If you've been watching your email lately, you may have noticed that the CFP Board has been soliciting your input about a potential public awareness campaign to support the visibility of the CFP certification marks for the general public. Well, apparently the input has been gathered, and board is considering its next step - an 80% increase in the annual cost to maintain your CFP designation to help fund the new campaign.
The CFP Board's new initiative was announced during an update on CFP Board activities at the FPA Annual Convention this past weekend with CEO Kevin Keller and Board chairman Bob Glovsky. If the dues increase is approved at the November board meeting, it would likely take effect on July 1st of 2011. Dues would increase from $180 per year (currently paid as $360 every two years as part of the bi-annual renewal process) to approximately $324 per year; Glovsky also noted that if the dues increase occurs, the CFP Board will likely shift to an annual renewal process for dues (no word on whether that means CE credits will also be evaluated annually instead of bi-annually).
Of course, "no one" really likes a dues increase, especially an 80% increase (although notably, it will be the first dues increase from the CFP Board since 2005). But on the other hand, planners have long criticized that the CFP Board does not do enough to support public awareness of the value of the marks; in fact, the CFP Board noted that in an internal survey of 7,200 CFP certificants, 94% of them said improving public awareness is critical. After all, there's not much else that we as CFP certificants really ask of the CFP Board, is there? We want them to maintain the integrity of the CFP marks and what they stand for, and make sure that the public is aware of their importance and value. Right?
And apparently, the CFP Board stands ready to commit its own funds to the effort as well. The organization has apparently committed to using $6 million of its nearly $25 million reserves to help get the public awareness campaign started. In fact, because current CFP certificants still renew on a bi-annual basis, Glovsky notes that "We [CFP Board] are hoping they [CFP certificants] will see the results before they feel an impact."
Personally, I have to admit that notwithstanding the general unpleasantness of a large dues increase, I'm pretty encouraged by the CFP Board's announcement, for several reasons. First of all, I think they've got the conclusion right; the CFP marks are still not recognized by the public as much as most of us CFP certificants wish they were, and notably most of the successful recognition that the public DOES have of the marks seems to be more a result of the media relations efforts of the FPA and NAPFA than of the CFP Board itself. Now the CFP Board is stepping up to take charge of the public's awareness of the marks. If no one knows what the marks mean, they lose their meaning. For all those who don't think their clients really care about the marks or not: as far as I'm concerned, that's a symptom of the failure of the CFP Board in its prior public awareness efforts (or lack thereof). It's not a sign of something good. So once again, if the CFP Board is stepping up to take control of the public awareness of the marks, I say: "It's about time."
Beyond the dues increase itself, I think we also have to give credit to the CFP Board for the steps it has taken in enacting a rather significant shift in its policy initiatives and the dues structure that will support it. For an organization that has been criticized harshly and repeatedly over the past 15 years for a seemingly never-ending series of changes that were conceived "behind closer doors" and announced only after the fact - resulting in an uproar - the implementation this time around is like the difference between night and day. This time, the CFP Board surveyed thousands of its own CFP certificants. There were over a dozen presentations conducting around the nation by the CFP Board, with CFP certificants, to discuss the potential changes (I know I received invitations locally for both a Washington DC and Baltimore sessions). Apparently the CFP Board is also conducting a major direct mail campaign to certificants to further make them aware of the intended change (although I haven't received mine yet, but I'm not holding a grudge). And perhaps even more notably, even after all of this outreach, we're hearing about the change - now, before it is voted upon at the November board meeting - due to a public announcement of the intended dues increase and its reasons at the FPA National Conference.
So even if you don't like the dues increase itself, you have to at least give the CFP Board credit for a dramatic improvement in communicating to its CFP certificant stakeholders, compared to major changes in the past. And I know that personally, I think greater visibility of the CFP marks is crucial, and I applaud the CFP Board for stepping up to take on the role, rather than letting other organizations like FPA and NAPFA do much of the heavy lifting for them. Yes, I'm not really thrilled about the dues increase itself, but right now I'm willing to trust the CFP Board's directors to determine what the "right" price is to appropriately manage the costs and get a good bang for the buck. On the other hand, my CFP certification doesn't renew until next November, so if Glovsky is right, I will hopefully have already seen some results before I have to write my next check.
You can see a little more information about the anticipated dues increase as reported from Financial Planning magazine's website here, and if you really don't like the dues increase and want to share your thoughts with the CFP Board, I would strongly encourage you to do so through their website. At the least, though, I hope you'll share some comments here on this blog about what you think. If the CFP Board on the right track with this dues increase? Is public awareness of the CFP marks the right place for it to spend heavily in the coming years? Are they doing a better job communicating major changes to their stakeholders? What do you think?
Footnote #1: As a follow-up, take a look here the very active (and generally very negative) commentary in response to Financial Planning magazine's article on the dues increase.
