All about CFP Board: The Organization behind the CFP® Exam

By: Kaplan Financial Education
March 31, 2021
Men learning about CFP Board standards

CFP Board is the accepted short name for Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc., a non-profit organization that administers the CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ (CFP®) designation. Along with granting the CFP® mark, the mission of CFP Board is to advance and ensure that the certification is the recognized standard of excellence for personal financial planning. In this article, you’ll learn about the history of CFP Board, its structure and activities, and its role in developing the CFP® exam.

CFP Board History

In 1969, 13 men met in Chicago to formalize personal financial planning as a profession. Before that time, personal financial planning required searching numerous areas of the financial services industry for ways to help individuals plan for their financial futures. At that meeting, they created the International Association for Financial Planners (IAFP) and the College for Financial Planning, which introduced an education program for what would later become CFP® certification.

Sixteen years later, in 1985, the College for Financial Planning agreed to the establishment of an independent, non-profit certifying and standards-setting organization. It transferred ownership of the CFP® mark and responsibility for continuing the CFP® certification program to the new organization, now known as CFP Board. In November 1991, 81 people received the CFP® mark after passing the very first CFP® exam, which tested their ability to integrate and apply the knowledge gained from the financial planning curriculum.

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CFP Board Today

Today, CFP Board is headquartered in Washington, D.C., and its CEO is Kevin Keller, CAE. Among its responsibilities is maintaining current, and developing new, financial planning standards as the industry changes. It accepts volunteers for its various councils and research projects, and it counts all CFP® professionals in good standing (those who have earned the certification and keep it active through continuing education) as its members. As of August 31, 2019, there are 85,434 CFP® certificants, and they are located all over the U.S.

CFP Board has a board of directors, which oversees CFP Board and sets policy. The current chair is Susan John, CFP®, of Financial Focus, Inc., Wolfeboro, NH. CFP Board has a number of research initiatives on topics such as racial and ethnic diversity, women in financial planning, and consumer surveys. It has councils for business models, public policy, and education, and a standards commission. It also operates CFP Board Center for Financial Planning, which is dedicated to making sure every American has access to financial planning advice that is competent and ethical through greater diversity and sustainability.

CFP Board Education and Ethics

CFP Board sets the standards for the financial planning education required to earn the CFP® certification. In other words, before you can become a CFP® professional, you must complete a comprehensive course of study at a college or university that offers a financial planning curriculum approved by CFP Board. After CFP Board is notified that you’ve successfully finished that education, you can take the exam. Once you pass the CFP® exam, gain the requisite years of experience, and earn the certification, it’s good for two years. After that, you must renew it every two years by taking continuing education courses approved by CFP Board.

CFP Board is also the keeper of “The Rules of Conduct.” These rules require that CFP® professionals put client interests ahead of their own at all times and that their financial planning services are “fiduciary,” which means they are acting in the best interest of their clients. CFP Board can, if it chooses, sanction CFP® professionals who violate these standards.

CFP Board and the CFP® Exam

CFP Board develops the CFP® Certification Exam, which tests how well candidates can apply financial planning knowledge to real-life situations. Volunteer CFP® professionals guide all aspects of the exam, which include setting the criteria for scoring and passing. Some of these volunteers are subject matter experts (SMEs) who determine what the content will cover, write the questions, and review them. Others are volunteers on the CFP Board Council of Examinations (COE), which reviews and approves the questions. Testing experts assure the exam is current, reliable, valid, and legal.

Before you take the exam, you must meet the education requirement by completing the CFP® curriculum at a CFP Board-approved educational institution. The topics covered on the CFP® exam include general financial planning principles, investment planning, retirement savings and income planning, risk management and insurance planning, tax planning, estate planning, professional conduct and regulation, and education planning. It consists of 170 multiple-choice questions, and candidates take it over the course of six hours with a 40-minute scheduled break after the first 3 hours. Each session is divided into two subsections. Optional breaks are available between each subsection. The exam is offered in eight-day windows, three times a year. (This CFP® Exam FAQ has more details.)

Ready to be Recognized by CFP Board as a CFP® Professional?

If you’re interested in taking the exam, we have CFP® exam study packages. Or, if you’re just starting out and need to complete the required education, explore our CFP Board-registered education program.

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Preparing for the CFP® exam can be a daunting task. Making a CFP® exam study plan is the best way to ensure you use your study time efficiently and are ready to pass on test day. Download this free eBook to learn how to create a CFP® exam study plan that works for you.