1. How exactly has the recent recession provided an opportunity for new regulation to help the financial planning industry? Has that opportunity been taken advantage of? Among all the new legislation enacted/proposed by the new administration as a result of economic collapse, has any had any effect on our profession?
With large and small investors alike suffering significant losses as a result of the recession and financial crisis, one of the main questions is how knowledgeable and trusted professionals could lead so many down that path. It has resulted in renewed appreciation for comprehensive, long-term planning and risk management — hallmarks of the financial planning profession. As policymakers assess what happened and try to prevent a repeat of these events, they are taking a comprehensive look at the entire financial system and regulatory structure. This probably makes sense since there was no single shortcoming that caused the crisis, but a confluence of events, miscalculations and failures. Often cited as a main cause is the multiplicity of financial regulators and the paradox that so many regulators leave gaps in the system. One of these gaps is the regulation of financial planners, whose services fall under the authority of several different regulators, with none having authority to regulate more than discrete elements of those services.
The Financial Planning Association (FPA), the Certified Financial Planning Board of Standards (CFP Board) and the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA) joined together to form the Financial Planning Coalition to take advantage of this opportunity to address the gap in the regulation of financial planning. The coalition is proposing legislation that would create an oversight board for financial planners, under the auspices of the SEC. The oversight board would set competency standards and enforce a fiduciary standard — putting clients' interests first — for professionals who hold themselves out to the public as financial planners. Substantial progress has been made in educating policymakers about the profession and about consumer protection issues that need to be addressed, and FPA, the CFP Board and NAPFA are committed to seeing financial planner oversight as part of any financial reform package that comes out of the Congress.
Though no legislation has been passed yet that would directly affect the profession, several things have been going on. Though people may dispute the cause and effect, the Bush and Obama administrations both responded vigorously to the financial crisis in an attempt to prevent complete collapse of the markets, then to stabilize the markets, and stabilization is certainly beneficial to planners and their clients. The past year has also seen the securities industry and regulators move toward acceptance of a fiduciary standard for brokers who provide advice to retail clients. Legislation is in the works to bring this important consumer protection to pass and some disputes remain over how it will be accomplished, but there has been a seismic shift in the discussion.
For its part, the SEC has been very active, trying to beef up enforcement and addressing significant problems exposed by the Madoff scandal and others, and advisers (including most planners) can expect greater regulatory scrutiny. Money market regulations and short sale rules may also affect planners directly or indirectly. The prospect of FINRA authority being expanded to investment advisers who are dually registered as brokers is something that Congress is considering that could have a huge impact on financial planners' day-to-day business operations. The reform legislation before Congress also included a proposed new consumer financial protection agency that could touch on some parts of a planner's relationship and advice to clients. Suffice to say, the business and regulatory environment for planners is definitely undergoing some significant changes.
2. How can one entering the field gain practical experience, ie: part time work or internships? Also, which associations or groups should students be involved in? What should we get done, as students, that will benefit us when entering the field after culmination?
Join FPA and get involved with your local chapter(s) — Many student members find internships through FPA chapter connections. FPA, both nationally and locally, are also a good source for job referrals. I recently spoke with a member of FPA's NexGen Community who told me that and all three of the jobs he's had in his career came through FPA connections. This same member also learned about the type of financial planning firms and jobs available through his FPA membership and contacts locally.
Network within FPA — A big fear new entrants to the field have is that everyone at local chapter meetings is their competitor and doesn't want to talk to them. Nothing could be further from the truth. The more folks you talk to, the more you will understand the financial planning world and the way firms are structured. Further, as you hear from planners what kinds of issues they are struggling with at their companies, you'll begin to recognize some patterns and perhaps can utilize this information to help explain to potential employers how you can solve those problems for them. The more specific you are with what you are capable of, the better off you'll be. Many planners don't even realize they need you until you tell them why they need you.
Seek out work experience — Ask planners about internships and part-time work, especially if you are considering working in a smaller firm. They may not be hiring, but may know someone that is. It is critical to remember that most planning firms have less than 5 people on staff. That means they do not have the time or ability to find you. You have to find them. As such, you cannot expect to be found by a smaller firm by simply placing your resume on a job Web site.
Be prepared — New planners entering the field are expected to have developed a base set of technical skills and knowledge through the CFP classes. They are also expected to be involved and working to make connections in the industry and/or making a consistent effort to learn more than simply what is expected of them.
Stay connected — participate in local study groups — either with an FPA chapter, in your school, or elsewhere. Find a group of people to meet with regularly to discuss issues and support each other in your growth. Reach out to peers and colleagues locally and across the country for advice, study groups, think tanks, etc. The internet makes it so easy for planners to connect with each other so distance is no longer a challenge. Join discussion groups, follow bloggers, and participate in social networking to follow industry leaders, connect with like-minded professionals, and to develop your support network. If your college/university has a student chapter related to your field join it and stay actively involved. Attend local professional association meetings (like FPA), to connect to their student resources as well.
3. Why is the recognition of the profession by the government and adoption of a single body of knowledge taking so long? I could not imagine seeking advice from someone in the financial profession that didn't have appropriate credentials, any more than I could the legal or medical profession.
The first step in getting the policymakers to recognize the profession is educating them about the profession and there is clearly a knowledge deficit regarding the financial planning profession. However, in the last few years there have been big strides made in raising the profile and knowledge of the profession. But the biggest hurdle is that most of what a planner does crosses across professions that have been established and regulated for decades and longer. Regulating financial planners cuts across a lot of professional and regulatory turf. Imagine if the legal profession developed as separately regulated lines for personal injury, estates, property, taxes, criminal, etc. Then, after decades, you come in and tried to create a profession for a lawyer who covered multiple areas. A pretty difficult task. That's what financial planners are up against in trying to establish the profession in a regulatory sense.
Read more about Marv Tuttle on his bio.