The other day, I received an e-mail from a friend who is a highly knowledgeable industry insider. I greatly respect his thought processes and his opinions, and thought you might find our exchange interesting. Here’s what he wrote:

“I personally think your recent columns have been misdirected. While we may not fully understand all the reasons the Financial Planning Coalition took the positions it did, and some aspects of its positions might be troubling–or as you point out, at times inconsistent–the Coalition is, in my view, an important force for good. Think about it … Would you have thought five years ago that the CFP Board and the FPA would both be staunch advocates for the fiduciary standard of conduct found in the Advisers Act? I think it is truly amazing to see how the CFP Board and FPA have evolved in such as short time since the CFP Board first proposed revising its Rules of Professional Conduct in mid-2006. Let’s give them credit, where credit is due.”

And my reply: Thanks much for your thoughts, but I’m having a hard time buying that the CFP Board has any interest in creating a profession. The Board has had 25 years to do so, and made little progress–and what progress it has made has been done haltingly and grudgingly. Isn’t that a clue about itsintentions?

As far as I can tell, the Board has deluded itself–with a dose of big-tent self-interest–that comprehensive financial planning is more important to consumers than anything else: conflicts, ethics, a fiduciary duty, or a true profession.

There’s nothing magic about comprehensive financial planning. Sure, in many cases it’s the best way to approach a client’s financial future. But in the wrong hands, the process of financial planning can just as easily be used to abuse and take advantage of clients. Despite what the CFP Board tells itself, simply using the financial planning process alone is not in the highest and best interest of clients.

Having the financial planning world unite is a good thing only if it comes together to further a profession in the best interests of financial consumers. With the Coalition, the CFP Board had yet another opportunity to go beyond its own empire-building interests, and promote the public good. It has not done this. What I don’t understand is why the FPA and especially NAPFA have gone along with all this.