How Do I Choose A Qualified Financial Planner?

By Jon L. Ten Haagen

Anyone can call themselves a financial advisor/consultant. You can go home and make a sign saying financial advisor and post it on your front lawn tomorrow morning. Does this make you qualified to be a financial advisor? I think not.

So, choosing a financial advisor may be one of the most important decisions you make for yourself and your loved ones. Financial planners can provide you and your family with guidance over your lifetime, or work with you to address specific concerns as needed. Regardless of how you choose to work together, a planner can play a central role in helping you meet your life goals and achieve financial well-being. Consequently, take the time to select a financial planner who is competent and trustworthy.

Marks of quality, certified financial planner and practitioner, are marks which help you identify financial planners who are committed to competent and ethical behavior when providing financial planning services. Each CFP Practitioner licensee has taken the extra step to demonstrate their professionalism by voluntarily submitting to the rigorous CFP certification process. In addition to significant education and experience requirements, a CFP Practitioner must pass a comprehensive exam that tests their personal financial planning knowledge and skills, continually update their abilities and abide by a strict code of ethics.

To protect yourself when choosing a CFP Practitioner (all are not created equal) contact the CFP board to make sure the planner is authorized to use the CFP marks. Call tool free 1-888-CFP-MARK (888-237-6275) or visit the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards’ web site, The CFP Board is a nonprofit professional regulatory organization that was founded in 1985 to benefit the public by fostering professional standards in personal financial planning.

Testing for competency: To earn the right to use the CFP marks, each CFP practitioner must complete the following competency requirements:

Education: A CFP Practitioner develops theoretical and practical financial planning knowledge by completing a comprehensive course of study at a college or university offering financial planning curriculum, registered with the CFP Board.

Examination: A CFP Practitioner must pass a comprehensive two-day, 10-hour CFP certification examination, which tests their ability to apply financial planning knowledge in an integrated format. Based on regularly updated research of what planners do, the CFP Board’s exam covers the financial planning process, tax planning, employee benefits and retirement planning, estate planning, investment management and insurance.

Experience: a CFP Practitioner must have a minimum of three years’ experience in the financial planning process prior to earning the right to use the CFP Practitioner mark. As a result, a CFP Practitioner possesses financial consulting skills in addition to financial planning knowledge.

Ethical Conduct: As a final step to certification, a CFP Practitioner agrees to abide by a strict code of professional conduct, known as the CFP Board’s code of ethics and professional responsibility that sets forth a CFP Practitioner’s ethical responsibilities to the public, to clients and to employees. The code of ethics states that a CFP Practitioner is to act with integrity, offering you professional services that are objective and based on your needs before theirs.

Re-Certification: Once certified, a CFP Practitioner is required to maintain technical competence and fulfill ethical obligations. Every two years, they complete a minimum of 30 hours of continuing education, staying current with developments in the financial planning profession to better serve clients. Two of these hours are spent studying or discussing the CFP Board’s code of ethics.

The financial planning process:

- Establishing and defining the client-planner relationship

- Gathering client data including goals

- Analyzing and evaluating the client’s financial status

- Developing and presenting financial planning recommendations and/or alternatives

- Implementing the financial planning recommendations

- Monitoring the financial planning recommendations and periodic reviews

It’s a matter of trust: As more people call themselves “financial planners,” finding the right professional to address your financial planning needs isn’t always easy. Take your time when choosing a financial planner. Before making a decision, become familiar with the planner’s business style and understand the level of services they provides. Look for a measure of the planner’s commitment to ethical behavior and adherence to high professional standards. Most importantly, look for a financial planner who will put you and your needs at the center of every financial planning engagement. If the first question from a planner is, “How much money do you have to invest?” you might consider looking elsewhere. The very best of luck with your journey to a comfortable retirement.