Financial planning's gold standard

Becoming an Accredited Financial Planning FirmTM can help you to raise standards and demonstrate the transformative power of financial planning

Find out more about the process of becoming accredited, and how it will benefit your firmFor decades, the financial advice, and latterly the investment management world, have been put under the microscope by the regulator, Pensions Ombudsman and others. We've had pensions misselling from the financial advice world and a spotlight placed on fees and services. Recently, the FCA closed consultation on the investment management sector and the updated Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFID II) now requires transparency of all costs. With so many different pieces of regulation now in play, there is potential for advice from financial planners and investment managers to sometimes be contradictory and confusing for clients.

How does the public know what good looks like? Clients need look no further than an Accredited Financial Planning Firm™ (AFPF), a flagship for all financial planning firms. Accredited firms give comprehensive financial planning advice to the public – and they don’t scrimp on service and are fully transparent on all costs. They work alongside their clients to get them where they want to go, not where the adviser thinks they should go.

“Financial planning can transform someone’s life,” says Craig Palfrey CFP™ Chartered MCSI, a managing partner at Penguin and Get Financial Advice, and a founding member of the CISI Financial Planning Forum Committee. An AFPF can help to demonstrate that transformative potential to the outside world.

Accredited firms have a defined process that meets the global Financial Planning Standards Board’s six-step financial planning process. As part of their service, they must:

  1. Establish and define the relationship with the client
  2. Establish the client’s goals and objectives.
  3. Analyse and assess the client’s financial information.
  4. Develop the financial planning recommendations and present them to the client.
  5. Implement the client’s financial planning recommendations
  6. Regularly review the client’s situation.
The road to accreditation
Upon application to become accredited, no less  than half of any company’s FCA-registered advisers must be a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional.

Then, the following must be demonstrated:
  • That a full financial planning service, including cashflow modelling, is offered by default.
  • That the financial planning proposition is clearly communicated and promoted to clients in marketing materials.
  • That policies and procedures are consistent with the CISI’s Code of Conduct.
  • A business structure that reflects a clear fiduciary responsibility to clients.
  • A clear and consistent fee structure.
  • An understandable and visible investment philosophy.
  • Company-wide awareness of the financial planning service and how it differs from financial advice.
  • A majority of advisers with a level 6 financial planning qualification.

These components, together, show the public what good looks like. The public can have confidence in firms that go the extra mile to demonstrate this, alongside their ongoing commitment to improving their clients’ lives. Being able to demonstrate the application of their technical knowledge, coupled with cashflow planning, adds the most value possible to clients. It helps clients define what they want out of life, and shows them how they can get there by being guided through a financial plan.

Duncan Hannay Robertson CFPTM Chartered MCSI, a private client adviser at Cambridge-based Hannay Robertson Financial Planning, says the accreditation process pushes standards even higher and reminds him of the power of processes. “The CISI holds you accountable,” he continues. “There’s no hiding. The Institute says: ‘Show us you’ve got a great financial planning business that doesn’t just have the badge, and that you genuinely implement accurate and inspiring financial plans for your clients’.”

Accreditation does this and much more. It reduces compliance and regulatory risks, aids in attracting and retaining clients, and helps a firm become part of a community of like-minded contemporaries in the UK in which ideas are readily shared.

This community is not limited to the UK, however. One of the criteria to becoming an AFPF is to have CFPTM professionals involved in the business at director level. Being a CFP professional gives you access to over 170,000 others across the world. Cross-border advice is increasing and planners can find like-minded CFP professionals in other countries to help their clients.

How the CISI promotes AFPFs

We promote AFPFs on a micro and macro level. 

For example, online and print advertising campaigns in The Telegraph, Law Society Gazette and AB magazine have targeted larger swathes of firms' target market and financial planners' core, professional audience  – accountants and legal professionals. 

Press releases are also submitted on completion of the process, placing the firm in the spotlight.
Support from the CISI

The CISI supports accredited firms in a number of ways. These include:

  • helping consumers identify firms that focus on providing a full and effective financial planning service and establishing accredited firms as leaders in the profession by profiling them online at
  • building a community of financial planning businesses that consistently demonstrate excellence in professional standards and service in financial planning via the gala awards at the CISI’s annual Financial Planning Conference
  • tively supporting the development of these firms and driving the financial planning profession forward – for example, every AFPF is encouraged to partake in Financial Planning Week.
Accredited firms will also gain greater consumer and professional recognition with the CISI’s help. For example, public relations are supported and brand awareness built. Accredited firms feature in the 'My business' slot of The Review print edition, which is circulated to around 16,500 members every quarter. They are also promoted via PR campaigns with resulting media engagement; centred on the AFPF register; or the provision of regional or national promotional materials. 

Rebecca Taylor CFPTM Chartered FCSI, managing director at Peterborough-based Aurea Financial Planning and CISI Board member, helped to write the initial accreditation criteria. She describes the accreditation as a ‘gold stamp’ that’s different from individual qualifications. Accredited status is an indicator of good financial planning, and shows that the firm as a whole has a thorough financial planning process to ensure the client will benefit from a holistic view of what they’re doing.

With support from the CISI, which is committed to encouraging the growth and development of integrated financial planning as a solid and respected discipline, achieving this benchmark can only be good for your firm. Jonathan Gibson CFPTM Chartered MCSI, managing director of Dundee’s Wells Gibson, believes it is vital for his firm to be associated with a professional body that is the largest and most widely respected for those who work in the securities and investment sector in the UK. For him, the accreditation and related association with the CISI are both important differentiators in his competitive local market in east Scotland.

The CISI’s economies of scale also provide the financial planning community with the support it needs to enable it to continue to grow.

Continuous improvement

Becoming accredited isn’t the end, though. The improvement should be constant. Planners need to think about how they translate the standard into a great client experience and, as a group, they also need to spend more time on the message to the outside world and on helping the consumer to understand why financial planning works for them. “If we do that successfully,” says Craig, “then the transformative power of financial planning becomes a self-perpetuating circle.” In fact, the CISI has announced that it will be auditing accredited firms to ensure that they still do what they say. This, in turn, will add to the public confidence of the Accredited Financial Planning Firm brand.

The original version of this article was published in the Q1 2018 print edition of The Review. The print edition is available to all members who opt in to receive it, except student members. All eligible members who would like to receive future editions in the post should log in to MyCISI, click on My Account/Communications and set their preference to 'Yes'
Published: 23 Mar 2018
  • Financial Planning
  • CFP
  • My business
  • AFPF
  • Accredited Financial Planning Firm

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