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Revisting CE Boundaries

In the past, I’ve supported the CFP Board’s longstanding policy that practice management sessions should not qualify for CE credits.  The logic was that learning how to make more money, or operate more profitably, is not appropriate CE fare for a professional.  Worse than that are the sales-related sessions (billed as if they were somehow related to professional advice) that I would see at broker-dealer conferences.Cartoon-aliens

Other professions have arrived at the same conclusion that the CFP Board has.  A profession’s CE credits should be awarded for attending educational presentations that teach us how to provide better technical and personal advice and solutions for clients—period.

But now I’m rethinking at least a part of this principled stand.  Technology-related sessions have been broadly lumped under practice management—generally for good reason.  A CRM program MAY enable an advisor to keep better track of client issues, but it is more often used to facilitate workflows and keep track of prospects in the pipeline—in other words, more related to efficiency and profitability than client service.  Your asset management software is mostly used to keep track of a client’s assets and performance, not IMPROVE that performance. 

But today, the software tools have become so sophisticated that it is forcing a new version of professional practice on the CFP community—what might be broadly called the “cyborg model,” where man and machine co-serve client interests.  The planner is still responsible for the outcome, but some of the work will be delegated to increasingly sophisticated software calculators (financial planning programs and robo-advisory tools) under the planner’s supervision.

By my new logic, medical professionals should not be awarded CE credits for learning how to do a better job of using their accounting system for billing.  Nor should the planner get CE credits for doing a better job of remembering client birthdays or automating the process for debiting fees from a client’s account.  But the surgeon SHOULD get CE credits for coursework that teaches better ways to use the robotic surgery tools.  Why shouldn’t professional planners get CE credits for gaining more sophistication around the selection and use of the “alerts” tools in increasingly sophisticated planning software, or rebalancing tools (automated or not), or the new Gibson Capital software that facilitates co-creation of a client portfolio?  All of those sessions would help the planner create better client outcomes, both technically as well as procedurally.

The point is that we are already past a threshold where the technology becomes part of the professional advice that the client receives, and the CFP Board needs to recognize the new reality around how planners deliver advice.  This opens up a lot of new judgment calls, but the days of automatically defining technology education as mere practice management are behind us.  I hope the CFP Board will catch up with the new reality without opening the door too wide or too far.