I received a wonderful early Christmas gift this year: I was notified Dec. 20 that I passed the CFP Board's certification exam.
As the national pass rate for the November 2013 CFP exam was a mere 63%, I felt it was an enormous accomplishment that culminated three years of study and a substantial financial investment.
But unfortunately, you can't call me a certified financial planner — and probably never will.
The congratulations letter announcing my exam results also noted that “passing the CFP certification examination does not entitle you to use the CFP marks.” The form letter sent to all successful CFP candidates noted: “Only those individuals who have completed all of the CFP Board's requirements are authorized to use the CFP marks.”
Those requirements include a bachelor's degree. I graduated cum laude from American University with a degree in communications in 1975. Check.
Completion of a college-level financial planning certificate program. University of Virginia, 2013. Check.
But what trips me up is the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc.'s narrow definition of eligible work experience.
According to the board's website, a total of three years of full-time qualifying experience, or the equivalent of 6,000 hours, is required to satisfy the work experience requirement.
Experience must fall within one or more of the six primary elements of the personal-financial-planning process, which includes: establishing and defining the relationship with the client, gathering client data, analyzing and evaluating the client's financial status, developing and presenting the financial planning recommendations, and implementing the and monitoring those recommendations.
Acceptable work experience can be satisfied through one or more of the following ways: personal delivery to individual clients, supervision of personal delivery to individual clients, direct support of personal delivery to individual clients, teaching courses at a CFP Board-registered program or finance-related courses at a university, or through internships or residency programs.
I have readers, not clients. And apparently 30+ years of award-wining personal-finance writing and appearances on numerous radio and television programs doesn't hold a candle to three years of qualifying work experience.
There's a reason the CFP designation is considered the gold standard in the financial advice industry: It sets the highest standards and accepts nothing less. I admire the board's mission to foster professional standards and ethical conduct in the delivery of financial advice to the public. It's their game and they are entitled to set their own rules.
But short of quitting my day job, I don't see how I could ever satisfy the CFP Board's work experience requirement as it is currently defined.
And in case you haven't noticed, I love my job and wouldn't trade it for the world — especially when I receive unsolicited comments from advisers such as Jeff Young in Scottsdale, Ariz. Mr. Young wrote an e-mail to me this week and thanked me for helping him achieve a great year professionally.
“The great propulsion this year was my further honing my Social Security skills to put me into an even higher professional orbit” because of the many tips and strategies he learned from reading my column, he wrote. “In no small part, credit goes to you, and so I thank you."
I received another terrific Christmas gift this year — a caricature of me involved in my two favorite activities: baking cookies and dispensing financial advice.
My chocolate chip cookies are legendary among my two sons and their friends, and they are the coin of the realm at the federal agency where my husband, Mike, works — using them to reward colleagues for jobs well done.
Mindful of the popularity of cooking shows, Mike has often urged me to create a series of YouTube videos where I would demonstrate recipes while dispensing financial advice. I joked that I would call it “When the chips are down: Advice for tough economic times.”
My younger son, Andrew, a videographer and illustrator, elaborated on that theme in a 2-by-3-foot poster that he presented to me on Christmas morning. With a boarder reminiscent of an iconic Social Security card, it portrays me flinging cookies to a crowd surrounded by the words: “When the chips are down, you can count on Franklin.” As for the CFP initials on my apron, they stand for Cookies For the People.