The Financial Planning Coalition is making it a priority for 2015 to push for uniform standards for financial planners, leaders of the coalition say.

The public has no idea what they are paying for when they hire a person who they think is acting in their best interests, the leaders say.

Members of the coalition, which includes the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc., the Financial Planning Association and the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, discussed the need for a set of standards during a recent telephone interview with Financial Advisor magazine.

“What we want to see are regulatory standards that would require financial planners to meet competency and ethical standards,” says Marilyn Mohrman-Gillis, managing director, public policy and communications, for the CFP Board of Standards. “The CFP certification standard that requires education, exams, continuing education and a code of professional conduct is the model for the type of standards financial planners should meet to show they will provide services under a fiduciary standard of care.”

Currently, consumers cannot identify which of the many financial services designations mean the person is acting in the best interests of the client, she adds. And this is happening at a time when people’s finances are becoming more complicated.

“People benefit from holistic financial planning, but they are not able to identify who is a true financial planner,” she says. Most members of the coalition’s organizations would not object to uniform standards that would accurately tell the public what services they provide, the coalition members say.

The coalition does not have a proposal for who should oversee any standards that are put in place. But they hope to convince policy makers, legislators and regulators that standards are needed, just like doctors, lawyers and accountants have professional standards.

If standards were in place, “it would give consumers a level of trust that there is a way financial planners could be held accountable for the services they are providing,” says Karen Nystrom, the FPA's director of advocacy.

Research from Cerulli Associates, a source of data and analysis for the financial services industry, shows 166,000 people in 2013 identified themselves as financial planners, but only 38 percent of them were actually providing financial planning services and acting in their clients’ best interests. Most were selling specific products and providing services that were suitable for the client, which is a lower standard.