Advsiors are guides through the world of money-not the money police.
Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart.
Who looks outside dreams. Who looks within awakens.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
It is a heart thing after all,
this profession of ours. It is not a police thing. It is easy for us to
forget this, especially when we receive letters from CFP Board's CEO
proclaiming that the Board's mission is "protecting the public." Yet,
at the end of the day, it is still a heart thing. We must remember. Our
profession is much too profound to yield its essence to such a shame-
and fear-based charter.
Accordingly, I suggest our profession's mission is certainly not about "protecting the public," at least not from us. "Protecting the public" from itself is not the proper role of an authentic profession. Yet CFP Board CEO Sarah Teslik tells us in her August epistle that "protecting the public" is CFP Board's mission.
Yikes. In fairness to her, that was the organization's mission long before she took the CEO post in 2004.
It seems a particularly unfortunate sort of a mission for a body firmly rooted in the fertile soil of idealistic vision. Defensive, not generative, even fundamentally insulting, this view of mission seems to presume the worst of CFP markholders while actually missing the extraordinary implications of the CFP marks. Their grounding vision was, and is, much grander.
First, the reality. CFP Board cannot pretend to "protect the public" with its actual authority and existing resources. Truth is, CFP designees constitute the merest sliver of those earning money giving financial advice, giving CFP Board minimal "protective" powers. Given the substantial public protections afforded by real laws and real courts, it is silly to attempt to mimic Elliot Spitzer. It also forgets that financial planning is a heart thing.
Our profession's pioneers started with heart motives for founding a new, learned, authentic profession. They saw needs and issues and they worked to address them. They intuited money's growing power and attendant pressures to generate a true profession with the skills and character to address the money forces. It was followed by immeasurable volunteer hours of human effort, first conceiving the marks and then developing their attendant gardens of knowledge. These hundreds of thousands of mostly volunteer hours then generated resources, tests and volunteer intraprofessional bodies for peer disciplinary review.
We worked. We cared. We envisioned.
These were extraordinary efforts with motives clean and pure. From their beginnings, the CFP marks induced pride, passion and genuine professionalism. None of us should have any doubt that CFP designees care very much indeed that our marks represent high integrity and professionalism, more than they care about mere numbers. Indeed, CFP Board folks would do well to remember licensee responses to "CFP Lite" and its generated passions. Sorry about lobbying clout, but these qualities got us here. They will sustain us.
Financial planning's "heart thing" origins include our reasons for being. It means grasping our work's essence from the human beings of our respective cultures, and bringing our particular sense of that essence with us in every engagement. This heart beats life into our work and keeps it vital.
Freeze-frame the '70s, when financial planning began. Remember the socio-cultural forces at work. No accident, this timing. Financial planning began as baby boomers came of age, the Vietnam war was winding down and the chaotic '60 s had passed into history along with our shattered naïveté. During the '70 s the stock market was tumultuous, the housing boom began, inflation got ugly, life spans began to increase with their extraordinary implications, we left the gold standard, interest rates went through the roof, mothers worked, robbers and cheaters ascended to prominence within the penny stock markets, miscellaneous limited partnerships and the savings and loan scandals-and money began to present unprecedented challenges to the average person. These money forces ripped communities, groups, families, companies and businesses. Society monetized the intangibles of each and every one of them without printing instruction manuals. Financial literacy became required as one of life's necessary skill sets.
Individuals required help. They needed advice and they needed advisors.
Our pioneers saw this. They recognized that business as usual wasn't getting it done. There was plenty of protection-laws even kept salesmen from selling both insurance and securities simultaneously. We even had most of today's miscellaneous securities acts, insurance laws and other protections. But there was not a lot of heart. There was no one to help consumers wend their way through money's demands. The pioneers saw suffering. They saw huge institutions evolving even huger sales forces with the persuasive skills to gobbledygook rings around the average person. They saw increasing money-force complexities and did something about them. They founded a new, authentic, learned profession of willing fiduciaries, burgeoning from 34 initial CFP graduates to more than 73,000 CFP markholders in 19 countries. It was a heart thing then and it is a heart thing now.
Most of these pioneers were amazing. They gave and gave and gave of themselves to begin this learned profession. They started the College for Financial Planning on dreams alone. They began an infrastructure of education and ethics that found its way to the CFP marks-and they did not do it to "protect" the public from those who shared their dream. They did it to serve. It was a heart thing. I am sorry you can't meet them all.
We can no longer talk to Kemp Fain or Dave King, Loren Dunton or other heroes. They are gone. Harold Gourgues recently passed on. But there are other living pioneers out there who are simply amazing human beings. We can still talk to some terrific folks who gave and gave their time, talent and treasure to the financial planning movement back in the day, generally including service on CFP Board. Most of them are still giving. For them, too, it is still a heart thing.
