What kind of changes are in store for the advisory profession?
Laws and institutions must go hand in
hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more
developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths
disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of
circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the
Nothing says "historical perspective" quite like meaningful time markers. Whether denoting rites of passage, consequential transitions or memorable anniversaries, these memory stimulators trigger recollections of people, events and key dates. They provide lenses for reflection on change, possibilities and opportunities, together with demarcation points for ascertaining long-term trends and implications.
Then, from there, nothing says "historical perspective" quite like the Beatles' When I'm Sixty-Four. This one lays it out. We are. We age. Obviously, we must think. Perspectives manifest, and then pass. Time happens. History happens.
Intriguingly, our beloved CFP marks now have officially celebrated 32 birthdays-halfway to 64. Coincidence? Absolutely-but there is an apt theme here, so please bear with me.
Lately, my own personal time markers seem to be everywhere. Ranging from the unwelcome AARP invitation some years back to certain personal and professional moments, the parade seems unending. Twenty years since this; 40 years since that. Family and friends. Births, deaths, starts, stops. Challenges of various sorts. Yikes! Then there are those magical musical memories of youth now described as "oldies" and "retrospectives."
For all of these, I recently experienced a visceral time marker listening to the Beatles' newly remixed Love album for the first time. Its' live version of I Want To Hold Your Hand took me straight to the Ed Sullivan show of February 9, 1964. I was not quite 15. This recording was an age jolt. I had forgotten. Who were those screaming teenagers of a lifetime ago?
Then I remembered. That very moment served to start my own personal clock of adulthood and independence.
Since it was recently named "Rock'n'roll's biggest TV moment" by both VH1 and Entertainment Weekly, I suspect it serves that purpose for many a baby boomer, right alongside President Kennedy's assassination, Woodstock and the Kent State shootings.
For me, the Beatles moment is the most personal, though these others have their places. From that moment, millions of teen-age boys combed our hair forward, resolving not to cut a millimeter until we matched the flop tops of the Fab Four. Teachers and parents knew that "something was happening." It was outside of their control, and it drove them crazy. Of course, they "did not know what it [was.]"
What it was was magical. You had to be there.
Of course, you have your own moments. Fair enough. The principles are the same.
So, too, with our profession. Fast-forward ten years to May 16, 1974, when the College for Financial Planning first filed the terms "CFP" and "Certified Financial Planner" with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. In the interim, the Beatles had made musical history and parted ways to their own solo careers. The Vietnam War was finally over, the draft and Richard Nixon's political fortunes were both kaput, along with the gold standard and the reliability of cheap Middle East oil. Good, solid homes sold for less than the cost of a cheap new car today. Stocks and mutual funds were dead. A DJIA over 1,000? Inconceivable.
Soon, strange terms would emerge, like "standards," "practices" and "body of knowledge," and, even, "trust," "confidence," "reliance" and, even, "profession." However, these were for future times. Their vision, then, focused on serving single clients with complex needs. In many states, it had even been illegal to sell both insurance and securities. Though the pioneers had started to grasp the profession's possibilities, "fee-only" financial planning was not even a gleam in anybody's eye.
Now, those of us who remember those days are the parents watching with amazement, disbelief and, occasionally, abject ignorance as technology and culture continue their inexorable marches of change to unfold and transform our civilization beyond recognition. Those screaming teenyboppers previously referenced for that magical February night are now grandmothers and/or dedicated professionals. Many of us hair-forward guys wish we had the hair to comb. Sadly, and demolishing all possible delusions of immortality, half the Beatles are gone. Those of us young and obnoxious on May 18, 1974, are now well within smelling distance of Social Security eligibility and unpenalized IRA withdrawals.
Now, take a moment if you must, but these are just markers of time passing and change's nature. For those less aged, your versions beckon. This column is about the future and perspective, not maudlin baby boomer sentimentality. The point is not to rehash ancient history so much as to observe that time passes. Indeed, our time will pass. All of our times will pass. Nothing remains the same. Our accountability is to the present, certainly. It is also to our successors.
Then dreams and anticipatable legacies become vital. In 1967, few perceived either reality or humor in the Beatles' catchy ditty, When I'm Sixty-Four. That birthday could never really happen to us. Yet, now, in 2007, the "CFP" marks have seen as many birthdays as remain before they hit that magic mark. Will we still need them? Will we still feed them?
Most importantly, what do we want folks to think of our profession and our marks "when [they're] sixty-four?"
Perspective is required. Unfortunately, it is much too easy to see this time as the point of history to date. Most assuredly, it is not. We can see ourselves as the beneficiaries of what has been. We must also see ourselves as donors to what will be.
Here is the truth of it. Generations upon generations will follow us. Dozens. Hundreds. Thousands. Time passes. Those trilobites were young once, too. Eternity will unfold, whatever that means. Money will evolve along with it, whatever its precise characteristics. This profession has emerged in an historical context. From here, successors will be building upon what we are building, continuing the creation of a profession dedicated to helping humanity relate to money and the awesome forces it generates.
