The redesigned version of the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards’ consumer-facing website, LetsMakeAPlan.org, that was launched this month represents an improvement over the previous version of its financial planning website, CFPs told ThinkAdvisor.
The redesign provides a more mobile-friendly interface and educational content for investors. But at least one advisor disagreed with the Board’s controversial decision earlier this year to remove information about advisors’ fee structures.
“I’m glad it’s had an overhaul. I like that it’s easier to background check a planner” now, said Melissa Brennan, a financial planner at ARS Private Wealth in Houston.
“I also like that there are planner suggestions at the bottom of the page,” she said. “In a large metropolitan area, searching manually can return way too many options, which just leads to paralysis.”
The redesigned site also seems to be “more intuitive and informative,” she said. “Without doing a deep dive, it seems like the board did a good job.”
The site is “more aesthetically pleasing and functional than the previous version,” according to William J. Nunn, a financial planner and founder of Horizon Financial Planning in New Orleans. However, “it has a few gaps I would like to see addressed,” he said.
As an example, he explained the redesigned site “has a good explanation about all of the different compensation models, but then when you select an advisor from the list, it fails to tell you which compensation methods that advisor accepts.” As a result, “if someone decides they want to engage someone who uses any one particular compensation model/payment structure, they cannot tell immediately which advisors do so,” he noted.
Although “investment asset minimums and client focus for the advisors are noted so folks can decide if they are willing to approach an advisor with that minimum or client focus, the same idea should be applied to compensation models,” he said.
“While I respect the CFP Board’s position of neutrality on compensation methods, why are compensation methods not noted simply so the prospect can decide if they want to engage someone who does business a certain way?”
Nunn has had “prospects walk away because they did not want to reach into their pockets and pay a fee for a financial plan and would have preferred it paid some other way or not at all,” he said. “Hopefully those folks went to someone else who will do business in a way they are comfortable with and in their best interest.”
A Controversial Decision
The CFP Board took a drubbing over its decision in early March to remove from the prior version of the site any information on how advisors are compensated — a move the board said at the time was designed to emphasize “fiduciary” and not “fees.”
The board told certificants in an early March email it decided to get rid of the comp information as the board prepared for the June 30 enforcement date of its revised Code of Ethics and Standards of Conduct. That coincided with the effective date of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Regulation Best Interest.
“There were several reasons for our removal of compensation method information, including CFP Board’s neutral stance on business models and compensation methods,” Kevin R. Keller, CFP Board CEO, said Dec. 16 in announcing the site’s relaunch.
“The fact of the matter is that the three compensation method categories previously in the listings may have been understandable to advisors but may not have been meaningful for consumers,” he said. “Consistent with our communications on this topic in March, we conducted consumer research to address this, and as a result, our redesigned site now provides educational content on how to pay for financial planning services.”
New Site Content
In addition to its improved functionality, LetsMakeAPlan.org now has expanded and updated content related to retirement planning, investment advice and management, and tax and estate planning, the CFP Board said.
The resources for finding and evaluating a CFP professional also feature an updated set of questions to prepare clients for a possible engagement with a financial planner.
The refreshed website also features a “modernized interface with a mobile-friendly design to improve user experience, educate consumers on financial planning concepts and provide resources to find and evaluate CFP professionals,” it said.
In a future site update, the Board will add new information to CFP professionals’ listings about how a consumer pays for the planner’s services, including hourly fees, flat fees or a percentage of assets under management, among other options, it said. These payment types will also be included in an optional search filter for the Find a CFP Professional tool, it added.