At FPA Denver, CFP Leadership Describes Consumer Branding Campaign

Public confusion over the term 'fiduciary' among reasons for outreach effort

Leaders of the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards met with the editorial staff of AdvisorOne on Monday to discuss the organization's national consumer advertising campaign. The plan is slated for presentation to the CFP Board of Directors for approval at their next meeting on Nov. 11.

“The genesis of the plan came from town hall meetings we held a few years ago,” said Robert J. Glovsky, the board’s chairman. “Because we are a 501(c)3 organization, we don’t technically have members, rather we have certificates. Because of that there is no real reason for us to go out and meet with them. So we came up with the town hall meeting as a way to get in front of them and listen to their concerns.”

What they heard, according to Glovsky, was that CPFs we’re very proud of what they had achieved and feel the certificate is important, but that their clients and the general public we’re largely unaware of its significance. So the organization embarked on the current plan. Even though it meant membership fees would rise in order to support the plan, their certificants were supportive

“When we moved to Washington a few years ago, we did so in order to have a seat at the table,” he says. “We just didn’t know how big a seat we would eventually have. We had a voice in the shaping of policy and now we want to get the word out to the public as to who we are and what we do.”

The organization engaged Westat, an outside research firm, to conduct an in-depth messaging study. The firm focused on demographics (the 27 million mass affluent cohort), but also on psychographics. What they found was that common characteristics of the mass affluent mindset did not vary by age or income level, and included the following:

  • Optimism
  • An appreciation of the “big picture”
  • The want control
  • They don’t want a paternalistic relationship, rather a collaboration
  • The want to plan, rather than need to plan

“We also had to figure out what message resonates most with the public,” said Kevin Keller, the organization’s CEO. “What we came up with is ‘A CFP is a comprehensive planner acting in your best interest.’ The ethical piece of our certificate is especially important.”

Not surprisingly, the public found the term “fiduciary” to be cold and legalistic. But terms like “suitability” and “good faith” resonated well.

“The term itself did not resonate well,” said Marilyn Mohrman-Gillis, the organization’s managing director of public policy. "But once the term was defined, they responded well to it.”

Keller added that once it was defined, 97% of the individuals surveyed said a fiduciary relationship was their preference.

Financial Reform

“We had the term ‘fiduciary’ in our standards long before the latest downturn, back to about 2002,” Glovsky said. “We had some push back because our certificants are from different areas of the industry. Some are from the insurance side, some are registered reps, but the majority receives commissions of some sort.”

Glovsky noted they had something similar to the tenets of the Dodd-Frank bill three years prior to the bill’s recent passage.

“We are pleased with the bill, as are our coalition partners,” Mohrman-Gillis said. “We had an impact on two significant issues. The first is that we were pleased by the compromise on the SEC rulemaking, and we wrote a strongly worded letter about how the upcoming SEC study on the subject should be conducted. The second issue is that we were able to get a Government Accountability Office study into the bill that looked at gaps in advisor regulation.”

“We proposed one unifying board that would set standards for competency,” Glovsky said. "We think, and have thought for a while, that advisors need to be regulated.”

Page 1 of 2
Single page view Reprints Discuss this story
This is where the comments go.