On the heels of the Financial Planning Standards Board's semi-annual meeting in Washington, D.C., top leaders of the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards offered an update on the group's agenda, which remains dominated by policy advocacy and an ambitious public awareness campaign.
On the policy front, the group is working to make its voice heard in the nation's capital regarding many still-unsettled provisions of the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory reform bill enacted last year.
"Congress and regulators continue to debate how to implement the Dodd-Frank law, and certain provisions of Dodd-Frank have great potential to impact the financial planning community in the United States," said Chuck Moran, chairman of the CFP Board's board of directors.
Chief among these is the reassessment of the fiduciary responsibility standard currently underway at the Securities and Exchange Commission. Working under the umbrella of the Financial Planning Coalition, the CFP Board has been championing a unified fiduciary standard that would apply in equal measure to all financial professionals providing personal advice to retail clients.
In June, the Financial Planning Coalition delivered a petition signed by more than 5,200 financial planning professionals calling on the agency to even out its regulatory oversight with a unified standard, but Moran acknowledged that the process is not proceeding as quickly as the group would like. http://www.cfp.net/downloads/FPC_Letter_Petition_to_SEC_06-23-11.pdf
"While we've been urging the SEC to get started with the fiduciary rulemaking, it now appears that it will be pushed off until next year," he said.
Among the reasons for the holdup is the SEC's uncertainty over how to conduct a reliable cost-benefit analysis of the impact of a uniform standard, an area where the CFP Board and its allies in the Financial Planning Coalition are hoping to contribute.
In another fiduciary matter, the CFB Board is pressing the Department of Labor to expand the application of the standard to plan participants and beneficiaries under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.
The organization is also making its voice heard in the noisy debate over where regulatory oversight of investment advisors should properly be housed. The CFP Board is firmly in the camp that IAs should be regulated by the SEC, rather than FINRA or some other self-regulatory organization. FINRA, for its part, is pressing for oversight over the segment.
That has trained the CFP Board's advocacy guns against a discussion draft of a bill circulated by Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, that would designate one or more SROs with oversight over the advisors. That proposal may see a quick ride through the Republican-controlled House, but would likely face a tougher slog should it make it to the upper chamber.
"We anticipate that a revised version of the discussion draft will be introduced in Congress, and it will go through the committee markup process, and will be reported out of the committee. It may even be voted on by the House this session," Moran said. "However, given the current political climate, it is very unlikely that it will pass the Senate," he added, while allowing that he is constitutionally reluctant to make predictions about the whims of Congress.
"That's our best judgment at this point, so it's far from a done deal, and we're continuing to advocate for SEC oversight," Moran said.
But the CFP Board's leaders were quick to assure members that their focus is broader than just Washington inside baseball, emphasizing their marketing and outreach efforts to boost the profile of the certified financial planning profession.
"Just as we've been able to achieve success in the public policy arena by joining with like-minded organizations, we've also been collaborating in the area of public outreach," said CFB Board CEO Kevin Keller.
That work includes a major four-year marketing blitz centered around the "Let's Make a Plan" website. Launched in April, the campaign has included print, online, television and, most recently, radio ads positioning certified financial planners as delivering a comprehensive range of services and acting in their clients' best interests, suggesting that other strains of financial professionals might not be so scrupulous. The group is also encouraging members to take advantage of a toolkit to spread elements of the campaign to local media in their communities and through their practices' websites.
"We hope that all CFP professionals will help us to extend the reach of the campaign," said Alan Goldfarb, who will succeed Moran as chair of the CFP Board's board of directors next year. "Our advertising dollars are focused on national outlets, but there's [so] many people in the community that can help share the campaign through their local communities and their local outlets."
Additionally, the organization recently concluded its second annual "Financial Planning Days" campaign, a sweeping outreach effort that saw financial planners organize events in cities around the country to offer one-on-one meetings with consumers and workshops in a low-pressure environment. (The CFB Board does not even permit planners to hand out business cards at these events.) Financial Planning Days organized events in 31 cities this year, up from 20 last year.
And while the Let's Make a Plan campaign is geared toward high-end, affluent investors, the Financial Planning Days events seek to attract more modest consumers generally considered underserved by the financial advisory industry.
"For many of these folks it was the first exposure they had ever had to a financial planner," Keller said.