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Title fight

Arguably, the Insti-tute of Financial Planning’s threat of legal action over the Chartered Insurance Institute’s qualification, whose potential acronym is CFP, is splitting advisers at a time when many would hope to see a united front in the push towards greater professionalism.

The IFP claims the CII’s decision to launch its chartered financial planner qualification challenges the value its own pre-existing certified financial planner accreditation.

The CII, which has trademarked “chartered financial planner”, says it has already taken steps to prevent any abbreviation, including asking the trade press to avoid using it and warning that advisers who consider abbreviating their chartered status on their business communications risk losing that status.

CII group public affairs director John Ellis says: “I cannot see any chartered financial planner wanting to abbreviate as the power lies in the word chartered but we will take steps to stop anyone from using it.”

But such pledges have not stopped IFP president Ian Shipway from accusing the CII of deliberately creating confusion with the launch of its chartered financial planner, arguing that the abbreviation CFP is already commonly used to refer to both CII and IFP qualifications despite the Privy Council banning the CII from using it.

Now IFP solicitors have written to the Privy Council demanding that it create a different name for chartered financial planners while Shipway is promising to do whatever it can under trademark law to protect the integrity of the IFP’s CFP.

In selecting the words chartered financial planner, Shipway also feels that something of a conspiracy has been under way at the CII, saying he has little doubt that those responsible for deciding on the title knew exactly the problems they might cause.

Informed Choice managing director Nick Bamford chaired the Sofa board which steered chartered status to the Privy Council and is both a member of the IFP and the CII.

Bamford says the situation giving rise to “chartered financial planners” was one which would inevitably ruffle feathers. He says: “In these sorts of scenarios, there will always be objections. It is a highly emotional situation and anyone can appreciate why some IFP members might be feeling a little delicate over the matter.”

For its part, the CII says it has always been clear over its desire for its chartered financial planner status to avoid abbreviation on the grounds that this dilutes its gravitas.

Bamford firmly believes that in common with other chartered professions, chartered financial planners will not be abbreviated. “You don’t hear chartered accountants calling themselves and each other CAs, you don’t hear chartered surveyors calling themselves CSs – it just does not happen.”

In another twist to the row, Ellis says he is at a loss as to why the issue is emerging now and had not been laid to rest at some stage over the years preceding the ultimate arrival of “chartered financial planner”.

He says: “I know some CII members made their opinions known on the subject but I am not clear if the CII itself had soundings of this kind heard before the Privy Council.”

It was in September that the CII received confirm-ation from the Privy Council that it has been granted permission to award the new title of chartered financial planner.

The CII hailed the move as a landmark in the drive to raise the standing of financial services with the public, meaning financial advisers will be part of a chartered profession and that its existence meant the consumer in the street could take it as a signal that qualified professional financial advisers are available to help them with their individual financial planning needs.

Peter Hales, incoming president of the CII, said at the time: “The establishment of chartered financial planner status introduces a new, internationally recognisable benchmark of quality and ethical practice for professionals involved in giving financial advice. It will signal to the public that financial advisers and financial planners are “fit for purpose” and elevate financial services in the public eye to the same standing as other chartered professions. It will also be a major contributor to raising levels of consumer confidence in the financial services industry.”

However, the IFP maintains confusion levels may be heightened by the use of the same acronym to refer to different things.

But Bamford argues: “I don’t think it will cause consumer confusion, I think this is fantastically positive news for consumers and for the profession of financial advice.”

Ultimately, Bamford feels advisers’ energies ought to be directed towards getting behind the move towards chartered status and greater professionalism instead of dividing advisers over the use of an abbre-viation he expects will not become part of the vernacular to refer to chartered advisers.

The CII estimates that some 500 people will initially be eligible to apply for the chartered financial planner title and these individuals will be invited to apply for chartered status in anticipation of an inaugural award ceremony to be held early in 2006.

Ellis says: “Individuals will become chartered financial planners before then but this will be our big launch, the big party to celebrate.”

But how inclusive this celebration will be might depend on whether the IFP gets a satisfactory resolution from the Privy Council to its current gripe.

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