CFP and ChFC in different leagues, CFP Board says

War of words continues as American College and CFP Board aim to attract designees

Jul 17, 2014 @ 1:15 pm

By Liz Skinner

The certified financial planner mark should not be compared to adviser designations like the chartered financial consultant because the latter does not include a code of ethics nor a comprehensive exam, the board that awards the CFP said.

Joe Maugeri, the CFP Board's managing director of marketing and corporate relations, said those two elements help render the CFP designation the most recognized and “highest standard” advisers can achieve.

The assertion came in reaction to The American College's claim Monday that changes to its ChFC designation would make its content more relevant for advisers than the CFP program. The American College is planning two new ChFC required courses that will incorporate studies in divorce, retirement income planning and concerns specific to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

“The American College is trying to paint a picture that we're not keeping up to date, but that's not true,” Mr. Maugeri said.

The CFP Board, which oversees the 200 institutions that offer more than 340 registered programs providing CFP education, surveys practicing advisers “on a regular basis” to find out whether there are new topics that may need to be added to the curriculum, he said. In fact, such a job-task survey is going on right now, he said.

The CFP Board changed the program's curriculum in 2012 to include effective client communications, behavioral finance and additional ethics education as a result of the last adviser survey, said Michele Warholic, managing director of education, exams and talent for the board.

For its part, The American College’s ChFC program director, Craig Lemoine, said anyone who attains the ChFC designation has to follow a one-page professional ethics pledge and set of eight standards. There is no comprehensive exam for the ChFC, however, candidates have to pass exams or present a financial plan after each course, he said.

The back and forth is the latest in a struggle between The American College and CFP Board to attract designees. Competition began heating up in 2009 after the CFP Board added a fiduciary standard for its planners.

The CFP Board has drawn criticism over the past year from those who think the board's definition of a "fee only" adviser is too strict. The ChFC content is "compensation neutral," Mr. Lemoine said.

The ChFC designation has historically been the domain of agents and advisers working with insurance. The CFP has a commanding lead in terms of adviser numbers.

About 17% of advisers have a CFP certification compared to 11% who have ChFCs, according to a 2013 analysis by Cerulli Associates Inc.

Jon Castle, an adviser with Paragon Wealth Strategies, has attained a CFP and a ChFC, in addition to a master's degree in financial services.

The CFP has been the “most productive and opened doors along the way,” he said.

Mr. Castle estimates about 10% of consumers are familiar with the CFP, while none really know the significance of the ChFC, he said.

He credits that recognition to the CFP Board's marketing campaign that's designed to boost recognition of the certification among the public. The board plans to spend $10 million a year on the campaign.

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