Are more CFPs women? Depends on how you look at it

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The number of advisors with CFP certifications surged past 80,000 in 2017, including a record number of women. Yet this landmark failed to budge the overall percentage of women CFPs and illustrated the broader challenges of diversifying the field.

A high-water mark of 1,250 women became CFPs last year, bringing the total number to 18,578, which the board hails as evidence of progress in its ongoing efforts to promote diversity. Still, women's representation among CFPs held steady at 23%, unchanged since at least 2014.

"While we are proud that the ranks of CFP professionals continues to increase, we know that more can be done to encourage young people, women and people of color to join this great profession," said CFP Board CEO Kevin Keller in a statement.

Keller calls CFP certification "the must-have designation for those providing financial advice."

Since early in Keller's decade-long tenure, the board has worked aggressively to promote CFP certification as a guarantor of an advisor's qualifications and integrity. Through marketing campaigns in TV, print and online, as well as outreach initiatives, the board has sought to set the CFP credential apart from the galaxy of other professional designations that advisors place on their business cards. Industry and government officials dismiss many of these other credentials as essentially meaningless.

The CFP Board says that the total number of CFP-mark holding advisors has risen 43% since 2007, when Keller took the reins at the organization.

The CFP Board has come under fire from some critics who say the board has increased its certification numbers by promoting its credential to advisors who work in commission models at large corporations like wirehouses, and who can be exempted from the board's fiduciary requirement. The board has a pending proposal to tighten the ethical standards for CFP designees that would require CFP advisors to act as fiduciaries in all their interactions with clients.

The growth in CFP certifications has come amid a prevailing shift toward a more holistic advisory service model, a trend some observers say has accelerated following the advent of the Department of Labor's fiduciary rule in 2016.

Lisa Graham, product manager at eMoney, said in a recent interview that her firm, which offers advisors wealth management technology, has been inundated by calls from advisors looking for software to support their transition to a financial planning practice.

When the DoL announced last year that it was putting a hold on the second (and more controversial) part of that rule, those calls fell off, but by that time it was already clear that the regulation had made an impact on the industry.

"When the second part was delayed, the volume decreased, but at that point, many of our customer firms and prospects said we are making a commitment to planning at this point, regardless," Graham says.

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CFPs Gender issues Diversity and equality Fiduciary standard Holistic financial planning RIAs Kevin Keller CFP Board FPA eMoney