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If you’re confused about the various types of designations in the financial service marketplace, you’re not alone. Even the financial service industry and the regulators are having a hard time making sense of the alphabet soup of designations. The American College, a non-profit institution that provides financial services education, has been tracking this matter.

According to the data they have compiled, there are 173 known designations covering banking, accounting and insurance, an increase of 37% since 2000. In addition to the 173 known designations, there are 90 where the date that the designation came into existence is unknown.

There are now so many that it’s tough to tell which are legitimate and have substance and which are not. Some of the new designations are offered by for-profit organizations over a weekend. And many of which – surprise, surprise – are directed towards seniors. So until now, it’s been tough for investors to know the difference, and tough for the industry to do their due diligence to determine which ones to support and allow on business cards.

The American College has recently created a toolkit to assist financial advisers and regulators decide which designations they should consider valid. It includes a tool for companies to use in evaluating the quality of professional designations, and a tool for advisers regarding how to use professional designations with the public.

It will help.

Illustration above by Debbie Ridpath Ohi, a freelance writer and illustrator based in Toronto, whose weblog is Inky Girl: Daily Diversions for Writers.