CFP Board touts revised standards in $80,000 Wall St. Journal ad

Organization showcases support from pro-fiduciary consumer groups, but not everyone is on board

Dec 22, 2017 @ 7:00 am

By Mark Schoeff Jr.

The Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. is spending nearly $80,000 to take out a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal Friday to tout its revised advice standards.

The new rules would require all CFPs, including brokers who use the mark, to act in the best interests of their clients at all times when they are providing investment advice. The current standard holds CFPs to a fiduciary standard only during the financial planning process.

"We're raising the bar on ethics," states the copy in the advertisement. "But don't take our word for it, take theirs."

The ad features statements from four consumer groups — AARP, the Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Action and the National Consumers League — that compliment the CFP Board for expanding the designation's fiduciary duty.

"Their support confirms our belief that we're doing the right thing for the public by putting a stake in the ground for fiduciary any time financial advice is delivered," said CFP Board chief executive Kevin Keller.

The one-time print ad costs about "$1 per certificant," Mr. Keller said, referring to the nearly 80,000 CFPs in the United States.

He said that funding for the ad came out of the CFP Board's operating budget rather than the budget for the ongoing awareness campaign that was launched in 2011 and has totaled approximately $75 million.

The CFP Board released a second revision of its standards earlier this week, which will be open for comment from Jan. 2 to Feb. 2. The board will issue the final standards during the first quarter of next year.

Although the consumer groups are on board with the CFP Board's standards reform, one fiduciary advocate said that it falls short.

"The CFP Board's revised proposal astonishingly, and in a straight-forward way, states that CFPs do not need to try to avoid conflicts," said Knut Rostad, president of the Institute for the Fiduciary Standard. "This is standing decades of [fiduciary] precedent and history on its head."

Mr. Rostad pointed to the CFP Board's commentary on its revised standards, which states that some groups, such as the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, urged the CFP Board to encourage "avoidance" of conflicts over "disclosure" of conflicts.

"The revised proposal retains the language stating that CFP professionals shall 'seek to avoid' conflicts (and disclose and manage conflicts that are not avoided)," the proposal states.

The CFP mark is held by brokers, who must meet a suitability standard when selling investment products, as well as investment advisers, who adhere to fiduciary duty.

"We recognize that all business models have conflicts," Mr. Keller said. "The [standards] committee and board looked at this carefully and landed on 'seeking to avoid conflicts of interest and fully disclosing'" those that exist.

Mr. Rostad also asserted that the revised standards don't provide practices for managing conflicts.

"There is no guidance in saying what that means," Mr. Rostad said.

The CFP Board plans to establish a panel to help CFPs implement the new rules.

"Their work product will be to develop and issue guidance for the final standards," Mr. Keller said.

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