This is Eleanor Blayney’s first appearance on the IA 25. Click here to view the complete list and Special Report schedule for extended profiles for each of the 2013 IA 25 honorees.
Eleanor Blayney started in the financial industry as a “Beltway bandit,” she said, working with a consulting firm on projects for the EPA.
“It was a good career and I was doing very well and was paid very well, but I hated it. I wasn’t enjoying having the government as a client. I couldn’t make eye contact with the government.”
It’s not surprising then that Blayney should have ended up as the Consumer Advocate for the CFP Board, a role that puts her directly in front of consumers as a representative for the financial services industry at large.
She took that role at the beginning of 2009, after several months of discussions with CFP Board CEO Kevin Keller to develop the position, before the “true meltdown” took place.
“It was almost coincidence that the position that we thought about in the middle of 2008 was more needed than ever,” she said. “We both acknowledged that Americans needed to understand more about the financial planning process and needed to understand more about the CFP designation and exactly what went into it.”
In her five years at the CFP Board, Blayney has spent her time trying to reach out to consumers. “Many times, what’s needed is to make all of the complexity of personal finance more accessible, give it a human dimension,” she said.
A major challenge for “any advisor left standing in the last five or six years” is the double-tap of the market crash and consumers’ subsequent loss of trust in financial planners.
“Five years ago we suffered what was a very large blow to the system,” Blayney said. “The financial structure of our country was pretty wobbly. It was very difficult to see clients that many of us have worked with for years, those who were on the brink of retirement, to see the ground shake beneath them. Unfortunately with the Madoff scandal and the Stanford scandal, consumers’ trust was shaken, but they didn’t understand exactly how our industry works and who was out there to help them.”
However, advisors rose to the challenge and are reaping the benefits. “I witnessed many advisors working harder than ever, doing more work for clients, doing more financial planning. It was a time when we really earned our mettle,” Blayney said of the period immediately after the crash. “I am seeing that those advisors who are truly developing a comprehensive relationship with their clients, who are bringing to the table true financial planning and not just pure investment management, are developing that more holistic relationship that engenders trust.”
Blayney has authored two consumer guides for the CFP Board, one in 2011, "The Consumer Guide to Financial Self-Defense," and one aimed at older investors, "Financial Self-Defense for Seniors," which was released in March 2013. “Both guides, each targeted to different audiences, seek to help consumers be alert to fraudulent or unethical practices on the part of financial advisors, and to provide guidance for spotting, reporting and avoiding financial abuse,” Blayney said. “I believe it is so important that investors and consumers have this information, in order to protect their financial resources and make better decisions.”
Over the next several months, CFP Board will launch an initiative focused on women to bring them into the profession, Blayney said.
Although everyone in the industry is aware of the larger role women play as consumers of financial planning, Blayney said, “I’m absolutely convinced that the way to build a loyal and productive relationship with female clients is to have more women leaders in the profession.”
To that end, the CFP Board is looking at its own data to understand trends regarding female professionals as well as looking beyond the certification at “where are they going in the industry and what are they doing.” A panel of individuals, both in the financial services industry and outside of it, are contributing to the research.
“Every player in the financial services industry is trying to suit themselves up to woo women more effectively. That’s a good thing, but it has to be authentic. It has to be not a sales initiative, but a true revision of the way we approach women.”