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Why we cannot assume CFP® equals “Fiduciary”

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Rick Kahler MS CFP

By Rick Kahler MS CFP®

One of the most important ways to find competent and trustworthy investment advisers is to be sure they owe you a fiduciary duty.

This means the advisers’ legal and ethical responsibility is to act in your best interests, not their own or their employer’s.

An ongoing legal case featured in an October 31 article by Ann Marsh in the online Financial Planning magazine highlights both the importance and the difficulty of finding a fiduciary adviser. (Disclosure: I am one of several advisers quoted in the article.)

The whistleblower case against J. P. Morgan involves an adviser and former J. P. Morgan employee, Johnny Burris, who says he was fired after refusing to give in to pressure to sell some of his employer’s high-priced products that he did not believe to be in his clients’ best interest.

Importance?

Here is why this case is important to anyone looking for financial advice: many advisers at investment firms like J. P. Morgan hold the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) designation. According to the website of the CFP Board of Standards, the organization that awards the certification, CFP’s are required “to put your interests ahead of their own at all times and to provide their financial planning services as a ‘fiduciary’—acting in the best interest of their financial planning clients.”

This sounds straightforward enough. Since 2008, the CFP Board has positioned the CFP designation as an indicator that an adviser will put clients’ interest first.

Unfortunately, that isn’t quite accurate.

Here is the tricky part: Advisers who sell financial products are allowed to “wear two hats” in their interaction with consumers. Any time they are giving financial advice and acting as financial planners (as defined by the CFP Board), they are expected to act in the best interest of the client/customer.

Yet if they don’t give any financial advice other than what is ancillary to the sale (a very confusing concept) of financial products to the same client/customer, that fiduciary requirement does not apply. The consumer is apparently expected to have the exceptional discernment and knowledge to know which hat is being worn at any given time.

As a consumer, you can assume that advisers holding the CFP® designation have completed many hours of education and passed tests to assess their professional competence.

However, because of the CFP Board’s hairsplitting, you cannot assume “CFP” equals “fiduciary.”

You still have to ask two essential questions:

The first is “In this engagement with me, who are you primarily responsible to, me or your company?” An adviser employed by a brokerage house or investment bank is very likely to be held most responsible to their company and expected to sell that firm’s financial products. This sets up a conflict of interest, in that the products with the highest fees will make the most money for the firm and the adviser, while those with lower fees may well be in the best interest of the clients.

A CFP® adviser who works for an independent financial planning firm may be less likely to be pressured to sell a given line of products. They also may do enough financial planning to be required to be a fiduciary.

However, you still need to ask the second question: “How do you get paid?” Any adviser who receives income from selling financial products cannot fully represent clients as a fiduciary without first overcoming an inherent conflict of interest.

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stock market

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Assessment

An adviser who doesn’t sell any products, who gives investment advice, and whose income comes solely from client fees is answerable and responsible to those clients as a fiduciary. You can trust that such a fee-only adviser will genuinely put your interests first. 

Conclusion

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***

Is the CFP-BOD, and the CFP® mark, in Jeopardy? [VOTE]

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Early CFP® Board Leader Says Future of Certification in Jeopardy

[By Staff Reporters]

The CFP® Board’s strategy of punishing some certificate holders over compensation disclosure issues in what critics charge is an arbitrary manner threatens the future of the CFP® designation, according to one of the early leaders of the board who also chaired its disciplinary commission.

Please vote

And so, we ask this question.

Assessment 

Link: http://www.financial-planning.com/news/early-cfp-board-leader-says-future-of-certification-in-jeopardy-2686698-1.html?ET=financialplanning:e14975:86235a:&st=email&utm_source=editorial&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=FP_Weekend__092713

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Are “Financial Advisors” True Professionals or Employed Sales Representatives for Retail Products?

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White House Sides With Sales Reps On Overtime

Dr. David Edward Marcinko MBA CMP™

[ME-P Editor-in-Chief]

www.CertifiedMedicalPlanner.org

As the US Supreme Court is preparing to review the contentious debate about overtime pay for sales reps, the US Solicitor General has filed an amicus curaie, or friend of the court brief, and sided with pharma reps. The move is not surprising, given that the US Department of Labor has, several times, taken a similar step in federal courts around the country where cases were heard.

Far Reaching Implications?

The review is expected to have far-reaching implications for the pharmaceutical industry, and I believe the financial services industry, as well. Why?

Both sectors have been fighting a growing number of cases nationwide over the past several years, but has had mixed results as the issue has continually divided the courts. At the same time, drug makers, Wall Street and broker-dealers have been laying off thousands of sales reps – “financial advisors”, “wealth managers” and stock brokers – as they try to cut costs and alter their business models to prepare for some level of fiduciary accountability.

The Issue

At issue is whether drug reps, and FAs by extension, are exempt from overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The FLSA overtime compensation requirement does not apply to employees who work as outside salespeople, but the law does require employers to pay overtime for hours worked beyond 40 hours a week, unless a FLSA exemption applies.

