By its own measure, brand awareness for the certified financial planner designation is increasing, according to the CFP Board. Meanwhile, the board says the quality of CFP continuing education material is in need of an upgrade. 

Results to date for the CFP Board’s public awareness campaign have “far exceeded initial expectations,” Board CEO Kevin Keller said at the organization’s business update webinar on Friday.  

The campaign has doubled “unaided awareness” about the CFP designation among its primary target, “mass affluent initiators,” to 34% this year from 17% in 2011, according to a brand tracking study. Keller defined the target market as both demographic and psychographic cohorts:  mass affluent individuals age 35-64 who are also “people who trust experts and like to work in teams.”  

Campaign ads for the past year have featured extreme sports enthusiasts who are shown engaged in risky activities, but say they don’t take similar risks when it comes to their finances. In addition to print, ads have also run on radio, television and online.

The “most exciting” result of the study was that it showed how well the CFP designation stacked up against other professional brands, Keller said. More than two-thirds of the target market agreed that “people should insist their financial planner hold” the CFP designation, according to the study, compared to 49% for the certified public accountant designation and 34% for the certified financial analyst designation. 

SKEPTICISM REMAINS

Nonetheless, the fact that $145 of a designee's annual $325 recertification fee goes towards the campaign has remained a sour spot for many advisors.

"If I wanted a marketing campaign, I would hire a marketing firm," Mark Walton, a CFP and benefits plan consultant at Alvarez & Marsal told Financial Planning earlier this year. "To me, it doesn't do a lot of good."

Results of the tracking study should be taken with a grain of salt, says April Rudin, founder and president of The Rudin Group, a Fort Lee, N.J.-based  financial services marketing firm.

"Branding initiatives are critical today, and the CFP Board should be applauded for its effort," Rudin says. "But it's really difficult to assess the effectiveness of a national campaign on a local level. Yes, you can measure awareness nationally, but does it translate down to new business for advisors locally? This kind of effort requires sustained marketing and sustained outreach. Ideally, advisors have to leverage it with their own local marketing campaign. It takes time, effort and money and won't happen overnight."

 This year's campaign will focus more on broadcast spots on cable television, Keller said at the webinar.

CONTINUING ED UPGRADE

The CFP Board will also be focusing on “quality improvement” of what Richard Rojeck, the 2015 Board of Directors’ chair, described as “crappy” continuing education programs. 

The multi-year initiative will be phased in next month with new requirements for CE program registration with the CFP Board. There will also be a "Find a CE Program” tool on the Board’s website and mechanism for CFP professionals to provide feedback on program quality.  

The Department of Labor’s proposed fiduciary rule was also high on the CFP Board’s agenda. 

FIDUCIARY RULE CONCERNS

Although the proposal was “very strong,” the Board did have some concerns, Rojeck said. 

The proposed disclosure and reporting obligations are “too onerous and costly,” Rojeck said, and the Board will recommend ways to reduce the requirements “without compromising the disclosures needed by retirement investors.” 

In addition the CFP Board felt the proposed timeline for the rule's implementation in eight-months “is not sufficient for advisors and their firms to establish policies and procedures.”  

The Board plans to recommend a “phased-in approach for implementation and enforcement,” in a comment letter it will submit as part of the Financial Planning Coalition, also made up of the Financial Planning Association and NAPFA. 

The DoL, Rojeck said, is especially interested in industry input on how to “operationalize” the proposed rule. 

Read More: