But well-meaning observers perpetuate misconceptions.

Constructive criticism is helpful for an organization, and Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. has enjoyed its share of healthy criticism. Most recently, my friend and colleague Dick Wagner offered thoughtful remarks regarding challenges and opportunities facing CFP Board and the financial planning profession. (Please see "Parting Shot," January 2004.) His observations prompted CFP Board to consider an emerging pattern among well-meaning writers who inadvertently perpetuate misconceptions about CFP Board and its mission.

This is to clarify the view from CFP Board as it is today.

To understand CFP Board's direction, start with its roots. CFP Board was formed in 1985 as a nonprofit under 501(c)(3) of the U.S. Tax Code. As such, we are legally charged with educating and benefiting the public. That's not new; it's what we've promised the federal government, the public and our stakeholders from the beginning. The process of defining, applying and evolving the mission is ongoing. But to depart from our mission is not an option.

CFP Board took over what was primarily a designation awarded by the College for Financial Planning in recognition of educational achievement. Since then, we have elevated the CFP marks to the status of true certification. We have adopted the Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibility and implemented the Financial Planning Practice Standards. We established a professional review system, which provides clients with recourse when they believe a CFP® certificant has violated our standards.

We created the CFP® Certification Examination in a comprehensive format. This format measures a candidate's ability to apply information from more than 100 financial planning topics during a compressed, two-day, ten-hour period, in order to ensure that they can bring all of their skills to bear during financial planning engagements. This sets us apart from organizations that allow their candidates to test on a piecemeal basis.

This year, we will survey CFP practitioners for our job analysis study to help shape the list of financial planning topics on which the CFP® Certification Examination is based. This study ensures that our exam and standards will continue to reflect the skills needed to perform financial planning in today's environment. Validating our exam in this manner makes us unique among organizations that administer broad-based financial planning credentials. CFP certificants are involved at every level of the exam. They participate in the job analysis study and draft exam questions, then field test and review those questions. CFP professionals on our staff oversee the exam process.

All of our advances, though designed to benefit the public, have also benefited CFP certificants. Surveys show growing public awareness of-and satisfaction with-planners who hold the CFP marks. That reflects well on our certificants and, we believe, on the 4 Es-Education, Examination, Experience and Ethics-that are cornerstones of the CFP® certification. The CFP certification has value because both the public and CFP certificants understand the need to distinguish between planners who meet our standards and those who don't. In 30 years, the CFP certificant community has grown from 42 in the first class at the College for Financial Planning to more than 43,000. Although growth is not our motivation, it is an effective measure of how the standards are viewed by the public. Putting the public first has caused the public to respect CFP professionals.

But we are victims of our own success. Because of the elevated public recognition and respect for CFP professionals, some people now mistakenly believe that the CFP certification is our mission. People who believe this are taken aback by our interest in areas such as education and international standards.

Education is an integral part of our nonprofit mission. As a certifying organization, we set standards for regionally accredited colleges and universities that qualify to become CFP Board-Registered Programs. This cooperation makes financial planning education more effective, while acquainting students with high professional standards. We are working with the Academy of Financial Services to develop a model curriculum for financial planning education. This model will help colleges to adopt financial planning education programs-especially colleges that lack resources. If widely adopted, the model curriculum will bring more consistency to financial planning education nationwide. As a relative newcomer, financial planning is still gathering the body of knowledge that some professions have already amassed. Building that body of knowledge and helping to ensure a supply of knowledgeable educators from the Ph.D. level down benefits the public by ensuring that more planners will be better prepared to assist them.

We hope to complete the transfer of administering the international CFP marks to an international body, allowing CFP Board to focus on U.S. financial planning standards, while helping international standards advance. However, it is in the interest of the American public for us to continue monitoring development of international financial planning standards, as we do through our involvement with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the process of the International Organization for Standard-ization (better known as ISO). As the world becomes a global community, more and more consumers and financial planners invest and do business across traditional borders. American consumers deserve a place at the table with international standard-setting bodies.

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