The FPA is pushing its CFP brand hard. Simon Hoyle looks at what the association hopes to achieve, and how

If you are already a
Certified Financial Planner (CFP), then the future is yours. Or at least it
will be, if the Financial Planning Association of Australia (FPA) succeeds in a
new push to promote the brand.

And if you’re not a CFP, the message is clear:
become one as soon as you can.

If FPA
membership is what separates financial planners from the other 200,000 or so
financial product advisers in Australia, then being a CFP is the only thing
that really differentiates the cream of the crop from the mass of other
financial planners.

In February, the FPA appointed its first CFP Ambassador -
Rodney Lavin, a CFP based in Gippsland, Victoria. It’s the first time a CFP has
held such a role anywhere in the world. Lavin gained his CFP in 1995, making
him one of the first planners in the country to earn the title.

Over the coming year Lavin will give up a lot
of his time to promote and explain the benefits of being a CFP, and to
encourage his fellow CFPs to do likewise. He will become the public face of
CFPs in Australia during the term of his ambassadorship.

Jo-Anne Bloch, chief
executive of the FPA, says a CFP is “someone who has done a fairly rigorous
program of what we call the ‘four Es’ – ethics, experience, education, and
examination”.

“For us, there are so many financial product advisers out there -
200,000ish, as you know – and we’ve said before that the problem we face is
differentiation. Who is the consumer going to go to, [to] get trusted advice
from?” she says.

“We want all financial planners to be CFP professionals, and
we want consumers to know that if they go to get good, trusted professional
advice, they can go to a CFP professional.”

The organisation that licenses the
CFP mark in Australia is the Financial Planning Standards Board (FPSB), a body
based in the US that Corinna Dieters, a former chair of the FPA, will chair for
the next 12 months.

Noel Maye, chief executive officer of the FPSB, says the
board is “a non-profit, standards-setting organisation”.

“We have 23 member
organisations in 23 countries around the world, one of which is FPA Australia.
Each of our organisational members is a non-profit professional body that does
a certification program in a country.

“The role of the FPSB is to develop competency,
ethics and practice standards for the professional practice of financial
planning, and then for FPA Australia and its peer organisations to take that
global standard and to incorporate local laws, products, tax and [customs] so
that the CFP certification delivered in Australia is an Australian
certification that determines competency in this country. But it’s done on the
global platform.

“We have 126,000 CFP professionals around the world, and we’re
in 12 countries in Asia/Pacific, seven in Europe, South Africa, Brazil, Canada
and the United States, with a fair bit of interest coming to us from Europe,
South America and the Middle East.”

The FPSB has only one member organisation
per country or territory.

“It’s because when we bring on a [professional]
body, what we like to do is have them bring together the different strands,”
Maye says.

“Rather than saying, ‘We’ll be in banking’, or, ‘We’ll be in
insurance’, we want to say [that] whether you’re in banking or in insurance or
in broking or independent, you can come to the certifying body to sit the exam
and be certified to practise.”

Maye says the FPSB has two major issues to
tackle in 2010.

“One of the things the organisation is going to do is look at
our whole governance system,” he says.

“Right now, we have 23 individuals
sitting around a council table, we have a board of directors, we have various
regional forums – is that the right structure? There’s going to be a whole
re-look at making sure we have the right program in place to support growth
going forward.

“Another priority is going to be having a framework for
professionalism. We think it’s very important. If you look at medicine, if you
look at law [or] accounting, it isn’t just the individual professional. They
tend to work for firms that support professional practice, they tend to come
through educational institutions that have schools of medicine, schools of law,
and so forth. So we’re really looking at how do we put together all the
building blocks for a profession, so that we can then make sure that we’re
developing programs and tools for them as well.

“Those are the two large
priorities. But another one is working with the 23 affiliates. Late last year
we finished the first pass of global standards for education, exams,
experience, CPD [continuing professional development], ethics, practice and our
competency profile. We’re going to help in 2010 with the local application of
those.”

Dieters says Australia has significant representation on the FPSB
board, including Steve Helmich from AMP, ipac Securities co-founder Peeyush
Gupta, and “honorary Australian” Ian Johnston, previously with the Australian
Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC).

“That’s an interesting
perspective for us to have on the board as a standards-setter, because one of
the key things we do as a global standards-setter is engage with the regulators
around the world. Having somebody who comes with that regulatory perspective
onto the board is showing that we really do have that high level of engagement.

“And one thing you do have to remember is that whilst we have member countries
or organisations who deliver the program, we actually have a mission to serve
the end client of the financial planners as well. Standards are there for those
people practising financial planning, but they are there to service the
interests of the end user, being the client.”

A key element of Lavin’s role as
the first CFP Ambassador will be to harness the talent and enthusiasm of other
CFPs in promoting the brand.

“I see my
role as two parts. One is to [help] fellow CFPs out there, to understand the importance
of getting that qualification in the first place. I think we’ve undersold
ourselves up until now. I had a trip to America just prior to Christmas and I
was pleasantly surprised to see…it was a designation that people understood.

“I’m
also a Certified Practising Accountant [CPA], and I recall 25 years ago when
they introduced that brand here in Australia, it was brand new and they ran a
very good campaign on television and everyone wanted to become a CPA. But
consumers also knew that if they were going to a CPA they were not going to
your average accountant, they were going to someone who extended their
education, experience and knowledge.

“CFP is the same here in Australia. We’re
in the very early stages. We’ve got 5000 CFPs here … but there are many
[financial planners] who are not CFPs and they should want to go out of their
way to get the extra educational requirements, do the CFP 1 to 5, and engage
and want to become CFPs.

“The other side of the equation is consumers should
be seeking out someone who is a CFP, who is prepared to dedicate their time and
efforts to raise the standards. So essentially, it’s about creating a gold
standard – every consumer should want to deal with a CFP, and every planner
should want to be a CFP.”

Bloch says the FPA has a program aimed at consumers
and FPA members to support Lavin. He will make media appearances, and be put
forward by the FPA as a spokesperson on financial planning issues.

Lavin says
his commitment to the CFP program is significant.

“It’s like anything that
you’re prepared to be engaged in,” he says.

“If you’re prepared to put in the time, I’m
sure that in the long run I will be rewarded. My clients who know I’ve been
[made] ambassador are over the moon – so there’s upside to me in that. But
there are many parts of the FPA where people volunteer their time.

“I was one
of the original in the first few years to become a CFP. Back then there were
maybe 100 CFPs. Today we’ve got 5000. Maybe in 10 years from now it will be the
known designation. You’ve got to start somewhere, and the journey has begun.”

While
Lavin is the public face of CFPs and the “top-end” of the industry, the FPA’s
inaugural Blogstar, Kane Piper, continues to attract new student members to the
FPA. Bloch says the association’s student membership has doubled since the
Blogstar program started.

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