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MM Profile: Noel Maye

The chief executive of the US-based Financial Planning Standards Board says it is crucial that consumers can identify qualified advisers but rather than categorising advice, he believes there should be more emphasis on competence Interview by Rachael Adams

Some might say that a career spanning engineering, teaching English in Madrid and PR might not be the traditional way to get into financial services but US-based Financial Planning Standards Board chief executive Noel Maye disagrees.

He says: “There has been a constant theme of communication and technical ability in my career, which has stood me in good stead for spearheading the international certification of financial planning at the FPSB.”

Maye took a degree in electronic engineering when he left school. “At the time, engineering seemed very exciting but when I got to the course, I found I liked the knowledge side of things but I did not want to spend my life in a lab building circuit boards. But I have always valued the technical training it gave me.”

Maye then decided his future lay in communications, so he took a role at New York PR agency Brownstone.

“After a while, I decided I wanted to see the world, so I travelled around South America for a couple of months. While I was there, I saw all these people speaking a language I did not know and they seemed to be really enjoying life, so I thought I should learn another language. I went to live in Spain for two years teaching English.”

Maye taught executive language courses for company heads. “The combination of language and exposure to multinational companies was really useful but there was only so much progress I could make in teaching English and I wanted something that could develop as a career, so I went back to PR.”

PR agency Ogilvy, Adams & Rinehart were looking at taking on Spanish-owned Banco de Santander as a client when Maye applied for a role there, so he was made an associate due to his experience.

“I was sending out information like this insurance company’s earnings per share have increased one penny and so on, which is all good information but it did not necessarily motivate my interests.

“One of my clients at Ogilvy was the group that would become the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards and this small, not-for-profit group from Colorado became my favourite client. I thought not-for-profit was where my specialisation lay, so I joined Douglas Gould & Co, a non-profit PR firm but, in all honesty, it was too small for me.”

When the CFP asked Maye if he wanted to go to Colorado to start a communications division, he agreed – but only for two years. “That was 17 years ago. My work spanned a wide range. Back then, no one really knew what financial planning was.”

The CFP qualification was only available in the US until 1990, when Australia expressed an interest. “Out of that came a licensing affiliation agreement. Then came a group from Japan, then Canada, Europe and Asia. That was the start of the internationalisation of the CFP, which became the FPSB.”

Today, the FPSB is a certification body in 24 countries, with 140,000 CFP professionals, including members of the Institute of Financial Planning in the UK. “It has brought my previous experience in global work and business together. I really believe in the organisation’s mission, which is to create standards for financial planning professionals and to engage with regulators, the media and consumers.”

Maye says it is critical that consumers can identify qualified advisers. “They tell advisers their hopes and dreams so it has to be a relationship of trust. At the moment, the difference between a holistic planner, a tied adviser and a product seller is murky. Consumers do not know what they are getting and it does not help that practitioners may wear different hats.”

Maye is unsure that the UK’s categorisation of restricted and independent advice is the answer. “You have to address a situation from where you are. I understand why the FSA has tried to clarify who does what but I do not think that is where the focus should be. It should be making sure someone is competent, regardless of their employment situation.”

Maye says there is a long way to go before financial planning is accepted as a full profession. “We are trying to create the world’s youngest profession. Medicine and law got to where they are today after centuries, so the FPSB has a sizeable task. Also, the post-recession world means customers are fearful, regulators are taking strong action and financial services firms are unsure how to progress. We have to manage all that.”

The US regulatory structure can also make life difficult for the FPSB. Unlike the UK, which has one central regulator, the US has regulators for each market in each state as well as federal regulators.

“When there are more people round the table, there is more complexity. We have to make sure there are no loopholes between the state regulators and the federal regulators that could leave consumers unprotected.”

The FPSB’s certification programme takes the form of an education component, an examination component, an experience component and an ethics component. “We did a global job analysis and asked 11,000 members what tasks they thought were most important and that informed our curriculum.”

Maye says part of the difficulty of working across different countries is the different stages of development of financial services. “We work in territories where financial planning is 30 years old and 12 months old so we have to accommodate their realities. Our standard is three years’ experience or one year of supervised experience. It is common in professions like law, so why not financial planning?”

The organisation is working towards FPSB 2025, a long-term plan to develop financial planning. “Sometimes, when people look to the future, they only look three years ahead, so we went in with the mindset that financial services could look very different. I often get asked if commission is better than fees but in 2025 there may be 19 different compensation types which we have not thought of yet.”

In order to get a shared vision of what financial planning will look like in the future, Maye says it is important to establish the common features of financial planning across the world.

“It helps if things are framed in the same context. There are trends around the world, such as economic uncertainty and governments no longer guaranteeing pensions, so people are looking for trust in their financial advisers. Regulators seem to be talking the same language.

“For emerging markets, things may be easier as they do not have legacy systems to contend with but it is not about emerging countries overtaking developed ones. Transparency of borders means there will be cross-pollination of ideas, so financial planners globally will evolve together.”

Born: Sligo, Ireland, in 1968
Lives: Boulder, Colorado, with partner, two donkeys and a goat out the back
Education: MBA from the University of Colorado at Boulder; degree in engineering from Trinity College, Dublin
Career: 2002-12: CEO, Financial Planning Standards Board; 1996-2004: several management positions then senior vice-president, Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards; 1995: associate, Douglas Gould & Co; 1994-95: associate, Ogilvy, Adams and Rinehart; 1992-93: English language instructor, Berlitz Language Academy in Madrid; 1990-91: accounts department, Brownstone Agency Inc
Likes: Travel, diving and bringing a disparate group together
Dislikes: Missed flight connections, rain lasting more than 10 minutes and people who do not get to the point
Drives: I am usually on a bus or a plane, so my Acura TL sits idle most of the time
Book: Most recently, The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Moshin Hamid
Film: Whatever is playing on United Airlines
Album: The Black Eyed Peas when I am at the gym
Career ambition: To have financial planning recognised as a global profession
Life ambition: Leave the planet having contributed more than I have taken (10 years of international travel meals I have some carbon replenishment to do in the future)
If I wasn’t doing this I would be… filming nature documentaries in a remote part of the world

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