WASHINGTON -- More than two-thirds of all students who graduate from a higher-education program that grants a degree or certificate in financial planning do not sit for the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards exam, according to new research from the CFP Board.

Of the survey's more than 500 respondents -- financial planning students who had graduated between 2006 and 2011 -- about 69% said that they have not taken the CFP exam, while only 13.64% said that they have both passed the test and completed the other steps required to achieve CFP certification.

"To be frank," said CFP Board CEO Kevin Keller, the results of the survey "were very disappointing to us."

"I guess the question I would ask is: Are we doing everything we can to help our students make it through to graduation, sit for the exam and ultimately become certified?" Keller said at the board's annual registered program conference in Washington last week, where the research was unveiled.

As part of the analysis, the researchers pushed university faculty to embrace the concept of "aftercare" -- urging professors to not only offer support for students as they pass through the program, but also advocate for them to take the certification exam and help them land a position at a firm.


Mike Greene, a director of the CFP Board and a senior vice president at Ameriprise Financial, urged faculty members to lean on their students to sit for the CFP exam shortly after they complete their program. As more time passes, he pointed out, students are less likely to make the effort to get back up to speed and take the test.

"When they're in study mode, get them to take this exam," Greene said. "They will thank you later … It changes their professionalism. It changes how consumers see them."

When the researchers tried to follow up with graduates, to learn why so few had taken the exam, they got only a handful of responses. But the initial survey and the follow-up are only the first stages of a broader research endeavor, said Charles Chaffin -- the CFP Board's director of academic programs and initiatives and a co-author of the survey -- adding that the board is hoping to understand the anemic test rates and develop strategies for guiding more students through the CFP certification process.

"We are in a data-collection stage right now," Chaffin said.


Researchers also urged educators to help students understand the various career paths in the financial-planning sector, and steer them toward firms that value the CFP designation. "You need to be aware of which employers encourage CFP certification and which don't," Tom Warschauer, a professor of finance at San Diego State University and the survey's other co-author, told the educators in attendance. "I don't understand those that don't, ... but we don't want to work with them, frankly."

Such advocacy has a payoff for schools, he added: "If students believe that professional careers lie ahead, they are much more excited about joining your program."

Chaffin also stressed the importance of nurturing students throughout their education, pointing out that the decision to quit a program is usually permanent.

"If a student drops out of one of our programs, [and] was aspiring to be a CFP professional, they're not only dropping out of the institution, but they're likely dropping out of becoming a CFP forever," he said. "The likelihood of them going to another program and becoming a CFP is small. It happens, but it's rare. So we also have a stake in this, too."

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