by Seth Fineberg

It was once thought that one of three groups could offer a good home for the PFS.

They included the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, and the nascent Association of CPA Financial Planners, comprised of PFS holders. It has also been reported that the CFP Board or the ACPAFP are the likely candidates, though that decision hadn’t been made at press time.

Still, in many PFS holders’ eyes, only the ACPAFP will be able to save the designation from extinction. Regardless of the Council vote, ACPAFP president James Shambo and his supporters are not about to let that happen.

“We have made it clear to the AICPA we would not do anything to reduce the quality of the designation; we are even modeling our quality control practices after the AICPA,” Shambo said. “If we are not selected, I guarantee we will lobby hard to have them take a better look at us.”

Some PFS holders have gone so far as to drop the designation altogether until they know where it will be managed. Yet a surprising number (110 at press time) ponied up as much as $500 in recent weeks for a charter ACPAFP membership in lieu of Council’s decision. Another 80 or so paid either $50 or the full $300 for a regular membership fee.

“I think the fact that people have already put money towards us shows a lot of confidence in our proposal,” Shambo said. “The AICPA has been excited about our proposal, but concerned about our financial viability and asked us how can we can test the water a bit more. I think we have done quite well at that.”

AICPA officials declined to comment on matters regarding the PFS designation, other than to state that the institute has done its part to ensure that membership views were considered throughout the decision-making process.

Copies of the ACPAFP business plan will be submitted to Council members at the meeting. Much of ACPAFP membership fees will be used towards what Shambo calls a “hometown marketing approach,” in which local ad campaigns will run to promote the designation.

The AICPA had historically run national marketing efforts.

ACPAFP research conducted earlier this summer found that 90 percent of 800 PFS holders surveyed were willing to pay $300 or more if the ACPAFP became the new member organization. Holders now pay about $100 per year for their designations.

As for the CFP Board, they are commenting little beyond stating that they are awaiting the outcome of Fall Council.

“We are interested in what [Council] says, and when a decision is made we will react then,” said CFP Board media coordinator Lance Ritchlin. “I expect them to be very interested in doing their homework, but in the end it is their decision, and all we can do is monitor and remain open to what they have to say.”

Many of those who have held the PFS designation the longest also want the best home for it, but are not entirely certain where that should be.

Stuart Kessler, managing director at American Express Tax and Business Services, has held his PFS title since its inception. He once chaired the AICPA’s Personal Financial Planning Committee, as well as the institute itself and, as might be expected, wants to see the PFS stay within the institute’s walls. He also realizes that that may not happen.

“I think when we established the PFS it was designed to level the playing field. Not only for us who were financial planners, but for those who didn’t want to fit into the cubby of the CFP,” Kessler said. “I would, of course, like it to be a part of the AICPA because without their stamp it’s just another financial planning group. If not, it should be an organization that is solely CPAs.”

Kessler also said that he respects Shambo and his efforts, in part because he personally selected Shambo to succeed him on the AICPA’s PFP Committee.

The AICPA spent the entire summer gathering comments from its members through surveys, town hall-style forums, and a 29-page invitation to comment issued in August.

Although the AICPA declined to share any details of the invitation’s findings, many, like New Jersey-based CPA/CFP Bernard Kiely, did not bother to complete the invitation to comment, as he found it “too vague and too rigid.” This was aside from the fact that he has come out strongly against the PFS, stating that the CFP is the specialization title to hold.

“Most CPAs doing financial planning are marketing to tax and accounting clients, and if a CPA is marketing to the whole world, the way I am, the CFP is enough,” Kiely said. “I personally want to know what their message is, and I’ve asked and there is no message.”

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