On a crisp October morning, I arrived at the office to find an anonymous letter from a CFP licensee questioning the direction of the CFP Board. Usually I give anonymous letters short shrift, but this author was remarkably knowledgeable.

While proud to hold the CFP mark, the author was reluctant to share her or his name for fear of retribution from the board. That seems like it is going way too far, but the author’s other points are worthy of discussion. The long-term viability of the CFP marks rests upon the organization “maintaining a pristine record of oversight, which includes avoiding even the appearance of a conflict of interest.”

What raised particular concern in this licensee was the CFP Board’s creation of the Center for Financial Planning.

Acknowledging that the center’s general mission “on the face of it seemed innocent enough, namely connecting more closely with the academic community, expanding diversity” and encouraging the growth in the number of CFP professionals, it was the constant fund-raising efforts of the CFP Board to support the center that worried the licensee most.

“How can a certification body receive money from contributors and still be expected to oversee those contributors with an unbiased enforcement hand?” In the author’s view, this is a powerful conflict of interest.

One suggestion this licensee makes is that the CFP Board separate the Center for Financial Planning from the parent organization, stop its fund-raising efforts, place an additional amount on the certification fee and devote it to the center. Yet many CFP mark holders probably think their fees are already too high and believe it’s precisely the CFP Board’s hefty cash take on licensing fees that is causing the organization, a non-profit, to look to expand into new areas.

I don’t pretend to have the answers. Some advisors have suggested that the CFP Board, with its financial strength, merge with the Financial Planning Association and create an organization like the AICPA that could take the profession to the next level and place it on the same playing field with other groups. The CFP Board and the FPA have different legal structures, but that wouldn’t be insurmountable if the two groups agreed on a shared purpose.

It’s doubtful they do, but combining the FPA with the Center for Financial Planning could produce a stronger membership organization with greater resources. And, as the CFP licensee noted in the letter, that would permit the CFP Board to return to its initial purpose—governing the universe of licensees “without even an appearance of conflict of interest.”           

Email me at [email protected] with your opinion.


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