Education providers predict more financial planning credentials could be created in the wake of FP Canada’s decision to offer all education in-house for the designations it oversees.
Last month, FP Canada said it would begin providing the technical education for the qualified associate financial planner (QAFP) and certified financial planner (CFP) designations. The move follows the certification body taking the CFP’s professional education in-house in 2019. By providing both technical and professional education programs, FP Canada will serve as a one-stop shop for those seeking certification.
“[W]e are committed to ensuring that all Canadians have access to trusted, professional and qualified advice,” Tashia Batstone, president and CEO of FP Canada, said in a release announcing the change. “Central to this mission is ensuring that all QAFP professionals and CFP professionals are equipped with the best possible technical and professional skills.”
Jason Knell, academic director, curriculum and corporate training programs with SeeWhy Learning in Mississauga, Ont., said taking education in-house allows FP Canada to “close any gaps in proficiency,” especially considering that multiple designations have been approved for use of the “financial planner” title in Ontario. In addition to the QAFP and CFP, these include designations overseen by the Canadian Securities Institute (CSI), Financial Advisors Association of Canada (Advocis) and Canadian Institute of Financial Planning (CIFP).
The designations are “not all equivalent,” Knell said. “For that reason, I’m a big advocate that FP Canada has taken a leadership approach like this to set the bar high.”
CSI, Advocis and the CIFP, along with Business Career College (BCC), are national education providers for FP Canada’s designations. They’ve been providing technical education, as have post-secondary institutions, and can continue to do so.
“FP Canada recognizes that different candidates are interested in pursuing different education and certification pathways,” the certification body said in an emailed statement.
As education agreements come due, “we encourage the national providers to reapply for another agreement with us to deliver the materials that lead to certification,” said Alexandra Macqueen, vice-president of learning, development and professional practice with FP Canada. “Competition is healthy.” (Post-secondary institutions can also renew their education agreements.)
In an emailed statement, Jason Watt, vice-president of BCC in Edmonton, said, “Given the usual quality of FP Canada’s content, I believe other providers (like us) will have to step up our game. I hope this results in an overall better experience for all students, with any provider, pursuing certification.”
But Keith Costello, president and CEO of the CIFP, said that as FP Canada becomes the dominant education provider for the CFP over time, “the most obvious outcome is going to be lack of competition [in education].” Less competition means candidates could end up paying more for content that’s not necessarily best-in-class, he said.
FP Canada said it isn’t accepting applications from new national providers to provide technical education. And the current national providers can’t offer end-to-end programming for the QAFP and CFP because, as non-degree-granting institutions, they’re ineligible to be accredited to offer the professional education program.
The certification body said its technical education was priced to ensure competitiveness, and bundle pricing is available. Those with industry qualifications get cost savings from exemptions.
Costello foresees more competition under title regulation, with education providers creating financial planning designations in line with established regulatory requirements.
With Ontario’s multiple-credential title protection regime, which could be replicated in other provinces, more designations were inevitable, he said: “FP Canada bringing their education in house — that will only speed that process up.”
As more designations are approved, a positive result will be “choice for the advisor, so they can get the best price and the best content available to be a financial planner,” Costello said.
The fear with a multiple-credential title regime is that it could cause individuals and firms to look for the lowest-cost credential, Knell said. However, “smart students are going to realize, ‘I need a quality program’” to serve clients well, he said.
In addition to regulatory approval, any new credential would face the hurdle of industry acceptance, Knell said: “Most of the big employers … have already identified what they deem to be an acceptable designation.”
He suggested third-party providers may find greater business opportunity in focusing on QAFP and CFP exam-prep materials. “There are so many students looking for help in attaining these designations,” he said. Third parties provide exam prep for the chartered financial analyst designation, he noted, while the CFA Institute* provides the primary curriculum.
Undermining undergraduate education?
A potential consequence of FP Canada offering education in-house is that Canadian universities could be deterred from creating an undergraduate degree in financial planning, said Jodi Letkiewicz, associate professor of finance with York University in Toronto. Universities could relegate financial planning to “the continuing-education bucket … and not a discipline in and of itself,” she said.
Canadian post-secondary institutions that offer financial planning programming typically do so in the context of a degree in commerce (or postgradudate certificate), as at York. Canada has no undergraduate degree in financial planning, while the U.S. has many — a result of how the country’s educational system developed historically amid land-grant institutions and home economics programs, Letkiewicz said.
A Canadian undergrad in financial planning would allow for “rich” and “dedicated” financial planning content as well as a “more well-rounded” education, Letkiewicz said.
York University worked with FP Canada to pilot the certification body’s enhanced professional education program.The pilot program replaced FP Canada’s former capstone course requirements and included a behaviour focus, along with professional responsibilities and more case studies. York was chosen because of its “unique expertise and background in human behaviour,” said FP Canada.
FP Canada’s professional program is “not as robust” as the “intense case-based” capstone course at York that it replaced, Letkiewicz said. “Students are not getting as good of an education.”
York’s capstone course offering, which included a live case study, had exceeded CFP certification requirements and cost students less, Letkiewicz said. The university could reinstate the capstone course and still considers doing so, she added.
Still, compared to the capstone course requirements, FP Canada said its professional education programs are better preparing financial planners “due to their holistic focus versus the singular focus of [the] capstone,” which was financial planning.
And changes to QAFP certification announced last month will include a live interactive client discovery to the professional education program. The live discovery is “a very nice way to build client-facing skills for certificants, so they arrive to the marketplace … having modelled those client skills very directly,” Macqueen said.
FP Canada said it will soon review the CFP professional education program too, with plans to add live components after getting feedback on the QAFP professional education program.
* A previous version of this story said that the CFA Society provides the primary CFA curriculum. In fact, the CFA Institute provides the curriculum. Return to the corrected sentence.