This article appeared on Advisor Perspectives.
Trust and confidence in financial advice were news last week. The Wall Street Journal reported that the CFP Board’s LetsMakeAPlan.org website excluded a lot of negative information about CFPs. The Journal compared 72,000 CPF profiles against what the planners reported to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). The Journal’s headline: “The Go-to Web site often Omits Red Flags.”
The Journal’s story shook confidence in the CFP Board’s certification process. It’s a major crisis. One veteran planner compared it to the 1982 Tylenol fiasco. It threatens the CFP mark and demands an effective crisis management response.
It also offers an opportunity.
Trust in finance is in short supply. Tiburon Strategic Advisors’ report last October said that three-quarters of consumers believe, “Madoff-type behavior is common among financial advisors and financial institutions.”
The Journal’s report found consumers won’t find on the CFP Board web site, “Any indication that thousands of the planners bearing the Board’s seal of approval have had customer complaints or faced criminal or regulatory problems – often directly related to their work with clients.”
Specifically, “More than 5,000 have faced formal complaints from their clients over investment recommendations of sales practices, and hundreds have been disciplined by financial regulators or left brokerage firms amid allegations of misconduct. At least 140 faced or currently face felony charges.”
The CFP Board replied, “In some cases the Wall Street Journal raises important issues, which we are addressing.” The Board, “relies heavily on self-disclosure, complaints from either clients or other CFPs and news scans … it will from now on look at FINRA and SEC records each time a CFP renews certification.”
The next day the CFP Board announced the formation of a task force to look at issues raised by the Journal concerning “enforcement of the CFP certification.” The task force will be chaired by former 17-year Texas Securities Commissioner, Denise Voight Crawford, who currently serves on the CFP board. CFP Board chair Susan John says the Board will provide the task force the resources it needs and Crawford, “will also have full authority to appoint members of the task force.”
This is an excellent start. Crawford is highly regarded among planning professionals for her securities enforcement expertise, independence and integrity.
An excellent start does not, however, ensure an excellent finish. That requires, among other things, adherence to clear base principles. Their execution requires experience and persistence. The slog can be complicated, difficult and unpleasant. Transparency, for example, is on the rise in the industry. Yet, it’s not a part of many corporate cultures, where increasing transparency is more like visiting the dentist.
The upside of adhering to base principles is huge. The CFP Board can enhance the value of its mark, win back the confidence of certificants and become a case study in crisis management, as did Johnson and Johnson in addressing the Tylenol crisis.
Here are three base criteria for starters.
The task force must be comprised of respected professionals, able to act independently and transparently.
Crawford has the latitude to appoint the people she wants and the respect to do what’s required. Her Texas toughness will help the task force act independently.
The task force must have ample time and resources to complete its task.
This means no artificial time restrictions that would limit the effectiveness of the task force. For example, establishing a process to capture FINRA complaints is necessary but insufficient. The task force mandate should include any issue that can damage the CFP brand. This includes the “supposed” fee-only planners who have related parties that receive commissions.
The task force must communicate with clarity, candor, consistency and humility.
Promotional communications must take a back seat to sober communications. The seriousness of a prudent process and a credible plan to remedy the breach of trust and move planning forward shows through.
Distrust of finance and advisors remains pervasive. The Journal’s report is a crisis that will harm the CFP mark if not effectively addressed. It’s also a unique opportunity to reset processes and perceptions. Task force deliberations and words will be closely watched. The upside is significant.
In The History of Financial Planning, authors Brandon and Welch put the birth of financial planning at a meeting of 11 men at O’Hare Airport on December 12, 1969. The task force, named the ”Crawford Commission,” could become a significantly positive force in 2019, just as the planning profession notes its 50th anniversary in December. Doing so would be “golden,” indeed.
The CFP Board’s survival rests with the CFP Board.