Other Voices

It's time for financial planners to find our voice

Too many advisers are silent on vital issues that affect their and their clients' livelihoods

Jun 14, 2015 @ 12:01 am

By Edward W. Gjertsen II

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(Phil Disley)

There is an un-tapped power within the financial planning profession that has been dormant for too long. I'm referring to our voice. Financial planners help millions of Americans save and plan for their futures. And while the tens of thousands of us who practice financial planning follow the high standards required of us through our primary certifying body — the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. — too many of us are silent on vital issues that affect our livelihood as professionals and those we serve. This needs to end.

While you read this, there are forces at work with nearly unlimited financial resources that are attempting to pass laws and rules that may adversely affect our profession and our clients. One such attempt has been made by Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Mo., who has refiled a bill in Congress that seeks to mislead with its very title: The Retail Investor Protection Act.

The bill, which the Financial Planning Association and our partners in the Financial Planning Coalition oppose, would require the Securities and Exchange Commission to act first on a fiduciary rule before the Labor Department can act on redefining the fiduciary role under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. This rule has not been updated in over 40 years and, as we all know, the financial landscape has grown much more complicated in the past four decades. Further, as the SEC is not required to advance fiduciary rule making, we see this refiled bill as a potential tactic to delay or even derail any hope of significant consumer protection through an appropriate fiduciary standard of care.

SUBVERTING THE DOL

Some in the industry believe that if a sturdy DOL fiduciary rule were to be enacted, current nonfiduciaries would abandon middle-income savers. This line of thinking is misguided and disingenuous. We believe those advisers would be able to work within a fiduciary standard; all certified financial planner professionals already are required to act in a fiduciary capacity whenever engaging in financial planning with a client.

This issue and others demonstrate that we must work together to make our voices heard while putting a real face on financial planning.

I can tell you that the FPA is working to rally our network of more than 90 chapters and 23,000 members, including nearly 17,000 CFPs, to give the profession a rising voice that resonates in Washington, D.C., and in state capitals across the country.

FPA will hold its second annual Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill on June 24 to educate policymakers on those issues of importance to financial planners and the profession. Dozens of FPA leaders and members will participate in up to 80 meetings with congressional leaders in both Senate and House offices, and with other influential people in the nation's capital.

Through proactive outreach, we all can serve as resources for state and federal officials, and regulators, by developing relationships with influencers at all levels who call upon us when they need a practitioner point of view. We need to be there in real time, talking with leaders and advocating for our profession. We need to show them that financial planning delivered with fiduciary responsibility helps all Americans effectively save for retirement. We must put a trusted face on our profession because if we don't, no one will.

The Financial Planning Coalition, which in addition to the FPA includes the CFP Board and the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, has been a constant voice on federal issues and legislation that strengthens our profession and protects our clients' life savings. We have fought for a fiduciary standard that puts the consumer's best interests first, and we understand the crucial need to update rules that have remained stagnant while financial products have become much more complicated for consumers. We advocate for increased investor protection by supporting legislation that would increase the percentage of adviser examinations per year. Most importantly, we are championing the recognition and regulation of our profession so that when someone seeks out a financial planner they get a qualified, experienced practitioner, such as a CFP. Period. Our foundation for broad advocacy efforts has been laid and now is the time for others dedicated to the profession to join in.

Advocacy matters. And so do the thousands of us who speak for this growing profession. Now is the time for more of us to join with a unified voice to take charge of our profession.

Edward W. Gjertsen II is the 2015 president of the Financial Planning Association and is vice president of Mack Investment Securities Inc.

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