We, our successors and our selves, will understand these awesome forces as more than mere material but also as humanity's chief means of interaction, self-organization, reciprocity and exchange. We will grasp that money enables peaceful society as we help individuals and organizations understand their parts in its earthly dance.
Fanciful? I suggest not.
Money, in some form, is part of virtually all social issues facing humanity. Folks will need learned assistance with personal and group financial decision-making, preparations for life's phases and transitions and other issues engaged in allocating both our common wealth and each individual's relationship with their personal pie. Money skills will continue to be survival skills that do not come easily to human beings.
The issue is enabling the creation and unfolding of our profession to best serve our successors even as we spend the times of our own lives.
This is a place for humility, not arrogance. We have inherited a brilliant history of creation and implementation. We have added great bits of our own. That said, when the annals are complete, or even at 64, I suspect that folks will regard 2007 as an age of novitiates, not masters. Our collective money maturity is simply not there. Its cultural complexities have mostly eluded meaningful exploration. Its place in our personal and collective psyches is uncharted.
The issue is to turn our attention to these time-laced perspectives. How would we justify ourselves to our successors? If we were to be mid-career in 32 years, what sort or profession would we like to have? In other words, as we look to the future with a sense of the history we are creating, what sorts of questions should we be asking?
This is poignant and powerful work. As someone once shared with me, "We don't know how to get there from here. But we do know how to get here from there."
What can we imagine "there" to be?
My personal sentiments are no secret. I tend to think big about this profession's future. In fact, I see financial planning as a big damn deal profession in 32 years. Current visions are insufficient. Too small.
What will that mean? Let us quickly go back to the world of financial services circa 1974, that halcyon year of the CFP mark's registration.
This was a time without much computer access for regular folks. If the number crunched, somebody's hands did the crunching ... because even the H-P 12C was just a gauzy mirage. Present value calculations were "challenging," to say the least. Life insurance quotes required rate books. There were no computer printouts. Independent but comprehensive financial services were non-existent. However, we could see their forms as two little companies took some baby steps. Fidelity Investments launched its first daily income fund, the first money market fund to offer checking services. Fidelity also became the first financial services company to sell directly to the public on an "800" number. John Bogle created the Vanguard Group. Their rivalries persist to this day, in trillions.
On the broader fronts, Congress enacted ERISA on September 2. Concurrently, 403(b) accounts became available to the nonprofit world. Income tax returns required hand calculations. Hammerin' Hank Aaron connected for his 715th home run for a major league record; his 755 total is likely to be broken this year.
Financial planning brought everything together. Practitioners' training engaged insurance, investments, taxation, pensions, estate planning and retirement. Most folks I know describe that training as basic. The plans themselves were handwritten yellow pad specials until the PC's advent encouraged pricing by the pound. Or as one old hand notes cynically, "They got three pounds of paper to answer the three questions they really had."
Practitioners had no training in matters of life planning, the emotions of the inheritance process or other aspects of life's significant transitions. Nor were we trained in goal setting, budgeting, elder care, career management, spending controls, financial decision-making, economics, monetary theory or the like, except insofar as they encouraged decision making (i.e. sales). Monte Carlo analysis and scenario planning remained the exclusive provinces of the Defense Department.
All these are present day realities. Forget Moore's law; if we just keep pace with the innovations of the past 32 years, we will see some mind-boggling times when the marks are 64. If something like Moore's law applies, watch out.
What might source tomorrow's innovations? For a start, I suggest the money forces are demanding a learned profession that can mesh within various gardens of knowledge. Financial planning curricula could take much greater advantage of existing and prospective resources-on campus, within industry resources and new think tanks and professional assets. Will individuals be developing useful scholarly expertise within these environments? No doubt - though it will take the vision and cooperation of profession, industry and academia for creating equivalents to law schools, medical schools and seminaries.
We will see educational capacities retooled. Financial planning is, after all, the ultimate liberal arts profession. This should mean authentic, meaningful, interdepartmental work and broad money studies and programs.
What about new money forms? Per money's storied history, we can expect international trading currencies to morph and focused designs to emerge, serving increasingly complex societies. How will computerization affect our capacities for dealing with monetary structure and distribution? Will traditional notions of work, risk and "productivity" continue to govern money exchange? Will we redefine "work"? Or delineate new bases for accessing reciprocity and exchange? For example, will currency designed serve as partial answers for addressing health care, education or public protection issues? How? What could be our roles in this?
How will CFP® "standards" and "practices" evolve? Is their development complete? What will be expected of our successors in 2038? Will standards and practices continue to ground in 1974? Or will they grow and mature?
This profession has just begun. What will be when our marks are 64? We can get here from there.