One of the first things Keller did was move the group to Washington. When he set up shop in the capital, his staff numbered only five; the CFP Board now has about 60 employees. Meanwhile, the number of certificants has soared, and the organization is actively engaged in the policy debates shaping the industry's regulatory landscape.
In an interview with Financial Planning, Keller talks about how the organization has revamped, where it's going, and how it hopes to further the professional stature of the financial planning industry. (Highlights of the conversation follow; a longer version of the interview can be found at financial-planning.com.)
When you took the reins in May 2007, you were the seventh CEO in seven years. What was the state of the board at that time?
The CFP Board then was an organization that had a real deficit in its trust bank with its certificant stakeholders. There had been a number of controversial issues over the previous decade - issues about a potential new certification that CFP Board might offer, controversy over how the organization had gone about changing its ethical standards. There was real mistrust.
The mandate that I was given was to move the organization from Denver to D.C., get the office set up and develop a public policy infrastructure, keeping it running the whole time. After we moved in 2007, the whole concept of reaching out and doing a better job of listening was a priority.
The CFP Board didn't have deep roots in the public policy arena - it had done very little, in fact, until that point. But the board of directors felt the CFP Board had a very important message that wasn't being heard in Washington.
Last April, you launched a four-year public-awareness campaign to raise the profile of the CFP professional. What is the goal?
One of the first things we did [after I started] was start going out and talking to CFP certificants in town hall meetings. And what people told us was that they wanted more awareness of the CFP certification. It was surprisingly consistent from city to city: "I've worked really hard to earn my CFP certification. I feel good that I've accomplished the task. I feel like I can provide my clients better service. I just wish more people knew about it."
The primary objective of the campaign is to increase awareness of CFP certification among the public.
Some critics say the $40 million ad blitz isn't worth the higher fees. How do you respond?
Well, we think the additional $145 a year is a small price. Our retention rate - the percentage of people who are invoiced and pay on an annual basis - is 96% to 97%.
Since I arrived, we've grown from about 54,000 to almost 67,000. We're up 22% in five years. Think about that: In the toughest economy in three generations, we've grown the number of CFP certificants over that period. I think that speaks to the value perceived.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions about the CFP credential?
If there's one misconception that I'd like to address, it's how hard it is to become certified. It's certainly not easy. But I believe in some ways the folks who already have become certified perpetuate the mystique about how difficult it is.
There are things we could do. A lot of people enter the educational program and never even sit for the exam. We could help them through the process.
How would you approach that?
We're still looking at ways [to help] once people enter the pipeline - from when they first request information about becoming certified until we get them out the other end, where they've passed the exam. We're seeking to define the pipeline, help more people get out the other end and work with the Financial Planning Association and NAPFA and other organizations to provide a more clearly defined career path.
Since the fiduciary requirement was adopted in July 2008, how has enforcement changed?
It has changed the way our enforcement team looks at cases. The fiduciary standard applies when a certificant is providing financial planning services or material elements of the financial planning process. And so in the enforcement process, [our] disciplinary and ethics commission has to determine whether they were actually providing financial planning services or not.