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Abraham Okusanya: Why we must prevent the CFP’s descent into irrelevance

This month, Jacksons Wealth Management managing director Pete Matthew announced he was dropping his certified financial planner designation. He is a beacon of the profession and for six years was the chairman of his local branch of the Institute of Financial Planning, which previously awarded the CFP.

I also dropped CFP designation some months ago. I served on the IFP membership committee and co-chaired the London branch for three years, right until it was taken over by the Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment. Martin Bamford and several other planners I know have made the same decision or are on the verge of doing so. More have given up on their attempt to take the assessment as they watch it descend into irrelevance.

This is a great shame. Many attest to the transformative role the CFP and IFP played in their careers.

Granted, under the IFP, the CFP certificate struggled to gain wider adoption, and the primary reason for the professional body’s takeover was because the Financial Planning Standards Board (the US-based owner of the global CFP designation) wanted to drive ambitious growth of it in the UK. But, four years on, the number of CFP professionals here has all but declined.

The CISI has managed to rip out the soul of the financial planning community and suck out whatever life the CFP had.

The so-called CISI Financial Planning Forum – a shadow of its predecessor – is now a lifeless and rudderless entity. Not only does it lack the charismatic leaders the IFP had in Nick Cann, Paul Etheridge and other financial planning stalwarts, but it lacks purpose and direction.

The focus on financial planning has been relegated to second place within a much bigger, investment-led CISI. The client-focused planning content in branch meetings has been substituted with investment punditry and pontification. The planner-led community spirit that attracted so many has been destroyed by a bureaucratic approach to everything from members’ engagement to continuing professional development record-keeping.

The CISI has not only failed to engage planners but seems to take a dismissive and arrogant approach to serious concerns they have. It has embarked on window-dressing attempts to revamp the assessment process, the latest of which is to change the designation from a Level 6 to a Level 7 on the National Qualifications Framework.

There is still a chance to fix this though. Perhaps the CFP’s descent into utter irrelevance can be stopped. I suggest ripping the Financial Planning Forum and CFP designation out of the CISI. It could do no worse on its own than it currently does under that name.

Or what about making it a part of the Personal Finance Society, where the interest is more aligned and the focus on financial planning is mutual? The PFS has done an excellent job in filling the gap that the demise of the IFP created.

The CFP can be pitched as a total replacement for its AF5 (financial planning process) exam, resulting in a dual designation of chartered and certified. It is about time we brought both together and created a strong, unified voice for financial planning.

Abraham Okusanya is director of Finalytiq


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There are 5 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Abraham, I totally agree. My experiences with the CISI have been horrendous. Essentially, all they are good at is ‘gaming’ their members with ever-moving goalposts stripping them of fees all along the way.
    1. Originally, chartered membership involved just a single level 6 PCIAM exam, soon it will be level 7 with all the associated fees (additional courses etc). Progressive credentialism at it’s worst. This only protects the encumbents who did things when they were easier and is designed to keep out the more capable.
    2. The materials they supply are awful with limited information/study preparation to help you pass (They supply 2 inadequate 40 page sample financial plans which are next to useless and some templates). When you are look outside for help, the CFP course providers accredited by the CISI charge several thousand pounds for a course to prepare for the case study. A few days study at a 1/3 cost of an LSE masters degree.
    3 When I took the exam, they had to allow people to take the exam for the diploma element of the CFP free of charge because it was so badly organized at the time(I spotted dozens of mistakes).
    4 And yes, total arrogance when this feedback is voiced to the CISI.
    5. This new idea of level 7 is just ‘more of the same’. I don’t doubt that, in a few years, they will expect a Phd and a small mortage.
    6 The simplest and best way to the CFP designation is to sit the US exams. Good materials, and computer-based assessment.

  2. Well said, Abraham. How do we make your practical suggestions happen? Should we form a Guild of Financial Planners and then apply to the Financial Planning Standards Board for the UK CFP licence?

  3. Absolutely agree, Abraham. I was so impressed with the PFS’s emphasis on planning at its festival 18months ago – it definitely seems to have picked up the baton. Let’s hope the future is brighter for the CFP than it currently appears to be…

  4. I am of two minds about this. As far as I am aware the biggest plus of the CFP is that it is an internationally recognised qualification. As far as I am aware neither the PFS or CISI can justifiably claim this.

    On the other hand I do find that the CFP has always been a bit ‘precious’. Planning isn’t their patent. What do they think many IFAs do? The focus on lifetime cash flow planning is absolute nonsense. Sure some form of cash flow is useful, but no longer than (say) five years and then it should be regularly reviewed and updated. The exercise rather strikes me as fee padding. Truth software is eye wateringly expensive (for what it does) and how many people really want to know how much toilet paper they will use in a lifetime?

    A decent cash flow projection can be produced on an Excel Spreadsheet – for those who know how to use Excel.

    The third thing (of which CISI is also guilty) is the continual emphasis on ethics. Sure, ethics are important. But annual work in this field rather over eggs it. Anyway you can answer all the questions and attend all the presentations and still be a rip off merchant.

  5. PS

    The case studies and tests are also a great plus point for the CFP.

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