Brokerage firms debate value of Certified Financial Planner title

NEW YORK, Mon Jun 3, 2013 — Some of Wall Street’s biggest brokerage firms are at odds over the bottom-line returns of a three-letter credential they are vigorously promoting to their brokers.
The CFP (for certified financial planner) title is conferred by the nonprofit Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, which touts it as “the standard of excellence for competent and ethical personal financial planning.”
The insignia has become a popular addition to brokers’ business cards since clients were traumatized by the market collapse of 2008. With consumer faith in brokers’ investment skills shaken – and commissions for simple buy and sell orders slipping – brokers are positioning themselves as trusted advisers that help clients meet goals ranging from saving for college to estate planning.
Yet while some firms are pushing their brokers to earn the CFP credential as a way of attracting clients and profits, others say the bottom line benefits have not been proven.
Over the last five years, the number of CFP holders has grown 23 percent to 68,0000, about half of whom work at the 50 largest financial services firms, said Joe Maugeri, director of firm relations at the CFP Board. Firms pushing advisers to get the license range Bank of America Corp.’s Merrill Lynch to Charles Schwab Corp., which traditionally offered little direct advice to clients.
Even firms that disdain working with people with less than $250,000 to invest are pitching to wealthier clients with the kind of college-and-retirement planning talk traditionally aimed at the less well-to-do by insurance sales people.