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What If Your Financial Planner Files for Bankruptcy?

By Hal M. Bundrick

NEW YORK (MainStreet) You trust your financial planner to be honest, knowledgeable and prudent, but financial setbacks can affect anyone even the wisest among us. What if your financial advisor files for bankruptcy? Would that impact your view of his advice?

Periodically, the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards releases a list of CFP professionals who have declared personal bankruptcy within the last five years. The planners are not subject to disciplinary action, and the CFP Board does not investigate the filings.

"The CFP Board verifies the bankruptcy and notes the bankruptcy filing on the CFP professional's public profile, which is available through the search functions on CFP Board's website," a statement with the disclosure says. "The release of the information does not constitute discipline of these individuals and is provided only for the purpose of providing consumers with adequate information to make an informed decision with regard to engaging a CFP professional to assist with financial decisions."

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Michael Shaw, managing director for Professional Standards for the CFP Board reiterated the policy in a statement to MainStreet. "CFP Board believes its approach of publicly disclosing the names of CFP professionals who have filed for bankruptcy protection allows consumers to make a fully informed decision when choosing to work with [a] CFP professional," he wrote.

But not all financial planners agree with the disclosure standards. In an anonymous comment to an article addressing the matter on the Financial Advisor magazine website, a writer took issue with the policy.

"As someone who had been a CFP since 1986, I was stunned when the CFP Board came out with their 'publicize' position on bankruptcy," wrote the commenter under the name FormerCFP. "As a successful professional, I was bled to death by three Florida family-law attorneys in a 4 1/2 year divorce that cost me over $800,000 and forced me to file bankruptcy to keep me from being incarcerated (the laws in New Jersey and other states are equally abusive)."

The writer claimed the personal bankruptcy was not pertinent to his financial practice.

"None of this had any impact on my clients or my profession," FormerCFP added. "Shame on you, CFP Board. You've overstepped your authority and the original purpose of the organization by doing this. I'd eliminate any action involving bankruptcies that can be tied to excessive medical bills or divorce proceedings. It's just not relevant to the certification."

Some 42 certificants are listed on the CFP website's latest report as having filed for bankruptcy since 2008.

But Andrew Wang, a portfolio manager and registered investment adviser in Mendham, N.J., believes the disclosure is not only proper, but necessary.

"Because most CFP professionals fall under the jurisdiction of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) and/or the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), consumers can and should perform a free search for their advisor at BrokerCheck," Wang told MainStreet. "Bankruptcy judgments within the past ten years are reportable events and will be reflected in the advisor's regulatory filings."

"In my opinion, consumers deserve to know whether their financial advisor has filed for personal bankruptcy," Wang added. "Any blemish on an advisor's record should be taken seriously, because it has been reported that brokers have been able to successfully expunge black marks from their public records at an alarmingly high rate."

Leanne Kramer, a CFP in Olympia, Wash., believes advisor credibility begins with being able to honestly say 'I walk my financial talk.'

"In my opinion, a personal bankruptcy does not inspire confidence in the professional who is planning and managing the most important aspect of a client's life," Kramer says. "We are financial planners. We say 'live beneath your means, have emergency savings, have minimal debt, manage your risk, invest wisely.' If we are following our own advice, we should have a plan in place to weather many of the major life events. Isn't that what we tell our clients to do?"

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