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Growing Literature of the Financial Planning Profession

By Paul Rabenowitz, CFP

The literature of professionalism in financial planning is rapidly growing. This is a testament to an industry in search of itself.

In 2009, FPSB published “The State of the Financial Planning Profession in the “Post-Trust” Era.” In 2010, they published the paper entitled “Regulation and Oversight of the Financial Planning Profession” and more recently “The Global Practice of Financial Planning”. You can find all of these readings on their website.

In a 1989 article in the Journal of Financial Planning, Lynn Hopewell wrote: “Professionalism…depends not on whether the government licensed you, not on whether we have a self-regulatory organisation, not on whether you have letters after your name, but rather on how you behave. We will become a professional only after we behave like one. Better handling of our conflicts of interest will improve our behaviour”[1]

Is The Code of Ethics Merely an Illusion?

Our behaviour as CFP professionals is regulated through the Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibility. A Code of Ethics is regarded as one of five major attributes that distinguish an occupation from a profession.[2] A Code of Ethics on its own, without enforcement and regular refreshing and training, may however be merely an illusion of professionalism. Dan Ariely in his recent blog[3] writes that a regular reminder of the duties and obligations of the Code of Ethics will increase ethical behavior.

The UK and South Africa are undergoing regulatory changes to ensure minimum competence amongst financial services providers. We must never delude ourselves that minimum regulatory competence equates to professionalism in financial services. The objectives of regulators differ substantially from the roles and standards professional bodies and practicing professionals set for themselves.

“We cannot self-proclaim that financial planning is a profession because this is, in the end, a status that can be conferred only by the public. If the public does not recognize the industry as a profession, nothing you can do or say will gain that coveted status for the industry as a whole.”[4]

Building a Profession Takes Time

Globally we must understand that we are at the birth of a new profession. It will take time, patience and determination to earn the trust and respect of other professions and clients.

To conclude with the wonderful words of Richard Wagner, the author of the seminal article: To think like a CFP[5]

“Clearly immature, this profession remains mostly potential. Metaphorically, we still live with our parents—financial product sales and “production” based compensation systems. Accordingly, we remain defined by others. Devoid of self-defining functional theory or necessary connections with academic resources, we have no equivalent to the codes and theory of medicine and law traditions. We lack academic traditions and sources of interface with significant centres of learning. Neither have we evolved functional self-knowledge. Absent such intellectual partnering, we struggle to evolve mission and identity.”[6]

[1] Lynn Hopewell, Journal of Financial Planning, October 1989

[2] Greenwood, Ernest,  (July 1957), “Attributes of a Profession,” Social Work, pp. 44-52.


[4] Robinson and Hughes, Journal of Financial Planning, April 2009, 67


[6] Richard Wagner Integral Finance: A Framework for a 21st Century Profession , Journal of Financial Planning 2002

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