Don Trone, widely considered the founding father of the fiduciary movement among private wealth advisors, is known for saying what he thinks. So I asked his opinion about the very public disagreement between Kevin Keller, the head of the CFP Board, and Allan Roth, a CFP and blogger for The Wall Street Journal. Trone, the founder and CEO of 3ethos, which trains fiduciaries, did not hold back.
Secondly, since July 1, 2008, CFP certificants have been subject to a fiduciary standard. “I’ve been told that there is language which permits the certificant to opt out of the fiduciary standard if certain conditions exist,” Trone says. “On the other hand, you have a statement from Kevin Keller which appeared recently on a blog: ‘The CFP Board is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit whose mission is to benefit the public and we take that charge seriously by being the only financial planning designation that requires and enforces a fiduciary standard of care.’
“Kevin doesn’t mention any exceptions, so I guess we can assume the fiduciary standard applies to all CFP certificants at all times,” says Trone.
Lastly, the CFP Board is publicly advocating a fiduciary standard; in its advocacy, it doesn’t mention allowing CFPs to opt out, Trone says.
When you consider these three elements collectively, Trone says you must come to the conclusion that the fiduciary standard applies to all CFP certificants, no matter whether that are registered reps or investment adviser reps. “Which brings up the logical follow-on question,” says Trone. “What is the CFP Board’s fiduciary standard?”
A standard, says Trone, is defined by “principles and practices, and often times includes safe harbor procedures to insulate a professional or an organization from the unintended consequences of applying a particular standard.”
The CFP Board has done an excellent job of communicating the principles of a fiduciary standard — that a client’s interest comes first — but, says Trone, “I don’t believe they have published anything on the associated practices.”
On behalf of the FPA, Trone says he took a stab at aligning fiduciary practices with the six-step financial planning process and, in turn, the CFP Board’s practice standards. “Unfortunately, we can’t get the CFP Board to approve the work for CE because it is considered practice management, has proprietary content, and references leadership behaviors,” says Trone.
On a related note, Trone says advisors didn’t score very well in implementing practices associated with a fiduciary standard according to the 2012 Fiduciary Impact Survey. Yes, they scored well on the principles, but not the practices, Trone says.
Financial planners, as a practice area, didn’t score as well as other practices areas, such as retirement advisors and wealth managers. “To the CFP Board’s defense, we did not ask respondents to identify their professional designations, so there is no way of knowing whether CFP certificants would have scored higher,” Trone says. “Next year (this will be an annual survey) we will include designations so we’ll be able to isolate the scores of CFPs vs. other designations and practice areas.”
As for whether those who hold the CFP and who work for a brokerage firm could comply with the CFP Board’s fiduciary standard, Trone says the answer is yes, but. “The issue for the organization is whether the certificant’s fiduciary acknowledgement might blow a fiduciary circuit breaker elsewhere in the factory,” Trone says. “This is the reason why a fiduciary safe harbor is so critical, and why the B/Ds are not going to budge on a uniform fiduciary standard until they get one – and I can’t blame them. There are too many unknowns associated with adopting a uniform standard.”
So, this is what Trone would propose as a fiduciary safe harbor procedure: