The CFP Board’s Misdeeds Demand Accountability

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It’s time for the CFP® Board to acknowledge that it has been misleading consumers and causing them financial harm. The penalties for its misdeeds must go beyond mere admonishments and pressure to fix its vetting and enforcement problems. The scale and brazenness of the Board’s transgressions warrants financial accountability and an end to the Board’s efforts to gain control over the financial planning industry.

On July 30, 2019, the Wall Street Journal ran a scathing front-page exposé on the CFP® Board of Standards’ failure to properly vet its members and the hypocrisy of this failure relative to its self-righteous public messaging. Specifically, WSJ investigative reporters, Jason Zweig and Andrea Fuller ran background checks on more than 70,000 CFP® members using FINRA Broker Check compared the output against the CFP® Board’s go-to verification site for consumers.

They found more than 6,300 CFP®s with significant disclosure events on their FINRA profile who were effectively endorsed by the CFP® Board as having clean disclosure histories. The number includes nearly 500 CFP®s with criminal charges (140 for major felonies), hundreds of CFP®s with client complaints that were settled for $10,000 or more, and hundreds more with personal bankruptcy filings.

I worked with authors to help develop the story. In the article, the reporters noted that the CFP® Board took "strong issue" with my suggestion that the organization does not vet its members and that its multi-million dollar "consumer awareness" campaigns are setting people up to be deceived. My rebuttal, which is posted on the CFP® Board’s LinkedIn page reads, as follows:

(1) The WSJ article states that more than 6,000 CFP®s who had significant disclosure events on their FINRA records were endorsed on the CFP® Board's verification site as having no disclosure events. Res ipsa loquitur (the fact speaks for itself).

(2) This is an example of the CFP® Board's messaging to consumers -

"When you choose a CFP®, you'll know you're in good hands. That's because every CFP® pro is thoroughly vetted to uphold the highest standards."

I believe most reasonable people would agree that this messaging is misleading/deceptive in the wake of the WSJ article findings.

In responding to the WSJ article, CFP® Board CEO Kevin Keller essentially played the victim by stating that it is unfair to its members for the Board to publish SEC and FINRA disclosure events prior to doing its own investigations. He also objected to the public disclosure of some bankruptcy filings. In a separate response, the CFP® Board did acknowledge that its self-reporting policy was not as effective as anticipated and that it is taking corrective measures to review the background checks of existing members.