CFP ads hit the airwaves, trumpet fiduciary duty

Campaign touting the value of certified financial planning designation set to run on ESPN, CNN and Fox News, among others

Apr 18, 2011 @ 3:56 pm

By Mark Schoeff Jr.

People who flip on their television today after dropping their tax checks in the mail may see an advertisement urging them to seek help in managing their money from a certified financial planner.

The ad will be aired 850 times on the Travel Channel, Home & Garden Television, ESPN, The History Channel, Fox News Channel, CNN and MSNBC over the next quarter.

It represents the start of a four-year CFP Board of Standards Inc. campaign to raise awareness about the CFP mark, which is held by 62,600 financial planners. The organization is spending $9 million annually on the effort, which also will encompass print and online ads. The board is raising CFP certificants' annual fees $12 per month – and dipping into its reserve fund – to pay for the campaign.

One of the ads launched by the CFP Board today features a pair of eyeballs and a steering wheel driving down the road. Soon, extra “hands” labeled “investments, insurance, estate planning, retirement and taxes,” grab hold as well, making the car swerve.

“Your finances can't manage themselves, but that doesn't mean they won't try,” says the voiceover, which encourages viewers to turn to a certified financial planner to get their finances in order.

Although the CFP Board had known that it would kick off the campaign this spring, it did not specifically target tax day, which happens to underscore the theme that the ads are promoting.

“This is an auspicious time to be out there, when people are thinking about their finances,” Tom Crowder, CFP Board managing director of marketing and business development, told reporters today at a meeting at CFP headquarters in Washington.

Print ads will appear in Smart Money, Kiplinger's Personal Finance, Money, Barron's and The Wall Street Journal. Online banner ads are being posted on MSN, The Wall Street Journal Online, Bloomberg, Reuters, the InvestingChannel, LinkedIn, Forbes, AOL, Kiplinger, and Morningstar.com, among other sites.

The campaign is expected to reach 80 percent of its target audience – people between 35 and 64 who have between $100,000 and $1 million of investible assets. The ad is intended to influence the demographic to use certified financial planners by emphasizing that such professionals can help them pull their financial life together. Each ad highlights a Web site, www.letsmakeaplan.org, where viewers can search for a planner near them.

In its creative approach, the CFP Board said that it is striving for unique look that will stand out from other financial advertising, which commonly is text heavy in print or features individuals talking about their financial situations on TV.

“If we end up with two old people walking on the beach at sunset, we will have failed,” said Kevin Keller, CFP Board chief executive.

In addition to launching at the height of tax season, the campaign also is hitting at a time when the Securities and Exchange Commission is considering whether to write a regulation that would impose a universal fiduciary duty on anyone offering retail investment advice – a requirement that investment advisers already meet but is higher than the suitability standard to which broker-dealers are held.

The CFP ad emphasizes that certified planners must meet the fiduciary standard — acting in the best interests of their clients — in order to hold the CFP mark.

Marilyn Mohrman-Gillis, CFP managing director of public policy and communications, said that the board embarked on the campaign in response to certificant demands that the CFP mark be given a higher profile rather than to sway the policy debate.

She said, however, that she was gratified that the ethics dimension of the CFP designation was ranked highly by consumers.

The ads also might have an impact on members of Congress. Republicans on the House Financial Services Committee have asked the SEC to halt work on a fiduciary rule until the agency can offer more evidence of its economic costs and benefits.

“The consumers want it,” Ms. Mohrman-Gillis said. “We think they're there. But it certainly may raise awareness on the policy side.”

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