The Canadian Institute of Financial Planners
The CIFPs is a non-profit association of the Canadian Certified Financial Planner® (CFP®) professionals. The association serves this professional community as an educator, and as an independent and effective advocate for the financial planning profession in Canada.
The CIFPs has a threefold mandate: continuously challenge itself to create the highest quality educational programs for CFP® professionals, support its members as an advocate with the public, and herald the CFP® designation as the highest standard for financial planners in Canada and internationally. The association membership is open to all Canadian CFP® professionals, associates who have completed their pre-license educational requirements, students who are currently enrolled in a qualified program leading to CFP® certification, and concerned investors.
“The original CIFP (Canadian Institute of Financial Planning), which is our educational body for finance and financial planning, started training financial planners in 1972. We were the first organization to do that. In 2001, we decided that once educated, the CFPs needed additional ongoing support during their practice, so we developed the CIFPs, the membership practitioner side of the association, and in 2007 we brought the two together as a single entity,” explains Keith Costello, President and CEO.
By combining these strengths, the CIFPs provides its 6,000 members and 3,000 CFP® students with a total solution, from initial qualification and complete training, to post-qualification support, while working with financial planning students and their employers on the latest issues in the financial planning sphere.
The CIFPs provides advocacy, communication and promotion, research services, and member networking, but education remains the core competency of the association. The CIFPs thus assists members with their professional development needs.
The CIFPs Annual National Conference along with various technical conferences that the CIFPs organizes throughout the year across Canada are also geared to enhance and develop the expertise of CFP professionals by providing them with vital education and information that keeps members up to date on the latest industry and financial planning profession trends, events, and practices.
In terms of continuing education, the CIFPs also delivers a comprehensive suite of continuing education courses that maintain members’ CFP designation in good standing so that the FPSC (Financial Planning Standards Council) annual requirements for continuous education are met.
“As an association, our core competency is in education and we provide advisors and companies with unbiased information and education. Other training programs may be skewed and favour actors of the specific financial sector such as mutual funds licensees, securities licensees, etc., whereas we provide truly independent information to all stakeholders. That is the key nature of our education,” adds Costello.
In terms of education, since the economic downturn of 2008, the focus on individual financial wellbeing has stepped into the forefront, and one would assume that the professional financial planner would benefit from this concern. However, according to Costello, during the economic downturn, advisors and companies reacted by reducing their training budgets and focusing on their core functions. The downturn also brought a significant shift that took the whole of finance industry by storm — the focus being on service rather than on product.
“Before, the industry focus was to sell investment products to customers, but now it is migrating to a full client-centered service model, meaning that integrated financial planning happens before any investment or financial product can be suggested to the customer.”
Not only has this become an advantage for the client, but it has also challenged the CIFPs to create a suitable educational model for CFPs that addresses this new reality.
“Customers are simply seeking a more holistic approach to their financial wellbeing, seeking answers to the whole of their financial needs such as estate planning, retirement planning, wealth accumulation, etc. They are simply looking at the whole suite, and seek comprehensive advice and full service. It’s quite a revolution in the industry and there is a need to give people working in the industry the right professional credentials,” elucidates Costello.
The CIFPs has always been offering the full educational suite to its students and members, but with this shift, the association is now encouraging its members to further increase their competencies through additional training. The CIFPs also continuously works to adjust its curriculum so that the course offering reflects the market needs. “We are moving from basic licensing to providing more complex, almost university level quality, courses that may be required in the future,” says Costello. The new program we have developed to meet changing market needs is the Registered Retirement Consultant Program (“RRC®”). It gives financial planners specialty knowledge and skills to assist Canadians with retirement planning, which is the fastest growing segment as the Canadian public ages.
While the CIFPs provides total support, it does not award the CFP® and Certified Financial Planner® designations. The right to use the CFP® and Certified Financial Planner® marks are granted under license by the FPSC.
Even as such, the issue in the financial planning industry is the fact that the CFP® and Certified Financial Planner® designations remain self-declared, which means that financial planners are not bound by regulations from the Government of Canada, and do not adhere to common standards across the industry. That is why the CIFPs takes strides to acquire such recognition from the Government of Canada.
“The CIFPs, the FPSC, and other organizations created a coalition to work on this issue. As it stands, professional financial planners are still so-called ‘self-declared’ and are managed for the most part by their licensing bodies – indeed, they may have a mutual funds license, a securities license, etc.
“From a regulatory perspective, no one is officially monitoring financial planning advisors, so we are currently taking steps to lobby with the government in order to give financial planners this enhanced level of credibility. That’s the challenge of the CIFPs today, and our goal is to make sure that customers are working with a true professional,” says Costello.
While the customers push expectations towards a more holistic service in regard to their financial planning needs, the coalition of financial associations continues to drive the setting-up of a government-recognized designation that will add credibility as well as strengthen the ability of these well-rounded financial planning professionals to provide Canadians with better financial planning models, including a wider range of options and more efficient and customized solutions.