In the latest round in the continuing controversy over the definition of fee-only by the CFP Board of Standards, the organization's CEO sent an e-mail to 69,000 CFP professionals sticking by its existing fee-only definition.
The message from CEO Kevin R. Keller, contained in a board report sent today, welcomes feedback from CFP certificants, but it stands by the board’s fee-only standards.
The CFP Board has come under attack recently by critics who say the board's definition of "fee-only" is too broad, resulting in penalties against advisors who have only indirect connections to commission-based entities. Some have also criticized the board for selectively targeting advisors in its investigations of inappropriate use of the fee-only label, and for taking too long to complete the probes.
The board’s Web site allows advisors to categorize themselves as receiving compensation from fees only or from fees and commissions. It then provides a definition of fee-only and of compensation.
The board investigates complaints about CFP certificants inappropriately representing themselves as fee-only. If it finds an advisor used the term without meetings its definition, it can issue a letter of admonition or take away an advisor's right to use the CFP designation.
The most high profile such case involved Alan Goldfarb, who resigned as CFP Board chairman earlier this year after it was revealed that he advertised himself as fee-only while holding a small equity interest in a broker-dealer. He was issued a letter of admonition.
The controversy has prompted advisors who consider themselves fee-only to question how the CFP Board would view their compensation status if they owned stock in a bank such as Bank of America, which owns brokerage giant Merrill Lynch.
The controversy prompted the board to remove the fee-only designation from its Web site for two days in September and to ask advisors who had designated themselves as fee-only to review the rules and resubmit a designation to accompany their biographies.
In the e-mail issued today, Keller said the board is finalizing a compensation disclosure form for CFP professionals to use with clients.
Keller said the standards and the enforcement procedures adopted in 2007 were developed through a “deliberate process that incorporated stakeholder and public feedback … presenting them in a manner that would be easily understood by CFP professionals and the public they serve.”