Conquering the CFP

By Jeff Pocock | March 1, 2010 | Last updated on March 1, 2010
2 min read

Most financial planners revere the Certified Financial Planning (CFP) exam like Dorothy and her friends revered the Wizard of Oz. But be warned, many embark on the road to the Emerald City, but not all make it.

With Toto, my financial calculator, by my side, I embarked on my CFP journey some three years ago. I developed three things along the way: brain, heart and courage. I had to learn how to fail, fall and pick myself up, dust myself off several times and give it yet another shot.

A lawyer from Cincinnati once told me that in law school they take the first year to strip you of what you know and then spend the next two years teaching you to think like a lawyer. Similarly, after more than 3,000 questions and 35 hours of exams, I too molded my brain to think like a financial planner.

The CFP is far more complex than a college or university course, for sure. You’re required to know the concepts and the material thoroughly; there are no shortcuts. To earn the CFP, candidates must complete a Financial Planning Standard Council-approved education program, amass two years of full-time financial planning experience, pass the CFP exam, agree to abide by the CFP code of ethics and then pay the membership fees. This all boils down to what the council calls the “4Es”—education, examination, experience and ethics.

How can one not be just a little fearful of an exam with a pass rate of close to 40%? And did I mention the final exam is six hours long?

I wrote the June 2009 exam and I failed. But I clicked my heels together and went back to the drawing board. For three months, after a hard day at work, I’d come home and study each night and on weekends. I did 100 practice questions a week, as well as a course on how to prepare specifically for the exam. I finally aced it in December of 2009.

Knowledge just isn’t enough to get you through. In the exam, you have exactly 1 minute and 45 seconds to answer each stand-alone question and 3 minutes and 36 seconds for each of the 50 case-study questions questions, so time is really of the essence. After your brain turns to straw, most likely by the fourth hour, all you have left is heart and possibly some courage. I think after writing so many multiple-choice exams, I had developed an intuitive ability to spot the answer more often than not.

The key is never to enter the examination hall without a financial calculator. You need it like you need your GPS in an unknown city.

And as I savour the afterglow of my efforts, I discover the value of the CFP doesn’t just lie in the alphabet, but in the rightness and the truth of the work that goes into it.

Jeff pocock, CFP, is a financial consultant at Investors Group.

Jeff Pocock