Filed Under:Agent Broker, Agency Management

What do those letters mean? A look at insurance professional designations

CPCU? CLCS? CIC? Here's a guide to what you find behind an insurance pro's name. (Photo: iStock)
CPCU? CLCS? CIC? Here's a guide to what you find behind an insurance pro's name. (Photo: iStock)

The insurance industry values the education — and on-going education — of its professionals.

Throughout the country, agents must be licensed in each state, and many states require adjusters to be licensed as well. This licensing ensures that the fundamentals are understood and can be applied.

But it doesn’t stop there. The professional agent, adjuster, underwriter or loss control specialist realizes how beneficial advanced education is for one’s understanding of the industry, and the ability to hone one’s skills in applying that knowledge.

Related: Attracting bright, young minds to an insurance career

There are many organizations providing such education. Education is so valued within the industry that most companies will pay for classes, texts and exams in order to support employees in their careers. Some may even give bonuses for passing classes.

And the most visible reward for this specialized knowledge? The right to use professional designations after a person’s name.

To an insurance outsider — and to a novice in the profession — the alphabet soup that often appears after a person’s name is mystifying. So here’s a primer on what those post-nominal designations mean, and which entity grants them:


The Erlanger, Ky.-based National Underwriter Co. offers three insurance designations.

    • Personal Lines Coverage Specialist, PLCS. Designed for new and experienced professionals alike, it provides solid foundational and specialized knowledge necessary to understand personal lines coverages starting with insurance principles and explaining in depth homeowners, auto, and umbrella coverages.  This is the only designation available dealing with personal lines to such an extent. Six e-learning courses are provided allowing the student to fully master complex content. An in-depth knowledge of this information is key for anyone hoping to specialize in personal lines. The content is written by editors of FC&S Bulletins, well-respected providers of insurance policy interpretation for over 80 years. Continuing education credits are available.
    • Commercial Lines Coverage Specialist, CLCS. This is designed to give expert knowledge of the fundamental commercial lines of coverage: general liability, commercial property, workers compensation, business auto, as well as insurance principles. The coverage guides give complete analysis of commonly used coverage forms. As with PLCS, content is written by the editors of FC&S Bulletins, and continuing education credits are available.
    • Small Business Coverage Specialist, SBCS. This is the only designation of its kind. It focuses on the particular coverage needs of small businesses and how to provide them using common policy forms. It combines personal lines and commercial lines forms, because small businesses may be home-based or could need commercial coverage. This designation explains when to use which type of coverage, and is also written by the editors of FC&S Bulletins with continuing education credits are available.


The Malvern, Pa.-based American Institute for Chartered Property Casualty Underwriters is a large organization that provides classes for a variety of designations; some may simply be certificate classes, while others confer a designation. All are geared towards the property and casualty side of the industry.

The most well-known and respected designation it grants is the Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter, CPCU.

The designation consists of four foundation courses, three courses from either the personal lines or commercial lines concentration, one elective and one ethics course. The foundational courses cover basics in the industry of risk management, accounting, insurance operations and law. The concentrated courses provide basics in personal or commercial lines. Continuing education credits are available.


The Austin, Texas-based National Alliance for Insurance Education & Research has a number of designations as well, most notably the Certified Insurance Counselor, CIC.

Again, core courses are required in order to obtain the designation, including personal and commercial lines, life and health, and agency management. In order to maintain the designation, one of a variety of programs must be attended annually. Again, solid foundational knowledge is provided for key elements of insurance coverage, using the ISO forms. Life and health designations are available as well.

CLU and ChFC

The Bryn Mawr, Pa.-based American College of Financial Services has a number of designations dealing with the life and health and financial advisor sectors of the industry.

Chartered Life Underwriter, CLU and Chartered Financial Consultant, ChFC are two of its well-known designations. Eight classes are required for the CLU covering insurance and financial planning, life insurance law, estate planning and business owners and professionals planning. Electives include income taxes, group benefits, retirement planning and health insurance. Continuing education credits are required in order to maintain the designation. The ChFC requires nine classes which include financial planning, income taxation, investments, estate and retirement planning plus electives.


Fraud is such an issue within the industry that there are designations for those dealing with fraud. The Austin, Texas-based Association of Certified Fraud Examiners has a Certified Fraud Examiner, CFE designation. Not specific to insurance, the designation course covers financial transactions and fraud schemes, law, investigation, and fraud prevention and deterrence. As always, an exam is required.


The Washington, D.C.-based National Health Care Anti-Fraud Association has the Accredited Healthcare Fraud Investigator, AHFI designation. Requirements include 75 hours of training or teaching on healthcare fraud and passing the required exam. An Investigator’s Boot Camp is available for training.


For risk management professionals, RIMS has the RIMS Fellow, RF designation. This requires completion of three college-level courses in risk management or earning one of the following designations: ARM Association in Risk Management, CRM Canadian Risk Management, CRM Certified Risk Manager, and ALARYS AIRM. Also required is five years’ experience in the industry, four courses in business acumen, attendance at 12 days of RIMS Fellow workshops or equivalent online courses. In order to maintain the designation, credits must be obtained by attending two days of RIMS Fellow workshops and certain professional activity, such as speaking, teaching, publishing articles or attending conferences and seminars. 

Christine G. Barlow, CPCU, is managing editor of FC&S, a division of National Underwriter Co. and ALM. She may be reached at

Related: February to be first Insurance Careers Month

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