Link: http://www.pharmalot.com/2012/02/white-house-sides-with-sales-reps-on-overtime/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Pharmalot+%28Pharmalot%29

My Issue

And so, does this mean that most “financial advisors” are really stock-brokers and product pushers after all? At least in medicine, we doctors know what a pharmaceutical rep is – and we understand his/ her roll is to push pharma products, DME and drug sales.

Shouldn’t a salesman – be a salesman – and an “advisor” – be an RIA or RIA rep? I don’t often agree with the White House, but I do on this one.

FAs can’t be independent client advocates – and employees – at the same time

Now, isn’t it time for the public to know that the vast majority of FAs are just salesmen [still SBs], too? Just selling retail financial products to doctors and others; not drugs. After all, FAs can’t be independent client advocates – and employees – at the same time.  And, it appears with this potential filing and ruling; that they truly wish to be the later. Now FAs, admit it!

Assessment

Why do you think FAs are licensed as “registered representatives”? Rarely; a fiduciary among them!

Conclusion

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A Recent E-mail that I Received

By Dr. David Edward Marcinko MBA, CMP™

www.CertifiedMedicalPlanner.com

[Editor-in-Chief]

As a former certified financial planner for almost 15 years, I was surprised to recently receive the following unedited e-mail correspondence.

Dear Marcinko,

If you are clever, have a way with people, or are a born salesperson, then becoming financial advisor could be your ticket to paradise.

Maybe not exactly paradise, but you could definitely have a ticket to a rewarding career. If you’re thinking about starting out as a new financial advisor – you may already be half the way there.

Why?

Because it’s an occupation where your life challenges will give you the understanding and empathy needed to work with your clients. Have you ever been in the position where you had to figure out a budget for your children’s education? Or manage an over extended credit card? These life situations will aid an individual on the path to become a financial consultant.

Requirements to Be a Financial Advisor

Even though a formal education is not a necessity to become financial adviser, it helps if you’ve taken certain courses.

What degree do you need to become a financial advisor? A bachelor’s degree in Finance, Economics, Accounting, Commerce, Business or Marketing would be a good start. A degree won’t assure you of a startling career but it may help get your foot in the door.

Rumor has it that a degree in psychology is also an asset as financial advising is as much about counseling as it is about advising. There are a plethora of people with all sorts of emotional entanglements around their financial lives.

Licenses

So, what licenses do you need to be a financial advisor? Some companies will assist a newbie in the financial advisory business and place them into a special program that will help them to obtain the required regulatory licenses such as a Series 66, this license permits them to vend annuities and mutual funds. It’s also possible to manage your own training. You can take part-time courses in order to qualify for the CFP (Certified Financial Planner) exam.

There are roughly over 286 universities and colleges that will assist you in preparing for the CFP exam. How long does it take to become a financial advisor? In order to qualify for the exam you will also need three years full-time working experience with a financial planning establishment.

Statistics state that over 40% regularly fail this all important exam. Its worth the time and effort as with this certification you are deemed as a certified financial planner and demand a higher salary.

Assessment

Hot tip: Stay away from insurance companies for financial employment. They’ll insist that you sign everyone including the dog and your grandmother. Then get rid of you if you don’t procure sufficient business. Banks are better they will bring in the clients for you.

Conclusion

And so, your thoughts and comments on this ME-P are appreciated. Are financial advisors true professionals; or a truely professional sales force?

Please review our top-left column, and top-right sidebar materials, links, URLs and related websites, too. Then, subscribe to the ME-P. It is fast, free and secure. Are financial advisors true professionals, or a professional sales force?

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The One-Woman Physician Investors Should Not Trust

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Why We Should “Run” from the SEC’s Mary Schapiro

By Dr. David Edward Marcinko MBA CMP™

[Publisher-in-Chief]

OK, I’ve opined about fiduciary accountability for stock brokers, FAs and FPs – as well as Mary Schapiro [Chairman of the SEC] before – on this ME-P. And usually, in not so glowing terms!

But now, Mary really chaps my ethical and linguistic sensibilities.

Why I’m So P…… Off!

According to Bloomberg, and Advisor One [a financial services industry trade magazine], the chairwoman is considering something called the “business model neutral” rule that retains proprietary financial products, and brokerage sales commissions.

This concept of ‘business neutral’ is the one sought by many in the brokerage and insurance industry in order to redefine the term ‘fiduciary’ as an enhanced form of ‘suitability’ with opt-out provisions.

But, it is not sought by me, and should not be accepted by physicians.

Definitions

Suitability Rule – According to the Free Dictionary:

A stated or implied requirement by a regulatory body that a broker or investment adviser must reasonably believe that a certain investment decision will benefit a client before making a recommendation to him/her. That is, the broker or investment adviser must act in good faith, and may not knowingly recommend bad investments. Different regulators and self-regulating organizations incorporate suitable rules in different places in their bylaws. Two commonly referenced suitability rules are Rule 2310 for the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and Rule 405 for the NYSE. See also: Due diligence, Prudent-person rule, Twisting.

