The long congenial relationship between the educational program providers of the “Certified Financial Planner” designation and the CFP Board of Standards is showing signs of strain. Sources contacted by National Underwriter say issues ranging from staff layoffs to a planned review of educational requirements are heightening concerns among program directors about the future of the CFP mark.
Particularly upsetting, observers say, is the perceived breakdown in collaboration among players that have a vested interest in the professional designation.
“Going forward, [the CFP Board] has to solicit feedback from the program directors so they feel like they’re being heard,” says Tony Macari, an assistant dean of business and legal studies at New York University, New York. “The message is clear: Communications need to be improved.”
Somnath Basu, a professor and CFP program director at California Lutheran University, Thousand Oaks, Calif., agrees, adding: “There is too much division among the various stakeholders. This is a time to unite, not divide. We need to figure out how to strengthen each other.”
The rift between the CFP Board and the educational program directors became evident during the annual program directors conference in August. Participants say CFP Board CEO Sarah Teslik failed to communicate a vision for the organization during her brief opening remarks. Some describe her manner during the gathering as “distant,” “uncommunicative” and “arrogant.”
Equally distressing for the program directors are the employee cutbacks the board has undertaken. Since becoming CEO in 2004, Teslik has more than halved the board staff, reducing its full-time contingent from 72 to 28 employees.
Among those downsized: David Livran. The former director of examination received his pink slip just days after the conference, during which he detailed new educational topics resulting from a 2004 job analysis survey of CFP practitioners.
In an interview with National Underwriter, Teslik justifies some of the job eliminations by noting the services of affected employees were rendered unnecessary. The CFP Board, she says, was using technology that “largely erased the need” for people employed in three externally focused departments, plus their support staffs.
Further necessitating the personnel changes, she contends, was a projected deficit for 2005 (the board now anticipates a surplus); and the fact that the organization, though “generously staffed” compared with other non-governmental, certifying bodies, was not fully realizing its public mission.
“If we’re going to be a world-class board, then everyone has to be 90% or better of what a star employee is,” said Teslik. “In exchange for superior pay and benefits, we want people who are stars.”
Since the layoffs, Teslik has recruited two people, including a new director of examination, and anticipates hiring another 5 individuals next year. All key functions, she says, are now adequately staffed.
Some program directors, however, remain unconvinced.
“She [Teslik] came to the CFP Board and fired some of the most competent and beloved figures,” says Rosilyn Overton, an assistant professor and graduate coordinator for the Master of Science in Finance and Professional Financial Planning program at New Jersey City University, Jersey City, N.J. “No other people were more committed or more knowledgeable.
“What happened at the CFP Board is what often happens when a new CEO takes over an organization,” adds Overton. “They get rid of people who can challenge them.”
Teslik disputes this assertion, observing that she is receptive to others’ suggestions and has, in fact, implemented many staff proposals. What critics actually found disconcerting, she argues, was the shift from a culture wherein no decisions were made unless everyone on the board agreed to them.
“If you only have to hold an exam three times per year, then you can get away with this,” says Teslik. “But if you want to be effective and do more things, then there are times when management needs to say, ‘yes, I’ve listened, but we’re going to do X.’”