When Kevin Keller took the top spot at the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards in 2007, the organization, then based in Denver, was facing a crisis of confidence among many planners throughout the industry.
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.
Financial Planning: When you took the reins in May of 2007, you were the seventh CEO in seven years. Can you describe to me the state of the Board at that time and what you accepted as your mission?
Kevin Keller: Well I was the seventh either interim or full-time CEO, so there were full-time CEOs and interims in there, and at least in one case I think the interim lasted longer than one of the full-time CEOs. But I think the way I would describe CFP was an organization that had a real deficit in its trust bank with its certificant stakeholders. If you go back and read the news clips from that year, there had been a number of controversies and there was I think just a general state of distrust that existed when we arrived.
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 while we were going. That's what I found when I arrived.
Can you explain a little the origins of the deficit of trust when you arrived?
Keller: There had been a number of controversial issues over the previous decade -- issues about a potential new certification that CFP Board might offer. There had been controversy over how the organization had gone about changing its ethical standards. I just think there was a real mistrust that existed. I think those are two of the key issues.
After we got moved in 2007, the whole concept of reaching out and doing a better job of listening was a priority.
Coming from Denver, how was the transition from a very small, outside-the-Beltway group to setting up shop here and trying to claim a seat at the policy table?
Keller: Well, when you think about it, the labor supply in Washington to do the work of CFP Board was quite rich and quite deep. So in many ways, I think, it made more sense for CFP Board to be in Washington than it did in Denver. Having said that, CFP Board didn't have deep roots -- had done very little in fact -- in the public policy arena until that point. So the board of directors felt that being a 501(c)(3) organization that exists essentially for the public trust -- CFP Board does not exist to promote the common business interest of financial planners -- our mandate by the IRS is that we exist for the benefit of the public. And so, the board of directors felt CFP Board had a very important message that wasn't being heard in Washington. All the other trade groups have their [representatives in Washington]. So that was one of the primary reasons for the mandate to establish that public policy infrastructure.\