Why did they do it? Well, to be blunt, you won't hear much about "protecting" consumers. However, my guess is you will hear quite a bit about vision, people, the importance of financial planning to a viable world and our impact on people's lives. These are amazing people with big, big hearts. They weren't cops then and they don't think like cops now. They just took a bunch of nothing, strapped it on and proceeded to carry this thing on their backs throughout the '70s and '80s. It was a heart thing then. It remains so.
No doubt I misunderstand 501(c)(3) requirements. Fact is, I don't care if CFP Board pays taxes. If mission is misidentified, my fees are simply wasted anyway. Accordingly, I care very much that CFP Board honors its trust and legacy, even as I remind it to be mindful of legal and beneficial ownership distinctions. The initials "CFP" and all that they have come to represent are heart things, not tax things. CFP Board owes heart to its beneficial owners.
The "CFP" marks that we have all loved and nurtured are about serving as the reliable referent standard of the first authentic, learned, helping profession to emerge in many centuries. 501(c)(3) nuances may elude but I understand financial planning, CFP mark promise and CFP Board origins and purposes. CFP Board's appropriate mission remains mark-centric. These marks should help build the financial planning profession through their character, esteem and integrity. Because, proclaimed fears aside, financial planning's purpose is about serving the public, not protecting it.
It is not about policing the 4% or so of the miscellaneous breeds of financial advisors in this country who have bothered to submit to CFP Board jurisdiction. Neither is it about growing market share. The CFP marks are all about cultivating both the garden of knowledge required to do the job and a self-regenerating cohort of professionals capable of doing it. It is about breeding a new, authentic, learned profession devoted to helping people, and our complex relationships with money. It is an undertaking of care, not an exercise in hair splitting. It is a heart thing.
If it was just about "protecting the public," financial planning should have arisen with the advent of robbers and cheaters. These nasties have been with us since the dawn of money in any form. Likewise, miscellaneous schemes and gimmicks have been with us since that time. Yet these never gave rise to a new profession, much less a regulating body created and sustained by those being regulated. In stark contrast, financial planning is young.
Yet, just as traditional learned professions must frequently remind themselves why they exist, so must financial planners as claimants to a brand new learned profession. Most particularly, we must recognize that financial planning has arisen amid money's powerful and incessant growth as a force within first world societies and the humans living within them.
Financial planning is about people, and helping them live with this awesome, man-made force known as money. It is about human lives, in sickness and in health, for better or for worse, hoping to get people from cradle to grave in semblances of financial health. From those lives lived in material opulence to those lived in abject poverty, and those living in despair over their money relationships in either plenty or paucity, financial planning is about helping people do the best for themselves with what money they have through the course of lives lived amid this force. No more. No less.
Obviously, our craft is important. Basic technical competence is the price of admission for any learned profession, but technical expertise does not make us special. Our hearts, our wisdom, our comprehensiveness and our understanding of money make us special.
Heart rules this profession. From there we must continue to explore the "why" questions, particularly the peculiar cultural mysteries of money, and how it is that human beings come to agreement on intangible symbols that quite literally connect the entire lot of us. Because at ground, our work is not technical but quasi-pastoral. Because people need us and what we have to offer a whole lot more than they need protecting from us.
Sure enough, financial planning is well on its way to being a learned profession, but it does us no good to learn unless we know why. For what purpose? To what end? To "protect the public?" Please. That is just tiny.
So, let's get it straight. Financial planning is a heart thing. At the end of the day, it is not about rules. It is not about the details. It is not about an ability to squeeze the last nickel of gimmick out of law, product or process.
And it is most certainly not about maintaining 501(c)(3) status for the trustee of our most elegant CFP marks, entrusted with a legacy that is precious beyond words. That's just icing at best; it's no cake.
Financial planning pioneers envisioned from nothing an authentic profession that will rival medicine, law and theology within the foreseeable future. Compared to these other helping, learned professions working with humanity's essential intangibles, financial planning's 35-year history is just a meager slice of time and yet has been extraordinarily productive.
Our significance does not come from a private body with a trademark believing that it "protects the public." It comes from all of us recognizing the profundity of our promises and the forces with which we work. We have significance because we help other people have better lives, and we help them and our society work with the money forces.
Most importantly, financial planning remains a heart thing. May we always remember.
Richard B. Wagner, JD, CFP, is the
principal of WorthLiving LLC, based in Denver. He is the 2003 recipient
of the Financial Planning Association's P. Kemp Fain Jr. Award, which
recognizes a member who has made outstanding contributions to the