If the SEC doesn’t make significant changes to the final version of this rule, I hope an organization or group will fight it in court, showing the courage the FPA did a decade ago when it sued the commission. The anti-fiduciary crowd has proved they aren’t trusted advisors, and they will have a hard time explaining how “best interest” advice is incidental and doesn’t require a relationship of trust and fiduciary duty.

Again, it isn’t complicated. Want your people to give advice? They need to be regulated as advisors and held accountable to a fiduciary standard. If you don’t want that level of responsibility, don’t tout your advice.

The CFP Board seems to be the only party with some authority that gets this right. The board announced that come October 2019 it will hold its mark-holders accountable to a fiduciary standard, not just when they are doing planning but when they are giving financial advice. The board’s definition of “financial advice” is sufficiently broad to mean that in practice, CFPs will be held accountable to a fiduciary standard at all times and there should be no hat-switching to a lower standard.

Some industry players told the board that if it went in this direction, they would pull their support for the marks. The CFP Board listened but ultimately decided to put the interests of clients first and did the right thing by applying an appropriately high standard. (The SEC, meanwhile, should be embarrassed.)

It’s nice to see the CFP Board nailing this for the profession. The board’s move solidifies beyond all doubt that the CFP marks are the marks of the profession and not just a really good indication of a person’s education or competency. Unfortunately for the public, the board only oversees its own licensees; the strongest discipline it can dole out is to revoke a person’s right to use the marks. Revocation is a big deal, but the board has only so much ability to protect consumers this way.

Another organization that has had great impact on the profession is the Financial Planning Association. The FPA was formed in 2000 with the merger of the International Association for Financial Planning (IAFP) and the Institute of Certified Financial Planners (ICFP). The merger was not without controversy.

I started on the FPA board of directors in 2003, and the differences from chapter to chapter back then were dramatic. In some areas, the ICFP chapters were stronger than the IAFP chapters. In other areas, it was the opposite or the organizations’ chapters were competing with each other in local power struggles. Some got nasty.

By the time my service ended in 2007, many chapter leaders would still identify themselves as “IA” or “IC.” At the FPA Chapter Leaders Conference in late 2007, there were still people wanting the merger to be undone. We tried to unify as best we could, but nothing got much traction.

It is only a little better today. The IA versus IC issue is largely gone now, but the influence a given chapter has on its members still varies greatly from area to area. You will find people who wouldn’t be FPA members if it weren’t for the excellence of their chapter experience and find others who say the chapters are worthless. The better-equipped the chapters are, the more members there will be making the former statement rather than the latter.

The FPA is right to work on an overhaul of its chapter system now. While I don’t think the member experience should be uniform, the chapters don’t need to be wildly different either, especially in their administration and technology. Volunteers waste a lot of time and energy on these things.