Don Trone Weighs In On Whether CFPs Who Work For Broker/Dealers Can Adhere to CFP Board’s Fiduciary Standard Hot

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“There are three elements that stand out,” says Trone. First, he says, whenever a professional is licensed to use a professional designation, he is implicitly asking the public to put more trust in him than someone with no designation, which gives rise under common law to a fiduciary obligation.


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.


(By the way, if any CFP certificant would like a copy of the “banned-in-Boston” fiduciary standard Trone prepared for financial planners, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. He’ll send it to you. “It will arrive,” he jokes, “in a brown wrapper.”

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:

  • The firm must define minimum qualifications (in terms of experience, licensing and training) for advisors who wish to serve in a fiduciary capacity;
  • The advisor must accept and acknowledge their fiduciary status in writing;
  • When serving in a fiduciary capacity, the advisor must agree to only utilize investment products, data bases, software and technology approved by the firm;
  • The advisor must agree to maintain records which demonstrate the advisor's procedural prudence (the details of the advisor's decision-making process); and
  • The activities of the advisor must be monitored by the firm. 

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