Beginning All Over Again

One afternoon at this year's Financial Planning Association conference in Nashville, while wandering though the labyrinth Gaylord Opryland center I stumbled on two very nice people, Bart Francis and Harold Evensky, involved in a serious conversation. Francis, of course, is the current CFP Board of Standards chair, who has struggled with the latest brouhaha over practice standards, while Evensky was blessed with the opportunity to serve in the same position during the organization's ill-starred attempt to introduce the Associate CFP designation.


If their experiences were isolated incidents, it would be one thing. But the question that begs an answer is why so many decent people who volunteer to serve and devote months, if not years, of their lives to this organization end up leaving with a sour taste or a feeling of disappointment. It shouldn't be this way.

The departure of CFP Board CEO Sarah Teslik provides the third opportunity in the last six years for a new beginning. Unfortunately, the real problem is why any organization would go through three new beginnings in six years.

If the CFP Board fails or flounders yet again, it won't be because Francis, 2007 Chair Karen Schaeffer and 2008 Chair David Strege weren't intelligent, decent, hard-working people who cared. But all three of them, and their fellow board members, should be well aware that work and personal integrity are hardly a guarantee of success.

No doubt a search committee will be appointed and paid a significant sum. Financial resources apparently are no obstacle for the CFP Board, which turned a $5.5 million profit in 2005 and has cash reserves of $11 million.

Yet it was the decision to hire an expensive, outside search firm that produced the last two CEOs, Teslik and Lou Garday, both of whom were talented individuals who proved to be ill-suited for the job. Garday's predecessor, Bob Goss, came from within the business, having served as president of the Institute of Certified Financial Planners. For all his flaws in communications and his obsession with empire building, Goss produced an astounding record of achievements, taking the CFP mark from a mail-order designation to one of national recognition. Though he overreached with his "CFP lite" proposal, his accomplishments still vastly outweigh that fiasco.

Since nobody asked me, I'll use this space to make the suggestion that it might be time to look once again within the ranks of this profession. Two examples of individuals who would be eminently qualified are Tim Kochis and Dick Wagner.

Both have led some of the profession's emerging organizations in the past and both are lawyers. The new CEO doesn't have to be a lawyer, but that helps a lot when dealing with trademark issues. Although Kochis and Wagner would be great choices (neither of whom probably will ever speak to me again now that I've nominated them for this job), there are dozens of other qualified CFP licensees out there.

Most importantly, the CFP Board should re-examine and reaffirm its mission. To put it crudely, it was not meant to be an organization whose purpose was to help those who can't help themselves financially. However, if its cash reserves keep piling up beyond the $11 million level, it could certainly endow such a group.

It is a standards-setting organization operating within a small sector of the larger financial services universe, where many powerful groups are trying to make standards as blurry and vague as possible, often to the consumer's detriment. That narrowly defined mission possesses sufficient significance all by its little self.

Evan Simonoff