It’s no secret that the current state of CFP Continuing Education (CE) credit is a pretty sorry affair.
Financial planners attend sessions just hoping for one or two takeaways that they haven’t heard a dozen times before—an embarrassingly low bar for “satisfaction”—and conferences struggle to draw attendees. It often seems that planners choose a myriad of free vendor-provided CE options not because the content is good—often, it’s still little more than a veiled sales pitch for the company’s products or services—but because the paid CE alternatives from conferences aren’t much better. If you go into your CE experience assuming you won’t hear anything new anyway, there’s little reason not to take the free option. And this situation is not new; while the CFP Board has become more aggressive about cracking down on the worst of the CE-as-product-pitch options, there’s been little done to elevate the average CE experience.
Yet that doesn’t mean the situation is hopeless, as many steps can be taken to improve the quality of CFP continuing education. In fact, the CFP Board, as the keeper of the CFP marks and the continuing education for them, wields a great deal of power to change the system for the better.
For instance, the CFP Board could create a ratings clearinghouse so conference organizers can more easily see who’s a good speaker and who’s not, allowing events to better screen their speakers before putting them on the podium. In addition, the CFP Board could also provide a better database for finding CFP CE providers in the first place, so the majority of events don’t have to rely upon random Google searches and scanning the agendas of other conferences! But perhaps the best path to getting better CE credit is simply to lift the number of required CE credits, creating more of a potential CE market that could attract quality providers in the first place!
Ratings Clearinghouse for Speakers (and Content)
One of the fundamental problems for elevating the quality of CFP continuing education is that a good educational experience relies on the speaker as much as the content… yet while the CFP Board at least lightly reviews and vets content before approval, there is no system to vet the speakers. And even after a speaker presents, there is no system to capture the quality of the speaker’s presentation (or the content itself) for other organizations to draw upon; while many/most events do circulate evaluation forms, the results are only ever seen by the event organizers and perhaps the speakers themselves. The information never becomes a resource for other events to find the best speakers, and avoid the worst ones; at best, events that find good speakers just keep asking them back, and events who find bad speakers don’t invite them again (without doing anything to ensure the bad speaker doesn’t just go and speak for another organization instead).
So what’s the solution? If the CFP Board truly wants to elevate the quality of continuing education, it should function as a ratings clearinghouse for speakers and their content (an approach I’ve actually advocated for many years, and wrote about on this blog in 2011 when the CFP Board proposed changes to the CFP Ethics instructor requirements).
Develop a standardized series of questions that events are expected to use as a part of their existing evaluation process. The questions wouldn’t need to be very plentiful nor very complex; ultimately they just need to cover the basics the speaker’s presentation skills, the relevance of the topic, the quality of the presentation materials —all rated on a 1-to-5 or 1-to-10 scale—and perhaps a question about whether the speaker refrained from selling his/her products or services. Tabulated results could be reported back to the CFP Board, or even just the average scores in each category.
CFP Board could make the submission of evaluation forms mandatory for CFP CE approval—to ensure that it’s done—or even just “encourage” organizations by providing easy-to-use templates, and perhaps offering them a small discount off the cost of their applications for CE credits or their CE sponsor renewal form. Alternatively, the CFP Board could leverage available technology by sending surveys directly out to event participants when their CFP CE credit is being reported, and require the participants to complete the survey to receive their credit (although ultimately I suspect it’s better to just gather the results through the events themselves, which often— or should—utilize evaluation forms anyway).