Footnote #2: I spoke with Dan Drummond, Director of Public Relations of the CFP Board, who provided me with a copy of the CFP Board's press release on the dues increase. No, I don't know why it isn't available as of now on the News section of their website itself; apparently they're "working on it."
Footnote #3: CFP Board has a video up on their website - a virtual CFP Certificant Connection session - discussing amongst other things, the public awareness campaign. You can view the video directly on YouTube. The discussion of the public awareness campaign begins approximately 11 minutes into the video. At 30:30 minutes into the video is the discussion of survey results about the amount of the potential fee increase.
Bill Winterberg says
Marketing in 2010 is so much different than it was even 5 years ago. I
hope that CFP Board plans to do more than just buy TV and newspaper ad
space with its $6 million.
I’d rather see a bootstrap campaign leveraging social media and also
CFP Board’s most essential assets: its CFP(R) certificants.
If that fails, only THEN should CFP Board think about devoting more
dollars to a broader (and arguably less effective) national media
Kenneth Klabunde says
Well balanced write-up on this issue, Michael. I don’t mind the dues increase and am looking forward to the results it will produce. Since I have very little marketing expertise, I guess I will just have to trust that the Board and their advisers will make good use of my money.
Michael Kitces says
Indeed, there’s no question that at the least, we have to “take it on faith” that the board will be good stewards of our money (including all of the new dues).
Given the Board’s track record on some issues, there seems to be a lot of skepticism about whether they will do so. Perhaps I just have too much faith in general. We’ll see. 🙂
Jay Schuman says
Michael, I came to this blog via your tweet on Linked In regarding the outcry on teh proposed fees increase (as it seems). I first saw the notice a couple of days ago and was admitedly not thrilled. That said, I tend to agree with you that 1) we need more work to be done to promote the mark and 2) I tend to think the Board isn’t entirely in it for itself (at least I hope so).
It’s ashame so many seem to take a “not my $ approach” and don’t try to look at the bigger picture. I have put 15 years into this field, 8 years as Certified Financial Planner. I have a lot vested (invested?) and would like to see this field finally reach the level of a true profession; not only in the public’s eyes but in our own as well.
Joe Pitzl says
I agree that this is actually a good thing. I sat in on the conversation about this topic at FPA Denver and they not only outlined the rationale quite well, but provided some great research support regarding the need for a more informed public.
The initial public reaction to the term “financial planner” from their focus groups (primarily mass affluent) was not pretty. However, the majority of folks changed their tune considerably after they understood what the CFP marks truly stand for. Of course, there will always be substandard CFP’s out there as well as some excellent non-CFP’s, but it is great to hear they are going to make an effort to promote true financial planning through this campaign.
Frankly (and this was reiterated), the dues increase across all 62,000 CFP certificants will provide about $4,500,000 of additional revenue (assuming all continue to renew) every year, which is inadequate to launch a true branding campaign that covers all media outlets, so they are going to have to spend wisely. My sentiment is that they are well aware of that (and admitted to it this week).
I, too, was particularly skeptical before attending, but left with a very good taste in my mouth.
Joe Pitzl, CFP®
Bradly Tharp says
Geee, my calculator says $17,360,000!
Michael Kitces says
Hrm, good point.
If we just look at the marginal increase – $144/year (from $360/2-years to $324/year) times 62,000 CFP certificants, I’m still coming up with $144 x 62,000 = ~$8.9 million.
I’ve already suggested to the CFP Board that they should publish some of their anticipated costs and metrics associated with the planned dues increase and associated public awareness campaign. Hopefully those numbers will be forthcoming to help clarify this “discrepancy.”
Bradly Tharp says
Sorry for calculating error…forgot to divide by 2 for annual increase. Dues cycle is every other year. My mistake. Interesting comments at FP discussion board from former DC Board employee and from a CPA about their dues and benefits – lower dues and more benefits. Shouldn’t dues go DOWN due to MORE certificants over time. Where’s the efficiency of scale?
John Comer says
Very good summary, Michael. I heard their presentation at FPA Denver after hearing essentially the same thing in Minneapolis when the CFP Board came for a town hall meeting. In my view, the board is definitely trying to communicate with certificants.
I also read several of the comments to the Financial Planning article and noted that a common theme was that the marks were not widely acknowledged for their value–exactly the situation the CFP Board said they were addressing with this money.
John Comer, CFP®
Dave Grant, CFP(R) says
As a newly minted CFP(R), I was shocked to read headline about an 80% increase. However, I see great value in the designation and still think that the fees may be too low. If the premise of the designation is to (hypothetically) separate the wheat from the chaff, and this is known by the consumer, then I am happy to pay for the privilege to be recognised in that way. I agree that the consumer needs further education by increased marketing, and hopefully the increased revenue will go a long way to providing that. My hope is that the “CFP” can be recognised in conversation just like that of a “CPA”.
I, like you, am optimistic that this plan will work because if it doesn’t, who is going to promote the CFP designation when it’s own body can’t?