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Financial Planners Should Want More Continuing Professional Development (CPD)

By Mark DiGiovanni, CFP, United States


You might think the preceding figure is the current interest rate on money market accounts.  While that might be true, for this discussion that figure is the amount of time a CFP professional in the United States is required to spend Continuing Professional Development (CPD).  It is equivalent to:

  • 30 hours every two years
  • 1 hour, 15 minutes per month
  • 17 minutes, 19 seconds per week
  • 2 minutes, 28 seconds per day
  • 6.17 seconds per hour
  • slightly more than 1/7th of 1% of our total time

I will not carry on a discussion with any financial professional who claims that this amount of time is excessive, relative to the goal of remaining relevant in our profession.  Financial planners who can’t figure out a way to allot .17123% of their time to professional development have either a serious lack of commitment to the profession or a serious problem with time management.  Would any true financial professional want to look clients in the face and tell them that the time equivalent of listening to one song on the oldies station per day, or watching one episode of  The Three Stooges per week, was too much of a time suck to help them better serve those clients?

Quantity is Only One Measure

What can make thirty hours of CPD seem excessive is that we may often spend most of those hours on topics that have little relevance to our practice or our clients.  I’m required to take three hours of ethics classes every year to maintain my certifications.  In twenty years of taking these classes, I remember one session that was truly worthwhile.  It was taught by a convicted felon, a man who was in the business, turned to the dark side, and became a fugitive for several years before finally being caught and convicted.  His perspective was far more enlightening than any curriculum concocted by some bureaucrat.  (I also learned the “FBI-door-knock,” something I hope to never experience.)

Most of us probably earn most of our CPD credits by attending conferences by groups such as a local FPA chapter, and by taking quizzes on articles in one of several financial planning publications.  I think attending CPD classes in person is worthwhile for a couple of reasons.  There is usually an opportunity for Q&A with the speaker, which can be enlightening.  Attending a seminar with fellow financial professionals also provides the opportunity to interact with them, to “hobnob with my fellow wizards,” to borrow a line from one of my favorite movies.  However, I understand that many of you don’t have such opportunities readily available, and often the curriculum contains a lot of topics of little interest or relevance to you and your practice.  Most of us are lucky to earn one-third of our required CPD hours attending classes in person on topics of both interest and relevance.

TED and the MOOCS

If you’re looking for a twenty-minute brain massage, the web site has what you’re looking for.  There are videotaped presentations from a variety of speakers on an endless variety of topics.  A couple of presentations currently available that are relevant to our work are “Could Your Language Affect Your Ability to Save Money?” and “How We Can Predict the Next Financial Crisis.”  These presentations are interesting, informative, and available 24/7.

My daughter has made me aware of Coursera, a pioneering educational technology company that is leading the growth of massive, open, online courses (MOOCs).  Coursera offers over 300 free online courses in 20 areas, such as the Humanities, Mathematics, Business, and many others, from top professors from 62 universities in 16 countries, schools like Stanford, Duke, Princeton, and University of Tokyo.  Companies like Coursera are demolishing the old educational model of the “Sage on the Stage”, where students gather to listen to a professor live and in person.  The stage is now the internet, and there are currently three million people around the world taking courses on Coursera.

Relevant; Interesting; Convenient

Groups like Financial Planning Standards Board, CFP Board, and the Financial Planning Association could and should begin working together to develop something like and Coursera to make Continuing Professional Development available to everyone via the internet.  There are already hundreds, if not thousands of recorded presentations that could stock the digital library to get the project rolling.  Once the financial planning profession becomes aware of this new method to meet CPD requirements, there will be no shortage of new presentations available, as more speakers will be recorded in the hopes that they can get greater exposure through this new method of learning.

Make the CPD presentations relevant, interesting, and convenient to watch, and most financial professionals will find themselves exceeding the CPD hour requirements without even trying.  Even chronic procrastinators will be able to meet the requirements at the last minute while still learning something of value.

5 comments to Financial Planners Should Want More Continuing Professional Development (CPD)

  • Phil Billingham

    Mark, spot on. Could not agree more. The implicit point, which I want to agree strongly with is that this is actually for our clients benefit, and if we have any professional pride or standards, surely THAT is the thing that matters. All a Professional body does is help and give guidance with logistics and minimum standards. We should embrace and go beyond that

  • Michael Snowdon

    Thank you for your observations Mark. I have heard many of the complaints by financial planners that current requirements are too onerous and time consuming, and I recognize that the needs of financial planners are important. Of greater importance, though, is support for the financial planning profession as a whole. Surely the profession and how it is perceived and accepted by both peers and clients, warrants consideration of higher professional standards. Finally, of greatest importance is putting clients first and supporting them with the highest levels of professional preparedness. I believe minimum requirements need to support higher standards of professionalism. Further, regardless of minimum requirements, would it not be beneficial for financial planners to recognize the need for greater professional development, and act accordingly?

  • Tim Murray

    At FPA events and/or symposiums, we need to limit the number of presentations provided by product providers. I get that they are sponsors and pay big bucks to set up their table at the events, but we simply are not learning much.

    It’s circular. We can’t get CE credits without the symposiums (there are other ways, I know), we can’t have the symposiums without the corporate sponsors, and the sponsors won’t pay unless they can make presentations…


  • Great read.

    Most of the FAs I’ve ever met are life-long learners who gobble up news, information, etc.

    To the mix of resources you’ve provided, I’d add to the mix (I am not paid by them). They have financial advisory channels (I have been requested to do 2 programs for them but was not paid to produce them).

  • I don’t see any social networking share links on this site. Am I missing them?

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