For most of that time, that work has fallen to Marilyn Mohrman-Gillis, the CFP Board's managing director of public policy and communication, who heads what she describes as a "lean and mean public-policy staff" of three full-time employees, including herself.
The CFP Board continually seeks to amplify its message to policymakers by joining with other, similarly focused groups to form a broader advocacy base. Those partnerships, together with the strategic counsel from a clutch of outside experts, have helped the board establish its presence in Washington, even with only a meager staff of three.
"When I started four years ago we had nothing," Mohrman-Gillis said in a recent interview. "We moved from Denver to Washington, D.C., and one of the strategic goals was to develop more of a public-policy presence in Washington, D.C., and get a seat at the table and speak with a clear voice on behalf of the public on these issues."
The CFP Board's advocacy work is shaped by its 501(c)(3) mandate, which charges the group with working in the public interest to maintain a high standard for competent and ethical financial planning. In the policy arena, that translates into support for stricter oversight of the industry on a variety of legislative and regulatory issues, including a uniform fiduciary standard for advisors and broker-dealers and a new regulatory program that would require financial planners to register with the SEC.
Much of the board's policy work comes under the aegis of the Financial Planning Coalition, an organization formed in January 2009 that includes the Financial Planning Association and the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, as well as the CFP Board. The groups banded together in the coalition in a bid to establish a unified voice for the financial-planning sector, working to distinguish and elevate the profession while ensuring fiduciary accountability and consistent regulation.
"A hallmark of what we do in public policy is we try to put together like-minded, aligned organizations on policy issues to strengthen the voice that we bring to the Hill or to the SEC or to wherever," Mohrman-Gillis said. "Relatively early on, looking at how do we speak to Congress and to regulatory agencies with one clear voice on behalf of the public related to financial-planning issues, we wanted to enlist the cooperation and collaboration of our partners at the Financial Planning Association and NAPFA."
On some issues, such as its work on expanding the fiduciary standard in a rulemaking process set in motion under the Dodd-Frank act, the CFP Board has a broader base of partner organizations, including the AARP, the Investment Adviser Association and the Consumer Federation of America.
The CFP Board also maintains the Public Policy Council, a group of 10 policy experts in various areas such as legal affairs, consumer issues and state-level securities regulation who, on a voluntary basis, meet in Washington four times a year to advise the board's leadership on its advocacy work.
"We use them because we want to make sure, again, that we're focused on policy that benefits the public, and so the Public Policy Council is broadly constructed to help us have that viewpoint," Mohrman-Gillis said.
In an effort to expand its message outside the Beltway, the CFP Board in October 2009 launched an online grass-roots action network, coinciding with the debut of its public policy Web page. On that page, the CFP Board will post call-outs to readers urging them to call or write their representatives to support or oppose a certain proposal, offering sample form letters that they can email directly from the site.
"Those are the people that we go to first when we want to have people weigh in on legislative or regulatory issues," Mohrman-Gillis said.
In addition to its work pressing the SEC to adopt a uniform fiduciary standard for advisors and broker-dealers, the CFP Board has also been making its voice heard at the Department of Labor, asking officials there to move ahead with a separate proceeding that would impose fiduciary responsibilities on investment professionals working with retirement plans under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).
Another controversial area where the CFP Board has been making its voice heard is in the debate over what organization should be responsible for examining investment advisors.
Two competing bills addressing that issue emerged this year in the House Financial Services Committee. One, authored by Chairman Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), would grant the SEC authority to name one or more self-regulatory organizations (SROs) to assume responsibility for auditing advisors. The other proposal, backed by Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), would permit the SEC to collect user fees from industry members to finance a more rigorous examination framework. The agency is currently responsible for overseeing advisors, but examinations are infrequent owing to a tight budget.