In the nearly 10 years since Kevin Keller took over as the CEO of the CFP Board, the rolls of CFP certificants have grown by over 35%, even amidst a global financial crisis and an advisor demographics challenge that has contributed to a nearly 15% decline in advisor headcount over that time period.
In Keller’s early days, the CFP Board’s focus was squarely on rebuilding trust with its various stakeholders, from a relationship that had suffered greatly from a string of 6 CEOs in the preceding 6 years before Keller took over. It was a time filled with growing communication from the CFP Board to CFP certificants, where initiatives were extensively vetted for stakeholder opinion and feedback, and more than half a dozen different public comment periods for various rules changes.
Yet since 2012, the first year that CFP Board “lost” an initiative due to negative feedback during the public comment period, the tone of CFP Board’s engagement with stakeholders has shifted. It’s now been a full 4 years since the CFP Board announced a single public comment period at all, despite engaging in numerous – and several unpopular – rules changes in the interim. And the CFP Board’s growing aspirations is leading towards an ever-growing path of mission creep, from being “just” the organization that maintains the CFP marks, into one that offers a Career Center, an academic home for CFP certificants, its own Journal, and even proposed to go into competition with its own CE providers.
Of course, ultimately any organization is accountable to its stakeholders who can “vote with their feet” to take their business elsewhere. Yet the growing dominance of the CFP marks as the financial planning designation of choice means financial planning practitioners have never had fewer real alternatives to choose from. And the CFP Board’s ongoing Public Awareness Campaign, with its “Certified = Qualified” message, implicitly impugns any CFP certificant to their clients if that individual decides to walk away from the CFP marks – which makes the limited complaints to CFP Board’s policy changes look less like tacit stakeholder affirmation, and more like acquiescence under duress.
While some might suggest this is all the more reason to step away from the CFP marks and find an alternative designation, I still believe that the CFP Board and its certification are still the best chance we have to become a recognized and bona fide profession. But it does mean that perhaps it’s time to recognize that the CFP Board’s success in growing the adoption and prominence of the CFP marks is fundamentally changing the stakes and its relationship to CFP certificants as stakeholders.
And so if the organization wants to maintain its legitimacy and authority with CFP stakeholders, it needs to (re-)adopt its use of public comment periods (and actually make the results public as other oversight organizations and regulators do!), not unilaterally force all CFP certificants to waive their right to hold the CFP Board accountable in court under any/all circumstances, and consider whether a governance model that deigns so much authority to its CEO and selects its board successors by purely internal means is really the right approach for its increasing role in the financial planning profession.