A certified financial planner can bring comprehensive knowledge to the financial planning process. What is a CFP?
A certified financial planner can be integral to the financial planning process, which helps investors devise and implement strategies to realize life goals, such as saving for college and retirement.
“When you need financial help, you can turn to an investment professional or team of professionals,” said the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, a self-governing agency. “These professionals may be brokers, investment advisors, certified public accountants, lawyers, insurance agents, or financial planners – and they may work in many different settings, from large firms to small private practices.”
Financial planners can come from a variety of backgrounds and offer a variety of services, said FINRA. “Some are brokers, insurance agents and accountants - and some have no financial credentials at all,” said FINRA. “Some will examine your entire financial picture and help you develop a detailed plan for achieving your financial goals. Others, however, will recommend only the products they sell, which may give you a limited range of choices.”
A financial planner who carries a Certified Financial Planner, or CFP designation, has a bachelor’s degree, taken additional courses and passed a comprehensive exam administered by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, also known as the CFP Board. Candidates must demonstrate mastery of all aspects of financial planning, including investing, income tax strategies, estate and gift planning, retirement and insurance. The CFP Board also requires extensive experience in the financial planning field, and also completes an extensive background check on applicants.
Certified Financial Planners must adhere to a code of ethics and best-practice standards, and the planners bear a fiduciary duty, a legal relationship of trust which requires advisors to act in their clients’ best financial interests. To maintain the CFP certification, candidates must comply with continuing education requirements and renew their license every two years.
“Most financial planners are investment advisors,” states the Securities and Exchange Commission, or SEC, “but not all investment advisers are financial planners. Some financial planners assess every aspect of your financial life – including saving, investments, insurance, taxes, retirement and estate planning – and help you develop a detailed strategy or financial plan for meeting all your financial goals.”
The SEC advises investors beginning the financial planning process to first determine what services they need, and which types of financial professionals are qualified to deliver those services. Investors should also ask a potential advisor what services they are charging for, how much the services cost and how the professional gets paid.
The regulations governing financial planners vary according to the services they provide, and the size of the assets that they manage, said FINRA. A financial planner who is also an investment advisor falls under the scrutiny of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, or the state in which the adviser does business. Most investment advisors must file a “Form ADV” with the state if they manage less than $100 million, or with the SEC if they manage $100 million or more. Accountants and insurance agents are regulated by state agencies.
Investors can optimize the financial planning process by thoroughly screening the advisors they employ. The SEC recommends asking advisers about their experience, employment history, education, licenses and credentials. Investors can also ask whether the advisor is registered with the SEC, FINRA or state regulatory agency. Investors can verify an advisor’s claims to a CFP certification by visiting the CFP Board websiteor calling the board at 888-237-6275 to make sure individuals are licensed and to obtain any disciplinary information about the individual.