Tuesday, March 3, 2020

A Disappointing Move by the CFP Board with its "Find a CFP Professional" Search Function, as It Ends Transparency On the Method of the Advisor's Compensation

Mark Schoeff, Jr. of InvestmentNews reported on March 3, 2020:

The Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. has removed descriptions of how advisers are compensated from the profiles of CFP certificants on a website designed to help consumers select an adviser, the organization said in an email sent Monday to CFPs.

The CFP Board scrubbed from the Find Your CFP Professional search function on its letsmakeaplan.org website references to how CFPs are paid.

“The three compensation method categories previously provided by the search tool – Commission-only, Commission and Fee and Fee-Only – were broad enough to capture the various compensation methods financial planners use today, but not very specific or helpful to consumers,” the CFP Board said in a letter to certificants Monday. “We believe the best way for consumers to select their financial advisor is to have a conversation with their prospective advisor.”

Wow.

Not helpful to consumers? - I DISAGREE.

Best way to select a financial advisor is to have a conversation? - I DISAGREE. Screening of financial advisors is a prerequisite, and - the fact of the matter is - many, many consumers screen for fee-only financial planners.

I am absolutely astonished that the CFP Board undertook this move. Consumers should be equipped with basic information of how financial advisors they search for are compensated. There can be a huge distinction between commissioned-based advisors and fee-only advisors, in terms of how the fiduciary duty of loyalty to a client is best observed. And increasingly consumers are aware that special - and often troubling - conflicts arise for those who hold out as commission-and-fee advisors.

Many financial advisors today, including CFPs, call themselves "fiduciaries" but still possess conflicts of interest that are often not properly managed. Consumers should search for CFPs who eschew, rather than simply disclose, conflicts of interest.

In an era of calls for increased transparency in financial services, it is hard to understand how and why this decision was reached. The CFP Board's "Find a CFP Professional" web site for consumers no longer should be viewed by consumers as a worthwhile trek.

The fact of the matter is - despite the CFP Board's "compensation neutral" stance, conflicts of interest matter. Economic incentives drive behavior. The CFP Board should encourage the decades-long movement away from product sales, and toward direct client-to-advisor compensation methods, rather than take an action that will slow down this movement. I now question the CFP Board's leadership in moving toward a future in which all financial planners can be trusted advisors to their clients.

As a result of the CFP Board's action, consumers should instead use search tools for fee-only financial advisors, such as those provided by NAPFA, X-Y Planning Network, Alliance of Comprehensive Planners, and Garrett Planning Network. While the Certified FInancial Planner certification demonstrates the attainment of a foundation of knowledge essential to provide financial advice, it is questionable whether CFP's are required to be transparent as to both the method and amount of their firm's compensation.

I urge the CFP Board to reverse this decision. Financial services should move toward increased disclosure of the method of compensation, and the amount of compensation - as well as the avoidance of conflicts of interest where possible. This move by the CFP Board is, simply put, a ill-advised step in the wrong direction.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing your perspective, Ron. Consumers do need to understand the advisor's method and amount of compensation. Of course, there are other factors to consider when evaluating a professional advisor such as education, experience, business model, competency, reputation, regulatory dings, personality, fit, stability and business continuity likelihood, services, location, and so forth. As a consumer of personal financial planning and investment management services myself, these are the factors that my husband and I used to screen our past and current professional teams. We did want the advisor to be a CFP, of course, to check off one of the professional education boxes on our list. I would also add to your list above that www.FeeOnlyNetwork.com is a great place to find a commission-free advisor. Only ACP, GNP, XYPN and NAPFA members are listed on the FeeOnlyNetwork.com directory but the point I am making here is that is it a consolidated directory of the largest commission-free networks. I appreciate your candor and willingness to speak up publicly. ~ Marie Swift, Impact Communications, Inc.

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