Fiduciary Rule – According to the Free Dictionary:

A uniform standard for financial advisors that requires them to put retail customer interests ahead of their own financial interests.

This is clearly a higher duty [level of care] than suitability. Insurance agents, stock brokers, BDs and most “financial advisors” hate it.

Link: http://www.advisorone.com/2011/12/09/reaction-to-schapiro-comments-on-fiduciary-rule-ar?ref=hp

“Suitability on Steroids”

Some pundits suggest we think of this new “business model neutral” rule as “suitability on steroids.”

However, as most of us in medicine know, steroids are not a panacea and are typically used as a quick fix for short term gain, only.

Otherwise, the excessive use of anabolic steroids is bad for our physical health. Just like Mary Schapiro is bad for our fiscal health. But, a Certified Medical Planner™ is a fiduciary at all times http://www.CertifiedMedicalPlanner.org

More: Enter the CMPs

Assessment       

And so, your thoughts and comments on this ME-P are appreciated. I was an insurance agent and certified financial planner for almost 15 years [Series 7, 63 and 65] before I resigned all – in disgust over the fiduciary flap.

Doctors are fiduciaries. I am a fiduciary, a doctor, and a financial advisor. Shouldn’t all physician-investors demand same from their own financial advisors [NASD-FINRA, RIAs, RIA-Reps]?

But hey – I’m just a medical provider.

Conclusion

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Speaker: If you need a moderator or speaker for an upcoming event, Dr. David E. Marcinko; MBA – Publisher-in-Chief of the Medical Executive-Post – is available for seminar or speaking engagements. Contact: MarcinkoAdvisors@msn.com

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***

Mike Kitces asks: What Can Financial Planners Learn from Suze Orman and Dave Ramsey?

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Follow Paretto’s Law – or Learn Something Unique and Compete?

By Dr. David Edward Marcinko; FACFAS, MBA, CMP™

[Publisher-in-Chief]

Michael Kitces is an industry pundit, and well known certified financial planner [CFP], who writes for a financial advisory and financial planner audience at thewebsite Nerd’s Eye View:

http://www.kitces.com

He is a bright guy, who holds the following professional degrees and designations:

  • MSFS – Master of Science in Financial Services
  • MTAX – Master’s in Taxation
  • CFP – Certified Financial Planner
  • CLU – Chartered Life Underwriter
  • ChFC – Chartered Financial Consultant
  • RHU – Registered Health Underwriter
  • REBC – Registered Employee Benefits Consultant
  • CASL – Chartered Advisor of Senior Living
  • CWPP – Chartered Wealth Preservation Planner

Yet, in a recent essay, he laments that all the CFPs® in the country added together don’t have as much reach, or impact, as three mass marketing gurus: Suze Orman, David Bach, and Dave Ramsey. And, he is correct.

Markets Vary

These gurus, and the CFPs®, serve different markets for sure. The gurus’ products are free or inexpensive. Their messages are simple and actionable. Once you go beyond the simple messages, however, you will find the gurus no longer satisfying. So, it’s no coincidence that the three gurus focus on controlling spending and getting out of debt. Why?

Eighty percent of us do need to get out of debt and control our spending, period!

Link: Do Financial Planners Have Something To Learn From Suze Orman and Dave Ramsey?

Pareto’s Law

Here is where the mass market is located, said economist V. Pareto PhD more than a century ago. The Pareto principle (also known as the 80-20 rule, the law of the vital few, or the principle of scarsity) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. It is a common thumb-rule in business; e.g., “80% of your sales come from 20% of your clients”.

Look, most clients can’t control their income but they can be taught to control spending and debt habits [needs versus wants]. Most patients need a family doctor; not a brain surgeon.  And, most of us do not have Einstein’s intelligence, Gate’s wealth, or Hercules’s strength.

But, our lives can vastly be improved by 80%, with just 20% more effort and cost. This is what the gurus know – most of us are average – not so the CFPs® who believe we all need a comprehensive financial plan and have the ability to pay for it and the time to execute and monitor it.

Assessment

And so, CFPs® can’t charge an 80% premium – to 80% of the population – when clients don’t need or want a comprehensive financial plan. Or, when clients can be better off by 80%, and such success can be had for 20% of the cost and effort offered by the CFPs®.

Basic supply-demand economics 101! Ford autos are fine – we all don’t need or want a Mercedes.

More confusing is the fact that even the CFPs® themselves are suspect since prior to 2008 a college degree was not required for the certification mark. And, having same allows the practitioner no additional diagnostic or interventional tools.

IOW: Whatever a CFP® can do – a non-CFP® can do.  And, it is increasingly considered by the well-informed …. to be a marketing mark …. to hold a marketing mark. This is akin to being famous; for being famous.  That’s why I resigned my CFP® mark years ago.

Full Disclosure: I am the Founder of the: http://www.CertifiedMedicalPlanner.org online program. CMP™ certificants – like doctors – hold fiduciary accountability at all times and with unique healthcare industry specificity.

Conclusion

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