CFP Board Says New Ads, Exam Format Part of Membership Push

Board wants to add 12,000 CFPs; computer tests ‘hopefully will encourage more people to sit for the exam,’ says Keller

An image for the CFP Board's ad campaign. An image for the CFP Board's ad campaign.

Recognizing the success of the first stage of its public awareness campaign, the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards just launched the campaign’s next phase, which focuses on “the importance of seeking a CFP,” says Ray Ferrara, chairman of CFP Board’s board of directors for 2014.

Indeed, growth in the number of CFP certificants “is very important,” particularly considering the “huge wave of boomers that are coming into retirement and needing services of financial professionals,” as well as to help replace those advisors exiting the business, Ferrara told ThinkAdvisor on Wednesday.

When CFP Board started the campaign in April 2011, the CFP Board set a goal of reaching 81,000 certificants over a five-year period, “and we’re one year in; we need to add roughly 12,000 more over the next four years.” The current number of CFPs stands at 69,000, a 25% boost since the financial crisis hit in 2007.

Kevin Keller, CFP Board’s CEO, added during the interview with ThinkAdvisor that the campaign’s five-year goal was to raise awareness of the CFP credential by 4%. “We more than met that in the first year,” Keller said, and “our retention rate of CFP certificants has gone up” since launching the campaign, despite the fact that CFPs’ annual certification fees were raised by $145 in July 2011 to help support the ongoing campaign.

The campaign is costing $10 million annually.

The new awareness campaign will capitalize on the concept that the CFP credential is the highest standard. That’s not only “compelling, but it’s the truth,” Keller said. “The truth makes for a strong brand.”

The campaign includes both print and online ads as well as a reality TV spot depicting a faux CFP (who’s actually a DJ) at a fictional firm interviewing potential clients — all of whom are impressed by his apparent knowledge of financial planning. “Would you trust me as your financial planner?” the actor asks. The potential client responds: “Yes, I would.”

The campaign targets those with investable assets from $100,000 to $1 million.

CFP Board is also hoping that its new computerized exam structure — which will take six hours instead of 10 and has fewer questions — will help boost the number of exam takers. “The new computer-based testing format provides greater access for candidates to take the exam,” Keller said. “Hopefully the additional access will encourage more people to not only sit for the exam but ultimately obtain the CFP certification.”

Computerized exams will start in the November exam period. There will be five available test dates per period instead of three, and the number of test sites will be expanded.

There is depate among CFPs over whether the CFP Board was making the exam easier by shortening its duration and number of questions. But Ferrara maintains that the shortened exams will not be easier. “The fact that you’ll be able to [take the exam] in less time doesn’t mean it’s any less rigorous.” Those “involved in [developing the] testing would say it’s equal to or more difficult” to the previous 10-hour exam.

Ferrara noted the CFP Board’s consistency in raising its standards for those who hold the credential. In 2007 the Board “changed our rules of conduct, then added the concept of fiduciary to our rules, and from that we upgraded … the requirement that [CFPs] have a college education.”

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