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CFP Board’s Keller: ‘We’re not just like FINRA’

ST. LOUIS — The CFP Board wants you to know it's different from FINRA. Very different.

The certifying organization is seeking to differentiate itself from industry regulators after a Wall Street Journal investigation revealed thousands of CFPs did not disclose regulatory incidents on the CFP Board's website. While the July article raised “relevant issues” about the review process, the board disagrees with much of the article's findings, according to CFP Board CEO Kevin Keller.

“We don't agree with the main premise … and that was the CFP Board is just like FINRA,” Keller told a room packed with a few hundred advisors at the XYPN Live conference. "We're not just like FINRA."

The July investigation by The Journal found that more than 6,300 CFPs claim they have clean records, but have some incident noted in their FINRA BrokerCheck profile. A separate investigation by Financial Planning in 2013 found hundreds of wirehouse advisors and CFPs were advertising themselves as "fee-only" in direct violation of the board's own rules.

To demonstrate the rigor of the CFP accreditation process, Keller cited thousands of applicants who start the education process every year and never finish, more than 3,000 applicants who fail the exam and 500 who never get the requisite experience to become certified.

Photo by Scott Wenger

The CFP Board says it only has authority over its own individual certificants and does not have the power to certify broker-dealers, investment advisory firms or other entities, according to its website. The board is a private non-profit with 70 employees, a single office and an operating budget of approximately $30 million. In contrast, FINRA has approximately 3,400 employees and more than 20 offices nationwide with an operating budget of more than $1 billion.

The most significant change to the board’s review process has been centered around self disclosure. Prior to the investigation, the board relied on self-disclosures to learn about any incidents or compliance issues from its applicants. The organization had the power to discipline members for making false or misleading statements and required the disclosure of all bankruptcies — but that oversight did not extend to regulatory filings.

Not anymore, Keller said.

Moving forward, all applicants' regulatory records will be independently verified by the board, which now works with attorneys to review documentation from the 85,000 CFPs nationwide, according to Keller.

The board also created an independent task force led by Denise Crawford, a consultant and former Texas Securities Commissioner and a public member of the group's board of directors. All recommendations are expected to be made public — and the board has asked Crawford to expedite the proceedings.

“The goal of the disciplinary process — and hopefully none of you ever get involved in it — is to be fair to the certificate and credible to the public,” Keller said.

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