Year after year, the CFP Board of Standards manages to expand its reach, grow its revenues and inflame licensees with an amazing degree of reliable predictability. How does it keep doing it?
Some suggest that the board subtly curries favor with CFP Board directors by dangling lavish perks in front of them. Topping the list is a long array of expensive international junkets offered to members of the board’s various international councils and others.
Gaining global adoption of the CFP mark is a legitimate goal for the CFP Board. So is learning about how the personal financial advice business is evolving in other nations. After all, American advisors might be able to learn a lot from their international colleagues.
And if it involves flying around the world in business class and staying at fancy four-star hotels to explore the global condition of the personal financial advice business, the price must be paid. But some former directors are starting to wonder exactly how high that price is and whether the luxurious junkets and other perks color directors’ judgment. It should be noted that not all the international council meetings of the Financial Planning Standards Board involve foreign travel. This week it met in Denver; last year it met in Sydney and Hong Kong.
Some relationships at the CFP Board have bordered on dubious. Several recent CFP Board CEOs reportedly have retained CFP Board chairs as their own financial advisors. Is that a conflict of interest? I don't know. I also don't know who Kevin Keller's advisor is, or if he even has one. I do know that over the years several CFP Board chairs have let it be known that CFP Board CEOs are their clients, though I can't say I've ever seen the engagement agreements.
The doubling of CFP licensees’ fees has dramatically increased the board’s revenues from $12.6 million in 2009 to $26.4 million in 2012. Technically, the board didn't double fees; it added a special fee with licensee support to market the CFP mark. But it seems unlikely they will reduce the fee when the four-year marketing program ends in two years. According to Guidestar, CEO Kevin Keller’s total compensation increased from $448,000 in 2009 to the most recently reported $888,000 in 2012. But Keller isn't the problem, which has existed long before he arrived at the CFP Board. More worrisome is that the board has outlined an enormously expansive agenda while dropping the ball for many of the essential functions it is supposed to perform.
Remember the revisions of ethics class requirements that were supposed to go into effect on April 1? They’ve been delayed. A proposed revision of practice standards has also been aborted for now.
Last year, the CFP Board aroused the ire of many advisors by clumsily entering and then exiting the age-old debate over compensation. At the same time, the SRO placed its board of ethics and examination under staff control. Many complain the group’s staff is increasingly populated with former Finra cowboys who view all CFP licensee activity through a transactional lens and possess no understanding of the financial planning process.
Still, a budget reaching almost $27.3 million in 2012, almost double its take three years before, has fueled the board’s growing ambitions. The CFP Board is toying with various new ventures, from entering the continuing education business, to establishing a research institute, and it reportedly is even considering entry into the publishing business.