Q&A with Noel Maye, CEO of global planning body FPSB

Noel Maye, CEO of the Denver-based Financial Planning Standards Board, is standing down after 20 years at the helm of the global Financial Planning standards organisation which sets the benchmarks for Certified Financial Planners around the world. Financial Planning Today caught up with him to ask him about his milestones, the progress of Financial Planning in the UK and his plans for the future.

Financial Planning Today: Many congratulations Noel on the major growth of the CFP Professional status around the world, recently topping 200,000 professionals. How did you first get involved in setting up the FPSB and did you have any idea of what you were taking on or the potential for growth worldwide?

Noel Maye: My introduction to Financial Planning and CFP certification started back in the mid-90s, when I worked for a New York public relations firm specialising in financial services clients. The client that captured my interest and imagination was a small non-profit in Denver, called the International Board of Standards and Practices for Certified Financial Planners, which became CFP Board, which entered into agreements with 16 CFP certification bodies outside the US to launch FPSB in 2004. I was already running the international CFP certification program and knew all the players and they knew me, so it was natural for me to support the international team negotiating with the CFP Board to create the FPSB, and then to leave CFP Board to run the new organisation. Just like the 42 people who became the world’s first CFP professionals in the 70s in the US, none of us calculated how the programme would grow, or by what date, but we all shared the vision that a global profession was needed and for it to grow, it had to be supported by and be inclusive of international interests. This strong global collective supporting Financial Planning and CFP certification has been the “secret sauce” of our long-term success.

Financial Planning Today. What have been the achievements you’ve been proudest of along the way? And have there been many hiccups?

Noel Maye: Major achievements I’m proud of include growth in the number of countries and territories offering FPSB certifications (now at 27, and growing); doubling the number of CFP professionals worldwide to 200,000+ since FPSB’s formation; getting to represent the interests of the Financial Planning community in global regulatory policy and financial capability discussions, with IOSCO and the OECD; establishing World Financial Planning Day, now in its sixth year; and using empirical research to build out the standards and certification requirements that give the global Financial Planning profession a foundation, and a future. A major takeaway from the work I’ve done with the international FPSB  network over two decades is that an open, inclusive process is key to gaining buy-in and to ensuring that decisions “stick,” – the hiccups have tended to come when I tried to move too fast on an issue, or when I thought I had Network agreement when it wasn’t there yet. Over the years, I got much better at moving slowly and small to begin with, which allowed us to have a bigger, longer-lasting impact.

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Financial Planning Today. What is the health of the CFP designation around the world? There seems to be major growth in the developing markets such as India, China and Brazil? Do you expect that to continue with perhaps developed markets seeing slower growth?

Noel Maye: Global growth of CFP certification has been steady over the last two decades, but the COVID-19 pandemic catalyzed and boosted that growth trend – all of a sudden, people all over the world were feeling the same way at the same time about their work, their families, their money and their futures, and having a CFP professional by their side was a smart decision. The result is that we saw growth across our FPSB territories, including among emerging, developing and mature markets. While the strong double-digit growth rate in territories like Brazil, China and India will eventually slow, we don’t expect that anytime soon. In fact, based on projections provided by our Network, we expect 2021 to have been another solid growth year for the global CFP professional community. One of our key projects this year in the FPSB Network is to share best practices and tools on how to better understand and support the pipeline for CFP certification and to quantify the value proposition of earning and retaining CFP certification.

Financial Planning Today: How about the UK? Numbers of CFP Professionals in the UK seem to have plateaued around 1,000 for many years. Why do you think this is and are there are plans to restore growth?

Noel Maye: All FPSB territories will tell you that their situation is unique, and to an extent that’s true. However, the situation in the UK is maybe “more unique” than others in that you have not yet had the scale of take up of Financial Planning by large institutions that we’ve seen in other territories where Financial Planning got its start in the IFA market. You have particular significance in your country for the concept of Chartered, and so the market hasn’t coalesced around one qualification; and you’ve had sizeable professional bodies in the marketplace that have developed separate training and professional development channels. FPSB is pleased to see our affiliate organization in the UK, CISI, update programme content and put in place a pathway to CFP certification, resulting in growth in the number of CFP professionals in the UK last year, and commitment to promote CFP certification more actively as the qualification of choice for practicing Financial Planners in the UK. We expect these actions, along with the CFP professional community and other stakeholder engagement activities, will restore the growth trajectory for CFP certification in the UK.

Financial Planning Today: You’ve done a huge amount of travel over the years and had to endure 4 am conference calls to talk to FPSB bodies around the world. What have been your highlights with all the travel to FPSB partner bodies around the world and what have been the hardest parts? Are you a big fan of hotel breakfasts?

Noel Maye: The travel aspect of FPSB has always been a highlight for me, even when my luggage ended up in a continent other than where I was having my meeting. (One working title of my imaginary memoir was going to be, 'Places My Suitcase Has Been') The highlights for me were always being in locations where the language and faces were different, the clothes were different, the customs were different, and yet we all shared the same vision to benefit the public through Financial Planning and CFP certification, and found ways to laugh and bond together, often over great meals. A person once asked me if it was lonely being on the road half the year, and my answer was, “how, if I’m spending that time hanging out with friends I’ve known for years?” As for hotel breakfasts, I’ve yet to find one I won’t eat. 

Financial Planning Today: You are working for FPSB until the end of the year - what are your plans after that? Do you have any dreams or ambitions still to fulfil?

Noel Maye: Until the end of the year, I’ll support the Board and team on FPSB’s transition to its next CEO. After that, I have no plan – and that’s all thanks to the power of Financial Planning, which has been a constant part of my life for the last 30 years, and which puts me in the position to not have to rush into the “next thing” and to be open to what may come my way. Well, maybe there is a plan for … no more 4am phone calls, a bit more stretching, and a spot of gardening. And I’ve done a bunch of wine appreciation classes over the years for fun, so maybe next year will be time to get serious about that.

Financial Planning Today: What future do you see for the Financial Planning profession globally?

Noel Maye: To me, Financial Planning is a “no brainer” – once people know what it is, and what it can do for them, they want it, and once they experience its tangible value, it will become an intrinsic part of their life. So, the key is to create more public awareness of Financial Planning and its value, and then ensure consumer demand can be supported by adequate access to Financial Planners who are committed to competency and ethics standards, like CFP professionals. I see the future of the global Financial Planning profession as incredibly bright, and I’m looking forward to where the next generation of leaders take the profession and CFP certification programme.

Financial Planning Today As you step down from two decades leading FPSB, if there was one person you’d want to recognize, who would that be?

Noel Maye: Over 20 years ago, the leaders of the CFP certification programmes outside the US came to the CFP Board and said, the international community should have more say in the future of the programme and the profession’s development globally. That request could have received the cold shoulder. Instead, it was warmly welcomed by then CFP Board chairperson, Patti Houlihan, CFP, who created a joint taskforce to envision possible futures, the outcome of which was the creation of FPSB and the true internationalization of CFP certification. FPSB, the FPSB Network, the global CFP professional community and I owe Patti an enormous debt of gratitude for her vision, her leadership and her humility in recognizing that by giving up one organization’s control she allowed the global community to embrace the Financial Planning profession as something for which we would all be accountable, and all be proud.

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Q&A with Noel Maye, CEO of global planning body FPSB