Educational directors of programs leading to the Certified Financial Planner designation breathed a collective sigh of relief following the departure of the CFP Board of Standards’ former CEO and the appointment of an interim CEO pending a permanent replacement.
On October 30, the CFP Board welcomed Don Tharpe as interim CEO, who will manage the board’s operations while the Board of Governors completes a search for a new chief executive. Tharpe replaces Sarah Teslik, whose tenure during the past 2 years generated controversy. Among other irritants, critics questioned Teslik’s staff cutbacks, rejection of program directors as “stakeholders” in the CFP marks and a management style that some described as “distant,” “uncommunicative” and “arrogant.”
“Program directors are very upbeat about her resignation,” says Somnath Basu, a professor and CFP program director at California Lutheran University, Thousand Oaks, Calif. “Her departure is definitely a positive development for the stakeholders. During her term, the communications were all one-way.”
Rosilyn Overton, an assistant professor and graduate coordinator of the masters of science in finance and the professional planning program at New Jersey City University, Jersey City, N.J., agrees, adding: “[Teslik] was not inclined to consider us stakeholders in the education of future CFP certificants. She didn’t value our input.”
A spokesperson for the CFP Board describes Teslik’s departure as “voluntary.” Calls placed by National Underwriter to the CFP Board for additional information respecting the change in leadership and other decisions of the board were not returned. According to the board’s October 12 press release, Teslik will become a senior vice president of policy and governance at Apache Corporation.
Observers laud Tharpe’s 25 years of experience managing non-profits, including 12 years as executive director of the Association of School Business Officials International. But they stress that his permanent replacement should also have a good understanding of the financial planning profession, as well as the “passion and vision” to distinguish the CFP marks from other designations.
The change in leadership follows an October 24 meeting of the CFP Board’s Board of Governors, held in conjunction with the Financial Planning Association’s annual conference in Nashville, Tenn. There, the board announced the establishment of a task force to consider 336 comments–including input from the FPA, CFP certificants, and the public–on proposed revisions to the CFP Code of Ethics. The task force will address the comments in January of 2007.
Chief among the FPA’s objections to the proposed revisions is Rule 1.1 of the Rules of Conduct, which would require a CFP certificant to indicate in writing what legal standard will govern the agreement between the certificant and the client. If no legal standard is designated, the default standard is that of a fiduciary. In a Sept. 25 letter to the CFP Board, FPA President Daniel Moisand wrote that the proposed rule would result in “greatly varying standards of conduct for CFP certificants,” rather than a strengthening of standards that the board seeks, and thus placing the rule in conflict with the CFP Board’s mission.
“They hit on all cylinders,” says Moisand. “We’re very pleased with the board’s decision [to revisit the code in January]. We agree that it is time to bring the code of ethics and the practice standards up-to-date, eliminate redundancies, and make it easier for certificants to follow and for the board to enforce.”
Program directors who attended the conference also express satisfaction with the decision and with education task force recommendations issued by the CFP Board in an August 2nd paper. Among other suggestions, the report favors a more stringent registration process of CFP programs, in part to weed out substandard programs that, Basu observes, exist primarily as “cash cows.”
The report additionally counsels increasing the number of hours for continuing education; broadening required topics to include “soft skills,” such as the application of behavioral finance principles and communications skills; and the establishment of on-site peer reviews of programs subsequent to registration, which Basu sees as key to insuring uniformity in the quality of educational content.
“Most program directors approve of this concept,” says Basu. “The Board of Governors should empower us to regulate ourselves. Working an as an accrediting arm and under the board’s guidelines, the quality of education will not be diminished, but increased.”
Ultimately, says Overton, the CFP coursework should be made into a graduate degree program that leads to college credit, rather than be offered as a form of continuing education, as is now the case.
“The academic standards should be higher,” says Overton. “Right now, you only need a bachelor’s degree to complete the certification program. [CFP certificants] should have the highest level of knowledge that can be achieved. A graduate-level program will force students to be more disciplined and work harder.”
Not all decisions announced by the Board of Governors on October 24 met with approval. Jim Gardner, a CFP program director at the University of Missouri in Kansas City, says many board members counseled against changes in governance policy, effective January 1, which aim to clarify the roles of the board, sub-boards and the CFP Board’s staff. These changes call for renaming the Board of Governors as the Board of Directors. The Board of Examiners will become the Council on Examinations. And, the Board of Professional Review will become the Disciplinary and Ethics Commission.
Observers also question whether the CFP Board is sufficiently accountable to other stakeholders. Because of the lack of “checks and balances,” says one program director speaking on condition of anonymity, mistakes made by the board can happen without cost.
Avoiding such errors, adds Basu, will depend in part on greater collaboration among the CFP designation’s various constituencies. “It’s really important that all stakeholders come together to work cooperatively for the future of the profession,” he says. “This is a healing time.”