I recently attended the Fall Excell Conference in Omaha put on by Carson Group, a community of advisors seeking coaching and content, and heard many excellent speakers. One speaker in particular discussed how our behavior can be evidence of our priorities and the value we will provide others. In an example, he described a first-round draft pick and what he or she may do with a signing bonus. This athlete may choose to take friends to Las Vegas or to buy his or her mother a new house. While neither is inherently right or wrong, one demonstrates a more selfless investment of resources and gives indication as to the priorities and value that the person is likely to give others. This got me thinking about the CFP® certification and what message I feel it tells clients.
Clients have many options on where to go for financial advice. Deciding on who to trust can be a challenge – so how does one narrow the field? I would suggest limiting one’s search to advisors with a CFP® certification would be an excellent initial step, given what I believe the designation immediately says about the advisor: he or she is dedicated and capable of providing value to clients. But simply having a CFP® certification alone is no indication that you should be working with that advisor. Perhaps a retelling of my experience in earning the CFP® certification would provide insight into why I recommend working with a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional.
I took a non-traditional route to the financial services industry by starting in law school. Soon after graduation and passing the Nebraska State Bar exam, I started working with insurance solutions. Admittedly, I did not have a very strong background in insurance. I was entirely uncomfortable with this as my clients deserved the best I have to give. Since I love to learn and enjoy self-driven studies, I worked on gaining as much knowledge as quickly as I could. It became clear by talking to other leaders in the industry that one of the most efficient means of gaining knowledge and becoming valuable to clients as a planner is to earn the CFP® certification.
The CFP® exam requires that applicants have at least three years in the industry before they may be eligible for the certification. While I waited that time out, I prepared myself for a test that I was told is even harder than the Bar Exam (they were right). To prepare myself, I started working on the Certified Life Underwriter (CLU), Chartered Advisor of Senior Living (CASL) and Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC) designations. After earning those, six months before the CFP® exam I started studying for at least 20 hours a week, oftentimes much more. In March 2010, I passed the exam and became a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional. Even considering law school, I consider my CFP® certification to be my highest degree given the amount of time and effort I had to commit to earning it. What made that commitment so worthwhile for me was the enjoyment of the subject matter and the instant realization that every bit of material tested on in the CFP® exam would be immensely helpful to my clients.
When I talk to other colleagues here at our firm Management Group who have passed the exam, they all recount the same experience I had – three to six months of the most intense study of their lives that, while difficult, they loved. These are the hallmarks of a trusted advisor. There are absolutely no incentives to passing the CFP® exam beyond self-improvement and offering clients more value. The kind of person that makes a choice to pursue this endeavor is dedicated and will be a committed advisor. They are someone who knows the questions to ask and the facts to spot. While working with a CFP® certificant is no guarantee of returns or promise of integrity, I am convinced that the kind of person that earns a CFP® certification is one that deserves a chance to help you design your wealth and define your financial life.