CFP exam sites close amid coronavirus pandemic

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Steps to arrest the rise of the coronavirus are postponing some financial planners’ career milestones.

CFP exam sites are shutting down midway through the day on March 17 — right in the middle of two rounds of scheduled test periods. The move, combined with selective closures on Monday, affects more than 100 people who were scheduled to sit for exams to earn the CFP marks, the industry’s most popular professional designation. It also potentially puts a crimp in the growth of certified financial planners.

CFP Board CEO Kevin Keller says candidates sitting for tests Tuesday morning likely will complete their exams, while an unknown number later in the day will not. The delays are caused by Prometric, which facilitates testing for the board, and is shutting down in-person testing centers as part of a global effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“We are trying to balance the health and safety of the candidates with their desire to complete the exam,” says Keller, noting that many people have been preparing to take it for between 18 and 36 months, or possibly longer.

As of Monday night, 2,112 candidates this year so far have completed the test. In his office at the board’s largely deserted Washington headquarters, Keller keeps a sign showing the current number of CFPs nationwide. It stood at 86,112, as of Tuesday.

Given the outbreak, it remains to be seen whether or not the board will hit its goal of having 89,000 CFPs by the end of the year. In 2019, 62% of people who took the exam passed, the board says.

For now, Prometric and the board are rescheduling this week’s test dates to July 7-14, according to Keller. Candidates whose tests are being rescheduled will not be charged a second time, according to Keller.

As of Monday night, 732 people were scheduled to have been tested at the start of this week, he said.

Of that number, 142 were unable to take tests yesterday because 19 test centers in areas of the country heavily affected by the virus, like Seattle, already had been closed, not by Parametric, but by local authorities there, Keller says.

A smaller, unknown number of candidates asked to reschedule out of concern for their own health; they will be accommodated at later dates.

While many companies are moving onto a virtual footing, Keller says the board is unlikely ever to allow people to take tests remotely, given that there are too many uncontrollable risks to ensuring the integrity of the process.

“Because of the high-stakes nature of our exam, it must be proctored. A person is on camera from the time they enter [the test room] and sit down,” he says of the six-hour test, which includes a half hour break.

The American College for Financial Services, where many people study in preparation to take the CFP exam, remains “fully operational,” according to a red banner alert on its website. However, it notes that the college will follow any guidance from local, state and federal authorities.

The CFP Board’s own headquarters moved onto a virtual footing last week, with most of its 70 employees working from home, in keeping with a continuity plan Keller says the board has long had in place. On Tuesday, just two colleagues worked in the offices alongside Keller — who lives four blocks away.

For the last test takers this week, the board and Prometric did allow them to take protections that otherwise would not be permitted.

“We allowed people to have face masks and rubber gloves when they came in,” Keller says, “but that was an [unusual] accommodation and a precaution.”

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