Meet the CSRIC, a tool to aid clients with sustainable investing

Ethical, sustainability, green money. Socially responsible investing, ESG, impact investing.

Financial advisor David Tenerelli believes that money on its own doesn't have values, but how it's used is what "imbues it with values," he said in an interview.  

Several years ago, he noticed that his own investing contributed to an image of the world he didn't like. 

"Money can be either a force for positive change — for repairing our relationships with each other, for repairing our relationships with the natural world — or it can be a tool of extraction, exploitation, enriching a few while creating suffering for many," said Tenerelli, a certified financial planner at fee-only RIA Strategic Financial Planning in Plano, Texas

"I was asking myself, 'Can I invest in a way that respects planetary boundaries, that centers reciprocity, regeneration? That prioritizes community wealth … could maybe even depolarize public discourse?'" 

Tenerelli found guidance, and a community of peers asking similar questions, by becoming a chartered SRI counselor (CSRIC) in late 2022. 

READ MORE: 3 tips for advisors to make sense of ESG investing

The CSRIC professional designation for sustainable, responsible and impact investing (SRI), first launched in October 2018, is one of the younger certifications in an industry where the certified financial planner designation recently turned 50 years old and the certified public accountant designation dates to 1896. But it boasts an enthusiastic fan base among its growing pool of designation holders and has become a prominent way for advisors to show expertise in sustainability. 

Jennifer Coombs Headshot
Jennifer Coombs, the creator of the CSRIC designation.

The designation is overseen by the College for Financial Planning (a Kaplan company) and developed in partnership with US SIF, The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment. CSRIC trains financial advisors to advise clients on socially responsible and impact investing, according to Jennifer Coombs, who created the original course for Kaplan and has instructed for it and updated the curriculum several times over the years. 

Coombs is currently an adjunct professor at the Centennial, Colorado-based College for Financial Planning at Kaplan, and the director of client success for Ethos ESG, which is part of ACA Group. 

"A chunk of advisors in the financial services industry are dedicated to this space exclusively, which is really wonderful," Coombs said in an interview. 

Below, Financial Planning presents a brief guide to the CSRIC. And check out our guides to these other designations: 

Who should get the CSRIC

Many who end up getting the CSRIC tend to be experienced financial advisors who already hold the certified financial planner designation but want to learn more about sustainable investing or ESG, Coombs said, adding that the CFP curriculum does not tend to have much information on climate and environmental concerns. 

"I would love it if the CFP actually incorporated some of the climate considerations in insurance — that's a huge one that I wish would get brought up more often," she said. 

As of December 2023, 1,315 students had enrolled in the program since 2018, and 1,055 of them graduated with the CSRIC. "That 300 or so difference is largely from college students (from Georgetown and Denver University primarily) who have taken the CSRIC as an elective," Coombs said in an email, adding that not all students sit for the final exam. 

Concerns about greenwashing have raised the bar in recent years for advisors to demonstrate expertise in the areas of ESG and sustainability, according to Peter Krull, a CSRIC holder who is the partner and director of sustainable investing at Earth Equity Advisors. Earth Equity, based in Asheville, North Carolina, is owned by Overland Park, Kansas-based RIA Prime Capital Investment Advisors. 

"Anytime that you have a standard across an industry, it creates legitimacy for clients that says, Hey, these guys know what they're talking about … there's an industry certification that they abide by," Krull said. 

Why it's unique among certifications

The CSRIC trains advisors to help clients with investing that seeks to have a positive impact on society, Coombs said. 

With some other designations, "Most people go through it because they have to go through it to get a promotion or something," she said. "The majority of students go through this because they want to, and they're interested in it."

According to Sarah Adams, an asset manager who has been one of the instructors for the CSRIC, not long ago the financial services industry had no professional credentials for advisors in socially responsible or sustainable investing. "The financial advisor was not included in the conversation. It was more toward pension funds and institutional investors," Adams said. 

However, the CSRIC has played a "key role" in the U.S. in bringing financial advisors to the table, she said. "Even now you will see some job descriptions start to have CSRIC. 'Do you have the CSRIC designation, or do you have other ESG understanding, experience?'" Adams is the chief sustainability officer and co-founder of Vert Asset Management, an RIA based in Sausalito, California. 

Holding a CSRIC may also improve one's chances of securing business from the younger generation of a wealthy family by helping them alleviate guilt they may have around their parents' money and empowering them to use that money to improve the world, Tenerelli said. 

Last month, he was speaking with a multigenerational client family and noticed the younger generation was much more reluctant to engage in investing. 

"The younger generation, they might become more motivated to engage with us to take care of some of their financial planning needs more proactively, as well as building wealth in a way that feels good to them," if they feel engaged when the firm offers a "values-oriented portfolio solution," he said. "And then of course, the firm could then be better positioned to retain those clients for the long term." 

Another perk of the CSRIC

Coombs said a unique part of the CSRIC experience is the LinkedIn group she's formed for alums of the program, which allows them to network with each other after they've left the course. 

"Finding other like-minded professionals, finding your tribe, finding your community within a really vast industry is super helpful," Tenerelli said of the LinkedIn group. "Just knowing that there are lots of other people out there who want to help clients invest in solutions" can be motivating, he said. 

How to get the CSRIC

Advisors seeking the CSRIC must enroll in an online, on-demand class and complete seven modules, each of which comes with a required quiz at the end of the module. The course costs $1,375, plus an additional $159 and taxes and shipping for optional print textbooks (an eBook is included with the course price), according to the Kaplan website. 

Course modules cover topics ranging from shareholder activism to ESG and portfolio construction, to the history of sustainable investing and current opportunities and challenges in the space.  

Finally, candidates must take a three-hour-long final exam and score at least 70% to pass. The exam consists of 70 questions, and candidates are permitted two attempts.  

How to keep it

CSRIC holders must renew their designation every two years with a $95 fee. They must also complete at least 16 hours of relevant continuing education credits during each two-year period, according to the Kaplan website.