can get X dollars of equity out of my business. That’s where the value growth really comes into place. Interesting thing with the different certifications, I do recommend them completely if you’re starting a business or adding this service to an existing business. The second strongest reason for having a certification is from personal experience, so many of my clients during the negotiating process upfront asked me directly about my background, my certification. Who am I? What do I have to bring to the table, and will I be qualified to really take them to that next level? So, I really think to have that on your resume, if you will, I think it’s critical.”

Frank P: “I think the more knowledge you have, the more valuable you are to the client, and the more you can bring to the table.”


CHOOSING NOT TO CERTIFY IN EXIT PLANNING

When we had this exit certification conversation with our members, we realized that there was no one on the panel to advocate for not getting certified. And as you can see, the majority of our members, over 90%, have chosen not to get an exit planning certification.

Larry G: “I would probably not endorse certifications as strongly as the other panelists have. I would say that a lot of it has to do with the nature of your profession, how integral it is to this broader process, and also the network that you have, the people who will be cross-referring to you. If you work very well with them, that’s going to help, but if you are not someone who networks and collaborates easily, then it doesn’t matter how many certifications you have, the process isn’t going to go well.

My advice, and again, I may be an outlier here, but if you’re looking for additional certification, I think you’ve got to focus on beyond what it’s going to do to your marketing efforts and ask yourself is it really going to improve the way that you work with your clients and work with your colleagues.”


THE BOTTOM LINE

The broad view at XPX is that many of our members use exit planning as a touchstone or philosophy to ensure that their work with a company keeps long-term value creation in mind. But their driving focus is still their specific area of professional expertise. Since they don’t often play the lead role in the exit planning process, the segment of our members with an exit planning certification represents just that.

It’s also clear from this discussion with XPX Members that if you do decide to pursue an exit planning certification, there are merits to many of the options. Key criteria include:

  • Fit with your profession: is it specific (ex. heavily financial) or holistic? 
  • Scope of the training: duration, cost, online vs. live, training materials? 
  • Style of the certification: testing vs. experience-based?

There’s room for all the options in the market, and it’s important to explore them to find the right fit for you. For more conversations on topics such as this one, check out our articles and videos on the XPX Knowledge Exchange.


Video: ADVISOR STORIES

Here we discuss exit planning certifications with some long-time XPX members.  You’ll learn:

  • Which certifications we're seeing in our membership
  • The background and business of our members who have obtained certifications
  • The stories about their experience with the process and how it's benefited their business (or not)

If you are considering exit planning certification yourself, you'll want to hear about our members' experience! 

Video: Perspectives from three certification providers

Three leading certification providers (BEI, Pinnacle and Am&AA) give yuo an overview of the market and help you understand:

  • Why should you consider certification?
  • How do the programs work?
  • What are the benefits for your business?
  • Will your client care?

This webinar digs into more of the details about how the certification programs work.

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