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A Review of the CFP Board’s New Fiduciary Guide

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A Review of the CFP Board’s New Fiduciary Guide

In the interest of full disclosure, this will not be an objective review. I was the principal author of the FPA’s fiduciary handbook, Fiduciary Ethos, which the CFP Board refused to approve for CE.

In 2010, the FPA released its first fiduciary handbook – Fiduciary Ethos (Ethos). As soon as it was circulated, the CFP Board announced that no portion of the handbook was approved for CE. The CFP Board even went so far as to threaten FPA chapters that still wanted to use the handbook for training even though they were not going to get CE.

During the next two years numerous attempts were made with the CFP Board to get Ethos approved. Over time we came to realize that the CFP Board was intentionally interfering with the FPA’s efforts, and that Board wanted exclusive power and control to define fiduciary standards for all financial planners.

Nine years have passed and the CFP Board has finally released its own fiduciary guide – Roadmap.

I’ve reviewed Roadmap and found seven material differences between Ethos and Roadmap.

Click the hyperlinks to PDF versions of Ethos and Roadmap to do your own side-by-side comparisons.

1. Ethos is based on a procedural prudence standard; Roadmap on the lesser best interests standard.

2. Ethos is grounded on fiduciary best practices; Roadmap on complex and lengthy disclosures.

3. Ethos utilizes a uniform fiduciary framework so that it can be used with any type of client engagement. Roadmap is only applicable to financial planning and investment advice. The limited scope of Roadmap is going to be problematic for the CFP who has a multidisciplinary practice, for now the CFP is going to be subject to more than one fiduciary standard of care. 

4. Ethos includes a universal decision-making process that financial planners can use to educate clients who are serving as lay-fiduciaries on boards and committees. Roadmap does not provide any guidance for CFPs that are working with lay-fiduciaries.

5. Ethos was written to define a fiduciary standard that would advance the profession and position the financial planner as a critical leader. There’s nothing in Roadmap that advances the concept of the CFP as a professional or leader.

6. Ethos highlights behaviors that are known to build trust. Roadmap utilizes lengthy complex disclosures that are more likely to become a source of mistrust.

7. Ethos was written to inspire and engage financial planners to be passionate stewards. Roadmap will only inspire and engage plaintiff attorneys who now have a detailed roadmap on how to sue CFPs.

It’s a tragedy that the CFP Board interfered with the FPA’s fiduciary initiative. Financial planners could have benefited from having an additional nine years to absorb fiduciary best practices. Even more disturbing, though Ethos was never approved for CE, Roadmap includes sections and elements that clearly have been copied from Ethos.

Fiduciary is organic, and will evolve as new case law, products, strategies, and research come into view. This is why fiduciary standards should be based on principles and best practices, as we did with Ethos. Fiduciary standards based on complex disclosures and rules – such as those found in Roadmap – are going to cause more harm than good.

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