client meeting

Over the course of my career in financial services, I’ve spent a lot of time designing and developing professional education programs. I’ve witnessed first-hand the transformative power of rigorous, high-quality professional training. I’ve also learned the importance of ensuring curriculums not only meet the demanding requirements of today’s professionals and the needs of Canadians but also anticipate the future needs of the profession and industry.

This commitment to excellence in education has been driven by a belief that well-prepared professionals must be capable of navigating complex challenges, fostering innovation, and always putting the needs of their clients first.

While it’s clear that comprehensive financial planning education serves planners well, we often forget that it also benefits Canadians. Having access to a planner with high-calibre professional qualifications — one who’s accountable to rigorous oversight by a credible financial planning body — increases the likelihood of positive planning outcomes.

But the benefits extend much further.

Individuals who know and understand their planner’s qualifications may feel more financially empowered, have more confidence in the financial planning process, and place greater trust in the profession. For that to happen, financial planners and leaders within the profession must educate Canadians about what constitutes professional competence and help them understand the value proposition that working with a professional financial planner presents.

At FP Canada, we define a competency, through our CFP Professional Competency Profile and our QAFP Professional Competency Profile, as the integrated application of knowledge, skills, attitudes and professional judgments to perform a financial planning engagement at the expected proficiency level.

To break it down further, there are two functional drivers of every competency. The first is a strong grasp of a financial planning knowledge area (such as tax or retirement planning) as well as financial planning functions (which include collecting client information, analyzing client situations, and developing financial planning recommendations). Layered on that foundational knowledge are professional skills, such as critical thinking and relationship building.

Fully realized competencies are cornerstones of exceptional financial planning certification. They prepare planners to work with clients, especially when those competencies are part of an education and certification program that provides opportunities to take part in interactive activities and enact real-world scenarios.

Of course, even the most diligent consumer may not be interested in the in-depth intricacies of financial planning competencies. What they likely will find helpful is an informative overview of relevant qualifications, and how these qualifications will serve them, the client, given their circumstances and goals. This information will help them make more informed financial decisions, starting with who they should work with.

In addition to helping clients understand the value of competencies, planners can further instil confidence in potential clients by discussing the importance of professional oversight. It’s true that selecting a professional who’s proven they’re qualified should greatly reduce the likelihood that a client will encounter gaps in competence or professional judgment. That said, knowing a planner is accountable to a credible financial planning body with a robust and transparent enforcement process can provide additional reassurance.

It’s worth noting that title protection has a critical role to play in not only protecting clients but also supporting them through education about financial planning qualifications — and the process of title protection itself. By creating minimum standards, including educational standards, for those who have the right to use the “financial planner” title, the title protection framework provides clarity around the role and what it entails. As we continue to see developments related to existing and future title protection legislation in several provinces, I’m hopeful that we’ll see more Canadians achieving increased levels of financial confidence in the years ahead.

At the individual level, financial planners should be transparent when discussing their financial planning qualifications. They should also look for ways to educate their clients about what to look for in a planner — including knowledge, skills, competencies and adherence to a code of ethics and set of professional standards.

Another helpful step for financial planners is participating enthusiastically in relevant continuing education (CE) opportunities. Once again, explaining annual CE requirements can help provide clients with a bigger-picture understanding of a planner’s expertise — and the planner’s dedication to ensuring their knowledge is current.

Keeping current is especially crucial at a time when there’s significant discussion about the possibility of artificial intelligence replacing professionals across sectors. In the financial planning profession, human insight and relationship skills combined with technological efficiency is key. This combination will ensure planners and clients enjoy the benefits and efficiencies that can be delivered by leveraging new technologies while allowing clients to continue benefiting from the personal interaction of working with a qualified professional.

Credentialing bodies can take the lead by revisiting their educational models regularly. In part, that will mean reviewing and updating financial planning competencies to ensure they’re keeping up with innovations in technology, developments in behavioural finance and the psychology of financial planning, new and evolving financial products, and legislative and regulatory changes. Regulators and credentialing bodies should also support planners in educating clients — and ramp up advocacy efforts with regard to the importance of title protection and working with a credentialed planner.

Crucially, leaders across the profession should take steps to help provincial and territorial decision-makers understand that title protection is in the public interest. Thoughtful legislation will allow Canadians to feel confident in the services that professional financial planners provide.

The value of comprehensive professional education for financial planners can’t be overstated. By extending our educational efforts to all Canadians, and doing so in a way that’s appropriate for their levels of knowledge, we can help ensure a more informed and financially confident future.

Tashia Batstone is president and CEO of FP Canada.