American College 'doubles down' on retirement income program after high-profile departures

Institution is losing co-creators of retirement income designation, but new president wants to make it college's flagship certification

Jan 18, 2019 @ 12:33 pm

By Greg Iacurci

The American College of Financial Services is losing the brain trust behind its retirement income designation, RICP, coming on the heels of a shake up in its executive ranks.

Jamie Hopkins, formerly director of the college's retirement income center and a professor of taxation, left earlier this month to take a job as director of retirement research and vice president of private client services at Carson Group, the firm helmed by adviser Ron Carson.

Mr. Hopkins is a co-creator of the American College's retirement income certified professional designation, one of nine the institution offers in niches like life insurance, wealth management, financial planning, special needs and philanthropy.

(More: New adviser credential hones accumulation skills)

David Littell, another RICP co-creator who coordinates its course curriculum, also is leaving the college, deciding to retire after two and a half decades there.

The American College also saw the resignation of its president and CEO, Robert Johnson, last April due to what he called "differences of opinion" with the board of directors on strategic direction.

He was succeeded by George Nichols III, former head of governmental affairs at New York Life, in November. Mr. Nichols said he didn't know the details around Mr. Johnson's departure.

Stressing the importance of retirement income education to today's financial advisers, Mr. Nichols said the college is "doubling down" on the RICP designation despite the departure of its two biggest champions. The group's legacy designation, and the one it's probably best known for, is the chartered life underwriter, or CLU, said Mr. Nichols — but he wants to change that.

"We're still very proud of [CLU] and support it. We've done a lot with RICP, but I'd almost like to see RICP become our flagship designation," he said.

There's currently a national search underway to replace Mr. Hopkins and Mr. Littell, and the goal is to have them in place by the end of the first quarter. Steve Parrish, current director of the retirement income center, will serve as co-director of RICP in the interim. Wade Pfau, professor of retirement income, will oversee the curriculum.

Mr. Hopkins will stay on board in an adjunct teaching role, he said. His decision to leave his full-time post after six years, announced Jan. 11, related largely to having a more consumer-facing role at Carson Group, he said.

"That doesn't really exist in the academic world," Mr. Hopkins said. "You're kind of cut off from the consumer side."

Mr. Carson is on the board of trustees at the American College. Carson Group has 133 investment adviser representatives and $7.5 billion in advisory assets, according to a company release Friday.

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