In the 1950s (boy am I dating myself), there was a television program my mother loved to watch called Queen for a Day. During each program, a woman was honored and treated as a queen for that day. Many years later in 1998, Peggy Ruhlin, chair of the IAFP, wrote a column she titled, “If I Were Queen.”
Among one of her visions was the merger of the IAFP and the ICFP. Of course, we know that that dream became a reality two years later. I was recently reminiscing and thought about Peggy’s article and that television show my mother so enjoyed. And I got to thinking, in the interest of gender-neutrality, why not fantasize about what I would do if I were king for a day? What if I could decree on that day all of the changes I would like to see implemented in our financial planning profession? With my power, I would declare the following:

1. Financial planning is to be recognized as its own discipline and will occupy its place among other professions. Financial planners will no longer be regulated as “investment advisers,” any more than they are regulated as estate planners, tax professionals, insurance agents, credit counselors, employee benefit specialists or any one of the many other areas where planners provide their clients with advice. While investment recommendations and management are certainly important parts of the process, they are not the only parts, and consumers need to be educated to understand this. Rather than being regulated by organizations and agencies that specialize in other areas (such as the SEC or Finra), financial planners will have a self-regulatory organization. It will be formed and managed by people who understand the holistic nature of financial planning.

2. In order to legally use the title “financial planner,” one must register and be regulated as such and demonstrate expertise in all areas of planning. This will be done with the attainment of the CFP designation or its equivalent. People who claim to be financial planners but do not follow a process that includes all areas of financial advice may no longer use the title. “Investment advisors” will be classified as such. People who primarily sell insurance may not claim to do financial planning unless they have the educational requirements as well as processes that include other services. Financial planning will be recognized as its own brand and not confused with other labels such as financial consultant, financial advisor or even wealth manager.

3. Rather than highlight the fees that financial planners charge clients, journalists and media commentators will discuss the value that planners bring to the table. From this day forward, they will no longer classify financial planners as investment advisors. They will communicate the holistic nature of planning and stop attempting to measure planners by the performance of the portfolios they manage. Instead, they will stress the freedom and quality of life that planners provide their clients with. We know that it is difficult, if not impossible, to financially measure the value of services provided by many other professionals, such as doctors, lawyers or architects. Attempting to place a monetary value on peace of mind and freedom is impossible. Clients of financial planners have known this for years, and the media needs to communicate that to those who have not had the benefit of financial planning.

4. While this would not be a requirement, financial planners will be encouraged to base their fees on something other than a percent of the assets they may manage or the transactions they implement. Charging a percentage of the portfolio communicates to clients and others that, regardless of what they may say, investment advice is the primary service they offer. If advisors only get paid for transactions, where is the incentive to offer advice for taxes, budgeting, estate planning or the other areas that are a vital part of the financial planning process? Since financial planning is the core competency of professionals who do planning, it is imperative that they communicate it by the fees they charge. Someone once said, “Follow the money.”

5. Financial planners will recognize and demonstrate that their primary responsibility is to enhance their clients’ lives, not necessarily their investment portfolios. In order to do that, they must have a robust discovery process that uncovers what is most important for their clients. As we have mentioned in previous articles, this includes understanding clients’ histories, values, goals, dreams and visions of the future.

6. Most of the major colleges and universities throughout the country will offer undergraduate and graduate programs for people to major in financial planning. In addition to the technical skills and knowledge that financial planners must possess, all programs that train future financial planners will include education that helps these planners understand the emotional aspects that affect the way people make decisions about money. They will be taught how to uncover these issues and deal with them. While these programs will teach behavioral science, which is more theoretical, the education will include the methods and skills necessary to uncover why people make the financial decisions they do. These programs will produce a new generation of qualified financial life planners.

7. All financial planners will be required to be fiduciaries, and the true meaning of that will be a vital part of the educational process. Planners who breach this standard of care will be appropriately disciplined, and repeat offenders may be stripped of their ability to practice financial planning.

8. When industry publications list the “top” financial planning firms, they will no longer rank them by the assets they manage, which may have no bearing on their revenue or, moreover, the quality of the advice they offer. They will either discover a better way to rank these firms or, better yet, eliminate the rankings altogether. Publications regularly rank doctors, hospitals and lawyers. While the criteria may be subjective, it is based on the quality of care and advice these professionals provide. They don’t list what doctors make the most money or have the most patients. Why should financial planning professionals be judged for something as meaningless as assets under management?

9. Alternative career paths for people who major in financial planning will be clearly defined and those who enter the profession will have a clear idea of what the future may hold for them. While our profession has gone a long way toward creating career paths for new planners, much more needs to be done. The result will be that the college programs I mentioned before will become popular majors for future students.

10. High school students throughout the country will be required to take courses on basic personal finance. Preferably, these courses would be taught by CFP professionals.

Of course, I will not be king for a day. However, I do believe that all of these dreams are possible if we all make a concerted effort to make them happen. Peggy Ruhlin’s dream of what is now the FPA came to fruition. While it won’t happen in one day, I believe as our profession grows it is all possible. I look forward to the time when writing an article like this would be superfluous.

Roy Diliberto is the chairman and founder of RTD Financial Advisors Inc. in Philadelphia.