It is said that the Certified Financial Planner designation is becoming the industry standard. More and more consumers are seeking advisors who are certified, who have been through rigorous testing, and who work and live by a code of ethics and standards. The CFP certification is like the Ph.D. of financial planning. It can help you stand out of the crowd and set you apart from other advisors.

But becoming a CFP is no easy task. Candidates are required to meet four initial certification requirements or, as the CFP Board calls them, the four Es: education, examination, experience and ethics. Rigorous educational requirements – soon to become even more rigorous in 2007, when CFPs will be required to hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited U.S. college or university – combined with a two-day, 10-hour, comprehensive exam covering more than 100 financial planning topics, a five-year work experience requirement in the financial planning field, and the adherence to a strict code of ethics, require CFPs to pay their dues. Being a CFP doesn’t end with a pretty certificate to hang on the wall and a firm handshake, however. Continuing education programs are required for CFPs to maintain the highly regarded designation.

Earn it
When Neil McNeil III, a CFP from La Jolla, Calif.-based Smith Barney, passed his CFP examination in January, he became the 50,000th CFP certificant in the United States. Late that month the count was up to 50,316. While he describes the exam as “fair and interesting,” he admits it was no picnic. As a new CFP, the exam and certification process doesn’t end there for McNeil. Every two years, he – along with the other 50,000 CFPs in the country – has to start thinking about completing the CE requirements for that period.

That’s right, every two years CFPs are required to complete 30 hours of continuing education credits. With such rigorous training and standards required to become a CFP in the first place, why the need for more?

Jina Martingano, manager of external relations at the CFP Board, says it’s important for CFPs to stay proficient in a profession that is constantly changing. “The CE requirement serves the public interest by acknowledging that CFP professionals are keeping current with changes in their rapidly evolving field.”

Advisors who have been in the business for 20 years – or even five years – can certainly attest to the fact that financial planning is an ever-changing business. That is why CFPs are required to take classes in anything from retirement planning to employee benefits. As a CFP looking to register for continuing education courses, a good place to start, says Martingano, is the CFP Board’s Web site. “Currently,” she says, “there are 1,988 CE sponsors registered with CFP Board to provide continuing education.”

These sponsors can be universities, carriers, non-profits, even hospitals. For a complete list of CE sponsors, go to www.CFP.net/sponsors. Martingano says that the CFP Board does not endorse one sponsor over another. To know if a course and sponsor is right for you, she recommends you speak with the sponsors first to gain a better understanding of what you will be learning.