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The Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards’ board on Tuesday took several steps to strengthen its enforcement program, including announcing the launch of an independent task force to review and make “actionable recommendations” for updating enforcement practices.

Susan John, chair of CFP Board’s board of directors, said on a Tuesday call that throughout 2019, the CFP Board has been reviewing its enforcement procedures to be ready when its new Code and Standards go into effect on Oct. 1.

The new task force will also be looking at “some important issues” raised by the Wall Street Journal analysis released Monday concerning enforcement of CFP certification and the search function of the organization’s consumer-facing website, LetsMakeaPlan.org.

Effective immediately, however, CFP Board made the following changes to improve its enforcement processes and consumer website including:

  • No longer solely relying on self-disclosure of CFP professionals;
  • Checking FINRA’s BrokerCheck and the SEC’s Investment Adviser Public Disclosure database each time a CFP professional renews; and
  • Providing consumers access to BrokerCheck and IAPD information on LetsMakeaPlan.org and CFP.net/verify.

The Journal analysis published Monday stated that LetsMakeaPlan.org omits client complaints about CFPs, as well as planners’ criminal or regulatory problems.

The Journal article states that LetsMakeAPlan.org gives no indication “that thousands of the planners bearing the board’s seal of approval have had customer complaints or faced criminal or regulatory problems — often directly related to their work with clients.”

John said on the Tuesday call that “it is the board’s intent to continually update our enforcement efforts to enforce the standards we’re setting for the benefit of the public.”

As CFP Board noted in its public statement on Monday, “CFP Board and FINRA are two different organizations with different mandates,” she continued. “FINRA has significant resources and reach, more than CFP Board. We have a different process than FINRA as well. Our disclosure is based on a systematic review of disciplinary process, and to not publicize allegations absent this review process.”

John said the task force’s recommendations “will strengthen the value of CFP certification.”

John noted that 3,500 CFP professionals “renew every month, and it’s absolutely going to require more resources,” via people or software, to aid CFP Board’s efforts.

Kevin Keller, CFP Board’s CEO, added on the call that CFP Board will be meeting with FINRA and the SEC “in the near future” to discuss tapping their “API interfaces” of data in order to automate what is now a manual process.

CFP Board “is already moving forward with a variety of measures that strengthen the enforcement program,” Keller stated, adding that CFP Board acknowledges that “self-disclosure is not enough for us to actively enforce the standards, and we agree with the need to strengthen the enforcement program.”

Keller noted that as the Board continues to find ways to beef up its enforcement efforts, the group has “added additional attorneys over the past year and we will be looking at the resource allocation going forward.”

The Wall Street Journal “article pointed out some opportunities” to improve enforcement. “We don’t agree with everything in [the Journal] article, but we do think there are some areas that he pointed out that we could do a better job.”

Craig Lemoine, CFP and director of the University of Illinois Financial Planning Program, agreed, stating in a comment to Keller’s Monday LinkedIn response that the Journal article “does show a need for better real-time reporting on letsmakeaplan.org – but the CFP Board isn’t a Form ADV.”

Michael Kitces of Pinnacle Advisory Group, and publisher of The Nerd’s Eye View blog, stated in a Tuesday twitter post that he’s “glad to FINALLY see the @CFPBoard taking steps to modernize its enforcement of the CFP Practice Standards, after a blockbuster @jasonzweigwsj @WSJ article yesterday highlighted long-standing gaps practitioners have complained about for years.”

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