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Editor's Letter: May 2014

Editor's Letter: May 2014

The CFP Responds

Recently, REP.s’ online domain surveyed over 300 Certified Financial Planners to ask their opinion on the value of the CFP designation in the wake of recent fee-disclosure controversies as well as a $40 million “awareness” campaign. The answers to that survey can be found in managing editor Diana Britton’s story here.

Soon after appearing online, the Board asked for room to print a response. Given our role to facilitate conversation among industry stakeholders, we agreed. Here, excerpted for space, is the letter from Marilyn Mohrman-Gillis, the Managing Director of Public Policy and Communications
at the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, followed by our response. The full text of both can be found on

A recent article does not provide an objective or balanced report on the attitudes of CFP® professionals or CFP Board. The article seems to be an attempt to justify Wealth Management’s pre-determined viewpoints by using an unrepresentative “survey” full of leading and biased questions.

Survey questions were constructed using wording with negative connotations to prompt responses to support Wealth Management’s editorial perspective. Further, the survey response rate – 321 in total, which accounts for only 0.8 percent of the sample – cannot confidently be considered statistically significant or representative of the more than 69,000 CFP® professionals.

Moreover, the article reports the data in a biased manner.  While the article would have readers believe that CFP® professionals are concerned about the value of their certification or the direction of the organization, the preponderance of the results is actually supportive.  For example, nearly 72 percent believe having the CFP® certification helps them in attracting clients; 68 percent do not believe the value of the certification has experienced any negative effects in the eyes of clients and prospects; and more than 70 percent have not changed their opinion about the CFP® certification recently. 

Our most recent survey, conducted less than a year ago by Fondulas Strategic Research, utilized a statistically significant random sample of our 69,000 CFP® professionals. Here’s what we found:  91 percent of CFP® professionals are very satisfied with their career choice and would recommend CFP® certification to other financial professionals; and 92 percent of CFP® professionals are very satisfied with their decision to pursue CFP® certification.  Another strong indication that CFP® professionals recognize the benefits of CFP® certification and the work of CFP Board is our 97 percent retention rate for 2013.

Wealth Management’s survey also asked the wrong question related to CFP Board’s Public Awareness Campaign. The campaign’s central goals are to raise awareness of and preference for the CFP® certification and the benefits of working with a Certified Financial Planner™ professional – not to generate business for CFP® professionals as suggested by the survey. 

The CFP® certification has never been stronger, thanks to the work and dedication of the thousands of CFP® professionals who abide by our high standards. We are proud to work with them on behalf of the American public and the financial planning profession.

And my response;

We appreciate Marilyn Mohram-Gillis’ response to our survey, but take issue with the main thrust of her argument that we entered into the survey without objectivity or balance.

Our respondents agreed to take the online survey before seeing any of the questions, so there was no self-selection among disgruntled advisors skewing the results, as the CFP Board contends.

Our polls are meant to capture a snapshot of sentiment, not rise to the level of dissertation-worthy research; still, a response rate of 321 out of a 40,000 sample, for a population of 69,000, yields a sampling error of five percent (at a 95 percent confidence level,) slightly higher than the Board’s 2013 survey of 803 respondents with a sampling error of 3.5 percent. Also worth noting is that the Board’s previous 2011 survey had 297 responses and a sampling error that matched ours. Presumably the Board still endorses that survey’s findings.

The Board uses our findings to point out the fact that the majority of respondents do not think negatively of the CFP Board or the value of the designation. That is true, and we reported it. But we think it noteworthy that a significant minority does feel the credibility of the organization has taken a hit.

As for the public awareness campaign, the Board suggests “asked the wrong question.” The campaign was not meant to generate business for CFP professionals, the Board says; instead, it was to highlight the “benefits of working with a Certified Financial Planner.” The difference is lost on us.

We appreciate and support the high standards the CFP Board brings to the industry, and the spirit and intent of its mission. Still, the Board’s refusal to recognize problems doesn’t bode well for the future of an organization that continues to play a vital role in creating a cohesive profession out of a rapidly maturing industry.

David Armstrong


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