Leadership problems aside, there could be 100,000 CFP licensees by 2010.

For an organization that can't find the right CEO, the CFP Board of Standards still has a lot to crow about. The news that the CFP Board's CEO, Louis Garday, resigned only two years after taking the position brought the professional regulatory organization (PRO), which was striving to lower its profile, back into the news.

If Garday's surprise resignation put a spotlight back on the PRO and created an initial impression of an organization in turmoil, the bright lights also reveal how far the mark has come in the last three years. In particular, CFP Board Chair Rick Adkins believes that by the year 2010 there could be more than 75,000 CFP licensees in the United States, or nearly double the number in 2000. Indeed, Adkins thinks that 100,000 American CFP licensees by 2010 is conceivable. Outside the United States, even faster growth is expected.

If his estimate proves accurate, the CFP mark is likely to emerge as a force to be reckoned with in ways that it has not been in the past. Allied financial professionals, government regulators and others would be compelled to take the designation seriously. Adkins notes that the number of CFP licensees grew 6.4% in 2001 and 7.6% in 2002. "This year it could be closer to 12%," he says. For the rest of the decade, an 8% to 10% growth rate is reasonable, he thinks. That projection is based on taking the rising enrollments in university CFP programs and combining them with historical data on how many students complete the program and obtain the designation, among other factors. This past February, about 2,000 individuals took the CFP exam, up from about 1,200 people in the same period a year earlier. There are currently about 43,000 licensees.

The accelerating growth rate of the CFP universe refutes the logic behind the CFP Board's ill-fated proposal in 1999 to develop a related, less rigorous designation it called Associate CFP. Worried that the number of licensees was not growing fast enough partly because the CFP exam had increased its level of difficulty, board members saw a new "CFP lite" designation as the answer to its problem. Without such a vehicle, they argued, the CFP mark was in danger of being marginalized. But the PRO blundered by billing the proposed new designation as a vehicle primarily for brokers at wirehouses, outraging existing licensees who viewed it as a sellout by the board and an attempt to dramatically expand the PRO's power base and revenues while diluting the credibility of the CFP mark.

Had the board tried to market "CFP lite" as a way for young people to get their feet in the door and proceed toward the CFP mark, the proposal might not have elicited the indignation it did. But to outsiders, then-CEO Robert Goss and other members of the board appeared obsessed with coming up with a vehicle to convince giant financial institutions to buy into the CFP process and "bring them inside the tent." Treating existing licensees as a constituency to which it held no obligation-the PRO claims its mission is "to protect" the public-almost proved to be its undoing.

After several months of licensee outrage and threats, the board conceded it made a mistake and withdrew the proposed new designation. That concession in 1999 came only after then-CFP Board Chair Harold Evensky and Chair-Elect Patti Houlihan argued intensely with Goss that to do anything less would leave the organization with an irreparable credibility problem. Seven months later at a board meeting in May 2000, Goss, the longtime executive director and CEO of the CFP Board who was credited with making the designation respectable, stunned the board and resigned in the midst of a sweeping reorganization initiated by Houlihan. "It was like he was reading his own obituary," recalled one board member.

Suddenly, the entire CFP community was forced to reflect on Goss' achievements. Despite his infuriatingly bureaucratic communications style, those achievements were staggering. In ten years, the CFP mark had morphed from a mail-order certificate to a professional designation respected by regulators of the nation's financial markets.

Goss' departure resulted in a yearlong search for a successor. During that year, the PRO also reorganized its operations, shrinking the size of the board itself to make it less unwieldy, and attempting to rebuild its credibility with licensees by opening up its once sequestered deliberations to the public. Several CFP Board members also spent 13 months conducting a search for Goss' replacement, hiring an executive search firm to narrow down the choices for it.

But the ghosts from the CFP lite fiasco still loomed large. In 2001 when Adkins was named chair of the board, a position that many agreed he was more temperamentally suited for than his predecessors, he was asked what his goals were. "Don't do anything stupid," he replied. For the CFP Board, that would be a minor achievement.

The PRO eventually decided upon Lou Garday, a successful real estate executive and investment banker who seemed about as different from Goss in style and temperament as possible. While Garday brought a lot of enthusiasm and business experience to the position, he lacked much of a background in the nonprofit world.