Financial professionals who hold a certified financial planner (CFP) certification can expect to generate more revenue and enjoy higher levels of client satisfaction than their counterparts without the designation, a new study has found.
The report, commissioned by the CFP Board of Standards and conducted by the Aite Group, endeavored to quantify for the first time the effect that the certification can have on the health of an advisory practice and the quality of advice that clients receive.
"We've kind of known for years that CFP certification leads to higher quality advice," said Tom Crowder, the CFP Board's managing director for marketing and business development. But Crowder explained that the group had long relied on anecdotal accounts about the benefits of certification in its promotional campaigns and outreach efforts before deciding, "Let's quantify it" in commissioning the new study.
For its report, the Aite Group drew on data it collected from a variety of sources, including interviews with executives from leading brokerage firms and a survey of financial advisers conducted in March.
Taking the measure of investor sentiment, the researchers found 87% of clients who receive advice from a CFP-certified adviser said they were "satisfied" or "very satisfied," compared to 72% who felt the same way about their non-certified advisers. While both numbers indicate high levels of customer satisfaction, the difference is "statistically significant," Crowder said.
That elevated level of satisfaction predictably translates into increased revenues for CFP-certified professionals who work in solo practices or as part of a team of advisers, said Sophie Schmitt, a senior analyst with the Aite Group and author of the new report.
Sole practitioners with the CFP certification typically earned anywhere between 40% and 100% more than their counterparts without the credential, while team practices with a certified adviser on board netted an average of 30% more revenue than those without one, according to the study.
"For the firm," Schmitt said, "clearly more client satisfaction should lead to more revenue for the firm and the adviser, and it does."
In real dollars, the study found that CFP-certified advisers with fewer than 10 years of industry experience were twice as likely to earn more than $215,000 per year than those without the certification. Thirty-five percent of certified advisers with at least 10 years of experience earned at least that amount, compared to 23% of similarly tenured advisers without the certification.
The CFP certification proved particularly beneficial to advisers catering to high-net-worth clients. Those professionals said they tend to focus more on holistic financial planning than advising on one-off investment decisions.
"CFP professionals are in fact engaging their clients in more financial-planning relationships," Schmitt said, calling that approach a "more client-focused way of doing business than just jumping in and recommending products."
That focus also contributes to higher compensation rates, Schmitt added.
"Since they're very good at providing comprehensive financial planning," she said, "we also see that they're charging more of their clients for financial plans. So they're able to generate revenue from financial planning where a lot of advisers aren't."
The CFP certification also translated into stronger client-retention rates, the study found.
The CFP Board currently certifies roughly 67,000 financial professionals in the United States, boasting a membership that has grown 22% over the past five years.
For the board, which holds up its certification as the gold standard for financial advisers, the new study figures to further its mission evangelizing the value of the credential. All told, the survey revealed that about 20% of all financial advisers hold the CFP certification. A quarter of solo practitioners are CFP certified, but 71% of team practices have at least one adviser with the certification, and the CFP Board expects that figure to grow.
"Firms are increasingly seeing the value of certification and what that does for their client relationships," Crowder said. "We're seeing some firms ... baking CFP certification into their training programs, which is new."