In light of the ongoing debates and discussion regarding the CFP Board’s potential fee increase to support a new public awareness campaign, the FPA last week conducted a survey of their CFP members to poll for views about the proposal. And last night, the FPA has released the survey results in an email to members.
You can view the survey results directly on the FPA website (member login required), and the FPA reports that it has already communicated the results directly to the CFP Board‘s board of directors as they begin today their board meeting to come to a decision regarding this exact issue.
Cutting right to the most pertinent results of the survey, when asked "Do you support the CFP Board launching a campaign to increase awareness of the CFP marks?", 77.5% of respondents reported "Yes" with another 12.1% that stated they were not sure; only 10.4% responded "No". In fact, in a separate question "Is it important for the CFP Board to increase awareness of the CFP mark?", only 2.9% responded that they disagree or strongly disagree. On the other hand, when the follow-up question was asked "Do you support the proposed increase in certification fees, as outlined in the CFP Board’s description, to help launch such a campaign?", 42.7% stated "Yes" and 22.6% were unsure or needed more information; 34.8% outright responded "No."
My take on these results… the general support for the public awareness campaign – with only 10.4% responding with an outright "No" – appears to be generally consistent with the CFP Board’s own survey results that showed approximately 90%+ of certificants supporting a public awareness campaign. The follow-up question regarding support for the fee increase, though, is lower than the CFP Board’s own survey results, which suggested that approximately 73% of certificants would support the increase. Although it is difficult to know how to fully classify the 22.6% of respondents who were "unsure" on the FPA survey, nonetheless with 34.8% of responses as an outright "No" it would appear that at best the FPA survey results imply no more than ~65% in support with the currently proposed increase and associated details.
Aside from noting the discrepancy between FPA and CFP Board surveys, the results seem to imply to me that the CFP Board was absolutely right in reading certificant concerns that the CFP Board needs to better support public awareness of the marks, and that it is the CFP Board’s role to do so. The limited support appears to be for the public awareness campaign itself – implying to me, in essence, that the CFP certificant community doesn’t believe that the funds can be deployed in a manner that has value. This is consistent with many of the concerns I have heard while traveling to various FPA chapters I have been speaking for over the past few weeks; there is a skepticism that advertising can have an impact at all, and/or that the CFP Board will be able to deliver value that feels tangible to the individual member trying to impact such a broad pool of consumers (although the CFP Board has made the case that it can do so effectively, as I have written in prior blog posts on this subject).
On the other hand, notwithstanding a majority-but-still-limited support for the details of the CFP Board’s campaign, only 12.8% of members state that they are less likely to renew their CFP certification as a result of the proposed increase (how many of those actually turn into lapsed certificants, time will tell). Thus, it would appear that the overwhelming majority of the CFP certificant community – including many of those who don’t necessarily support the campaign – still believe there is enough value delivered from the CFP Board and the CFP marks that they will continue to pay to maintain the designation. If the CFP Board is right that they really can deliver value (and after seeing their latest presentation at the FPA Chapter Leadership Conference last weekend, I think that they can), then presumably they ultimately will be able to retain 90%+ of their certificant base through the fee increase (and if the value is really good, perhaps even enhance the growth of financial planning in the future?).
A notable standout from the survey, though, was regarding the FPA’s own value proposition. Although only 12.8% of members stated that they are less likely to renew their CFP certification due to the CFP Board increase, a surprising (at least, to me) 16.9% of FPA members indicated that they would be more likely to end their FPA membership due to the CFP Board’s increase! To say the least, this implies that in the end, when costs are tight and value is in question, CFP certificants still view the marks themselves as being more important than their FPA membership. Of course, it’s also notable that the process of voluntarily relinquishing the marks and later reinstating them is much more onerous than lapsing and reinstating an FPA membership (which can be done more-or-less at will). Nonetheless, I have to admit that I was surprised to see that an increase in CFP Board fees would impact FPA membership more than CFP certification renewals, even when FPA isn’t the one raising costs!? Why is it that we judge the value of FPA membership by CFP certification fees more than the value that FPA itself provides? Is it because the CFP Board has noted that the public awareness campaign may include a feature to match consumer inquiries to CFP certificants – a potential overlap in the value proposition of FPA’s own PlannerSearch feature? Perhaps, but I still don’t get it. I could also go out to a nice dinner with my wife next year and spend $145, but I’d still renew my FPA membership; I’m not sure why an extra $145 to the CFP Board has more of an impact in the minds of so many members. What is it about the CFP Board’s public awareness campaign that so strongly reduces the perceived value of the FPA?
In any event, the CFP Board begins today their board meeting to come to a final decision regarding the public awareness campaign. They have already scheduled a webinar next Wednesday, November 17th, at 2:30PM EST to announce the results (register now if you are interested!), whatever the final decision turns out to be. So we’ll know soon if the feedback from the CFP certificant community is viewed as support for the campaign, whether it is modified in some way based on the feedback that has been given, or if it is scrapped completely. Although frankly, I doubt the latter will be the case, not because the CFP Board is presenting the proposal as a fait accompli, but simply because the numbers still clearly support a desire by certificants for CFP Board to do public awareness work of some sort; the devil appears to be in the details, the value delivered for the cost, and perhaps a general cynicism about the opportunity for any organization to impact public awareness.
On a sidenote, though, I have to give kudos to the FPA for conducting the survey. I’m sure a part of their reasoning for the survey was simply to assess the potential fee increase impact on their own membership base (and as the results indicate, there is probably some legitimate cause for concern); nonetheless, I also see the FPA survey as a chance for the FPA to better take on its role of representing f
inancial planners to various organizations that impact financial planning, including the CFP Board.
So what do you think of the proposed fee increase, and the FPA’s survey results? Does the proposed CFP Board increase impact your feelings – positive or negative – about the FPA?