I SHOULD be careful here, in case I inadvertently insult some of you. No, what the hell, let's do it anyway.

Do you put letters after your name? You know what I mean: a visiting card full to the brim of designatory letters placed there in a forlorn attempt to impress on the person receiving it that it comes from someone of high intellect.

My own card, when I remember to fish out the last dog-eared example on my person, carries no such letters, on the assumption that the person I meet knows who I am and doesn't need to be told about my various O- and A-levels.

I can understand why someone with a degree might want to let others know they have one. But is there really a need for anyone to have 22 letters after their name?

This, it transpires, is potentially the number which an independent financial adviser could lay claim to on his or her card - just for passing one simple exam.

The exam itself is the Financial Planning Certificate (FPC), a mandatory qualification for anyone who wants to become an adviser. Having seen the questions, and knowing the subject matter, I reckon that the FPC ranks somewhere just below an A-level in terms of its academic rigour.

Yet by dint of paying membership fees to the right financial organisations - who make sackloads of money out of the practice - an adviser who passes this test is given the right to put their designatory letters after his or her name. In the process, she becomes: Josephine Bloggs FPC, MLIA (dip), MIFP, CFA, SI (aff). And if they succeed in passing the next round of exams, they can then place an even greater number of letters after their name.

To make matters worse, these letters are also part of a venomous internecine battle between different trade organisations representing financial advisers. When one organisation comes up with a set of initials, another one does too.

Confused? You should be. The practice of designatory letters, once aimed at informing prospective clients that an adviser has achieved a certain level of competence, has now become an exercise in ego-boosting and overcoming a lack of confidence.

The danger for us is that it becomes increasingly difficult to check an adviser's academic competence. If you give me a card and it says Josephine Bloggs BA, I assume you have reached a universally recognised standard. But what am I to think if your card says you are the proud holder of a MLIA (dip)? Or a MIFP? Or both?

It is time for the City's new super-watchdog, the Financial Services Authority, to lay down the law and tell advisers: "What outfit you belong to is your business. But you will only be allowed to use one set of initials, common to everyone, depending on which exam you pass."

At the end of the day, if an adviser feels so incredibly insecure about his professional status, he should go and suck a dummy, not hand the rest of us an A4-sized business card.

FINALLY, AS I jet off to the Big Apple for a week's R&R, it is time to congratulate two more of our regular writers for winning awards. Andy Couchman was commended in the Norwich Union Healthcare awards, for articles appearing in The Independent.

And Iain Morse was this week voted Friends Provident ethical investment journalist of the year, for a series on ethical finances that appeared in this section earlier in the year. Runner-up was Abigail Montrose, another regular in our pages, but this time writing in our sister paper, The Independent on Sunday.

The jury included the actress Joanna Lumley and Sir Crispin Tickell, former UK ambassador to the United Nations. So now we know: the best journalists really do appear in this section.