It didn't help that when Keller arrived, the organization was on its seventh CEO in as many years.
Now, nearly five years after relocating to Washington with a staff of just five, the CFP Board now carries an employee count of about 60, the number of certificants has soared, and the organization is actively engaged in the policy debates that figure to shape the regulatory landscape of the industry.
In an exclusive interview with Financial Planning, Keller talks about how far the organization has come, where it's going, and how it plans to further the professional stature of the financial-planning industry.
Read Part One of this interview, CFP Board’s CEO Discusses Group’s Continuing Evolution
Financial Planning: What are your biggest public policy priorities heading into 2013?
Keller: As we look ahead we would point out a couple areas. One we've been working on is a fiduciary standard for broker-dealers. We continue to work in the area of investment advisor oversight. And one of the real priorities of the Financial Planning Coalition and built right into our work that we do with the Financial Planning Association and NAPFA (the National Association of Personal Financial Planners) continues to be the regulation and recognition of financial planning as a profession.
Turning to your marketing campaign, last April, you launched a four-year, multichannel public-awareness campaign to raise the profile of the CFP professional. Is that campaign entirely an effort to educate the public about the credential itself and to draw a contrast between the advisors who have it and those that don't, or is it also serving as something of a recruitment tool for your own organization in an effort to bring more financial professionals into the fold?
Keller: I'm not sure if it's an either/or, but maybe if we take a step back. Remember I said there was a deficit in the trust bank? One of the first things we did was start going out and talking to CPF certificants in town-hall meetings, and so the origin of the campaign came from the certificant community. And what they told us when we went out on the road was that they wanted more awareness of CFP certification. And the conversations would come up organically, kind of in a free-form, town-hall-style meeting. 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." And then they'd say, "I just wish more people knew about it." And so there was a real clamoring for CFP certification [awareness].
The primary objective of the campaign is to increase awareness of CFP certification among the public. To your question, though, to be direct, is it designed to recruit? I think that we would suggest that with nearly 67,000 CFP professionals, and a mission that is large -- of benefiting the public -- 67,000 is not enough to serve the public. And so we think that in order to achieve that mission we need more CFP professionals. That is not the primary mission of the campaign, but interest in CFP certification has increased noticeably since the campaign launched.
As you are certainly aware, there are some critics that have received the certification and pay the annual certificate fees and complained that the ad blitz isn't worth the increase in fees. How would you respond?
Keller: Well, the additional $145 a year -- that's what folks are paying -- we think is a small price. And that $145 would not go very far if it was just one person. But 67,000 people coming together spending $145 makes a big difference. The data point I will share with you is that our retention rate, in other words the percentage of people who are invoiced and pay on an annual basis, is 96 to 97%. We knew from the initial research that we did that there were 3 to 5% of the folks who would be opposed. We understand that. But the board of directors felt that for financial planning in general and CFP certification to become more well known, that this was a modest additional fee to help achieve that effort.