Unfortunately, there is no shortage of bad continuing education instructors. Whether it’s a boring delivery, explanations that are either too simple or too complex, content that is never made to feel practical and useful, or something else, almost any CFP practitioner has probably gone through the experience recently.
And the challenge is perhaps especially acute in regards to Ethics CE, where many presentations are either dealing with very abstract ethics concepts or very narrow case situations that may not feel relevant, and the number of instructors is already very limited.
In response, the CFP Board has changed the requirements to be an eligible CFP Ethics CE instructor in the future, requiring all such instructors to have held the CFP certification for at least 5 years to be eligible, to ensure that the instructor has the experience to make Ethics CE relevant. The problem? This requirement still does nothing to ensure that the instructor is a good teacher who knows how to make the content relevant for an audience!
The inspiration for today’s blog post is a follow-up on two prior blog posts I’ve shared in the past week regarding the CFP Board’s decision to change the requirements for Ethics CE credit and how to improve the quality of educational content. I wanted to focus in, though, on the particular issue of how we improve the quality of CFP CE instructors, instead of ‘just’ the content itself.
As I mentioned in my earlier blog post, the CFP Board’s latest solution to improve the quality of Ethics CE providers in particular is to require all such instructors to have held the CFP certification for at least 5 years. Notably, since granting the marks themselves also requires the individual to have at least three years of experience, this instructor certification requirement ensures not only familiarity with the CFP marks in particular, but some amount of actual financial planning experience as well. The intention is relatively straightforward – by ensuring instructors have been through the CFP program and have hands-on financial planning experience, they will be able to make Ethics CE content relevant and practical to an audience of CFP certificants.
Unfortunately, there’s just one problem (well, actually, there are several that we’ll talk about shortly): simply having the CFP certification and some experience doesn’t mean the instructor will actually have any skill whatsoever at being a teacher and making the content relevant for the audience! Of course, this challenge isn’t unique to financial planning; just ask any current or former college student who went to the class of an absolutely brilliant professor who was a recognized expert in his/her field with real world experience who had no clue how to convey the subject matter in a useful and relevant way to the students. Just because you have subject matter expertise and real world experience doesn’t mean you have any idea how to teach it to others!
In addition, it’s worth noting that just having a CFP certification does not, itself, make you an expert in the CFP Board’s Standards of Professional Conduct. In fact, the 5-year requirement for CFP certification means that no instructor will be eligible to teach Ethics CE unless they earned their designation in 2006 or earlier, while the latest significant revision to the Standards of Professional Conduct occurred in 2008. In other words, the only people who will be eligible to teach Ethics CE are those who never studied the current version of the Standards of Professional Conduct that are supposed to be taught! On the other hand, individuals who earned their CFP certification 30 years ago, before International Board of Standards and Practices for Certified Financial Planners (IBCFP) even introduced a Code of Ethics, and before the CFP certification ever had a comprehensive test of this knowledge, are fully eligible Ethics CE instructors? Of course, one would hope that anyone who chooses to be an instructor on this topic would do the extra due diligence research and work to ensure that they are fully up to speed on the latest rules and content; yet sadly, educating yourself on the standards, to the point that you’re capable of teaching others, is itself not eligible for Ethics CE credit for the instructor (as pointed out in one of the comments to my blog post last week)!
What is perhaps even more concerning, though, are the people who are excluded by these rules. For instance, one of the required learning objectives of the new Ethics CE guidelines is to “Define and outline elements of the fiduciary standard and know when it applies.” Yet Don Trone, founder of the Center for Fiduciary Studies and Fi360, appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Labor to the ERISA Advisory Council to represent the investment consulting industry, who has testified before Congress on fiduciary issues, is not an eligible Ethics (or fiduciary) CE instructor, because he doesn’t have the CFP marks. Nor is Michael Josephson, of the Josephson Institute for Ethics, who has spent a lifetime advancing a mission to improve the ethical quality of society by changing personal and organizational decision making and behavior. These individuals, who have dedicated their lives to advancing ethical behavior and fiduciary standards (not to mention having delivered hundreds or even thousands of presentations to audiences nationwide), are not eligible instructors to teach financial planners about ethics and being fiduciaries (and/or they could be, but only by applying to the CFP Board for a special policy exception request, which may or may not be granted); on the other hand, a financial planner who’s had a CFP certification that pre-dates the existing of a financial planning Code of Ethics (not to mention the Rules of Conduct and Practice Standards that currently exist), who’s never delivered a speech or taught a group in his/her life, gets a free pass to Ethics instructor approval?
Of course, this isn’t to say that there aren’t problems with the quality of Ethics instructors; there are. But rather than trying to dictate what kind of background does or does not qualify one to be an effective teacher (especially since none of the requirements have anything to do with actually have any experience being an instructor!), wouldn’t it simply be more effective for the CFP Board to serve as a clearinghouse for information about the quality of instructors and presentations, and then let the market decide? After all, the reality is that when an Ethics instructor does not deliver a “good” presentation, the audience responds accordingly on the conference’s evaluation forms, and the instructor doesn’t get invited back. The problem is that instructors who are ineffective at one conference may still be invited to several other conferences, before “the word gets out” – and similarly, for good instructors, it may take a long time to get traction as an effective speaker. The CFP Board could short-cut this entire process – in essence, making the market for Ethics CE instructors more efficient – by collecting that speaker evaluation information in a standardized format and reporting it.
The process doesn’t have to be complex; there is already a methodology that all CE providers have to follow to submit the information on who earned CE credit at a session. Simply appended to this could be the results of a simple series of evaluation questions about the quality and effectiveness of the speaker and his/her content; most conferences already gather this type of information, so it’s simply a matter of standardizing the questions that are asked, and adding an easy way to report the results. Given that organizations already report the details of dozens or hundreds of attendees, the sessions they participated in, their CFP certification information, etc., it would seem to be a very minimal incremental burden to also ask for the average result of the questions “How effective was the speaker in teaching Ethics?” “How relevant was the speaker’s content to your practice?” Etc.
Once the CFP Board gathers these results, it continuously updates a series of aggregate scores for each instructor and presentation delivered (which should be easy in a central database of speakers and content, since it’s just a few data points each presentation). Over a relative brief period of time, the CFP Board would have an array of speakers with varying scores for effectiveness of the instructor, relevance of the content, etc. Make this information available to organizations who are seeking Ethics CE instructors, and the market will sort itself out quickly; effective instructors with relevant content will score well and be reflected accordingly in the database, while ineffective instructors with irrelevant content will not be getting many invitations. Of course, in reality, this already happens with good and bad instructors; the CFP Board would simply be expediting a process that occurs already, with the end result of improving the quality of instructors by simply allowing the marketplace for content to function.
So what do you think? Is the CFP Board’s change to Ethics CE instructor requirements going to improve the quality of instructors? Or make them worse by excluding those who actually have experience teaching Ethics and fiduciary but don’t have CFP marks? Will there be a shortage of Ethics CE instructors who qualify to deliver this content? Would my proposed solution be feasible? If there was a database of Ethics CE instructors where you could see the scores other attendees at other conferences gave to the presenter and the content, would you use it?