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What Is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ Professional?

A CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional or a CFP® practitioner is a financial professional who meets the requirements established by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. While others may call themselves financial planners, only those who demonstrate the requisite experience, education, and ethical standards are awarded the CFP® mark.

What are the requirements?

In order to obtain the CFP® mark, an applicant must:

  • Hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university
  • Complete a CFP® Board-registered education program
  • Pass the 10-hour CFP® certification exam
  • Have at least three years of qualifying full-time work experience in financial planning
  • Pass a professional fitness standards and background check

Once appointed, a CFP® professional must meet continuing education requirements every other year in order to maintain the certification.

What does a CFP® professional do?

A CFP® professional is trained to develop and implement comprehensive financial plans for individuals, businesses, and organizations. He or she has the knowledge and skills to objectively assess your current financial status, identify potential problem areas, and recommend appropriate options. You're also working with someone who's demonstrated expertise in multiple areas of financial planning, including income and estate tax, investment planning, risk management, and retirement planning.

How is a CFP® professional compensated?

The way in which your financial planner is compensated can make all the difference in the recommendations they make for you. commissions can create significant conflicts of interest and misalignment of incentives.  

That’s because some advisors work under a standard that requires only that their recommendations be suitable to your particular situation. Other planners work under a fiduciary standard that requires advisors to consider what is in their client’s best interest. You may be wondering why your advisor would make a recommendation that is not in your best interest. That’s where the issue of compensation comes into play.


There are three basic ways in which financial advisors are compensated:

  • Through a commission-based model
  • Through a commission & fee model
  • Through a Fee-Only model

Both commissioned and commission & fee advisors receive a compensation based on the specific financial products they sell to you. Because of the conflict of interest inherent in these transactions, these advisors may have difficulty putting the client’s interest above their own.


CFP® professionals can be paid in any of the ways listed above: through fees or commissions or a combination of both. You will want to consider, and discuss with your planner, how the method of compensation could affect the advice you receive or the way you work with the them, including any conflicts of interest that may be created by the method of compensation. 

The Fee-Only method of compensation is the most transparent and objective method available. This model minimizes conflicts and ensures that your CFP® professional acts as a fiduciary. Fee-Only planners are compensated directly by their clients for advice, plan implementation and for the ongoing management of assets, depending upon the planner you choose.

As part of your written agreement, your CFP® professional should make it clear how they will be paid for the services to be provided.

How can a CFP® professional help you?

A CFP® professional can help you create a personal budget, control expenses, and develop and implement plans for retirement, education, and/or wealth protection. A CFP® professional can offer expertise in risk management, including strategies involving life and long-term care insurance, health insurance, and liability coverage. He or she often can help with your tax planning or manage your asset portfolio based on your goals.

Specifically, a CFP® professional can help you:

  • Establish financial and personal goals and create a plan to achieve them
  • Evaluate your financial well-being with a thorough analysis of your assets, liabilities, income, taxes, investments, and insurance
  • Identify areas of concern and help you address them by developing and implementing a financial plan that emphasizes your financial strengths while reducing your financial weaknesses
  • Review your plan periodically to accommodate your changing personal circumstances and financial goals

How to choose a CFP® professional

Selecting a CFP® professional is like choosing a doctor for your financial health. Working with a CFP® professional involves sharing very personal information and you will want to feel comfortable with the professional you've chosen. He or she should be knowledgeable, have integrity, and demonstrate a commitment to the highest ethical standards in the industry. Also, a CFP®  professional may offer services to a particular clientele, such as small business owners, corporate executives, or retirees, so be sure the planner you select works with people whose interests and goals are similar to yours.

Before you choose someone to work with, ask around. You may know a family member, friend, or colleague who has worked with someone they'd recommend. Also, be prepared to interview the prospective CFP® professional. At your meeting, request a copy of form ADV or the comparable state form. A CFP® professional who offers investment advice for a fee is required to file form ADV with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) or with the state of residence of the CFP® professional (although some exceptions apply). Form ADV contains information about the professional's education, business, disciplinary history, services offered, fees charged, and investment strategies. In addition to form ADV, ask for the disclosure document that contains other important information regarding the CFP® professional. Even if you don't ask for the disclosure document, it must be provided to you at the time you enter into an agreement for services, or soon thereafter. Be sure to read the disclosure document carefully as well as any written agreements you enter into.

Questions to ask

Here are some questions you may want to ask a CFP® professional to help you find the right planner for you:

  • What is your education? What schools did you attend and what degrees have you earned?
  • What licenses do you hold? Are you registered with the SEC, FINRA, or the state?
  • Are you affiliated with any professional groups or organizations? Do you execute securities trades through a broker-dealer? Who is it?
  • Does your practice concentrate in a particular area? What types of clients do you work with?
  • What type of products and services do you offer? Are you limited as to the products and services you can offer me?
  • How are you compensated for your services? Do you receive a commission for products you may sell to me?
  • Have you ever been disciplined by any government board or regulatory agency?

Is a CFP® professional right for you?

The financial world has become a very complex place. Even if you're used to handling your own financial affairs, the time may be right to consult a CFP® professional who can review your financial health and offer suggestions that may help you reach your financial goals.

For example, are you familiar with all the different investment opportunities that might be available to you? Are you on track to meet your financial goals such as saving for your child's college education, securing enough income for a comfortable retirement, or protecting your assets against risks and lawsuits? A CFP® professional can offer the analysis you need to help answer these and other important financial questions.

Note: Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. owns the certification marks CFP® and CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and federally registered CFP (with flame design) in the U.S., which it awards to individuals who successfully complete CFP Board's initial and ongoing certification requirements.

Copyright 2006-2020 Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. All rights reserved. To the extent that this material concerns tax matters, it is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law. Each taxpayer should seek independent advice from a tax professional based on his or her individual circumstances.


J
Josh is the author of this solution article.

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