The CFP or Certified Financial Planner® certification is the most widely recognized financial planning designation in Canada and is officially recognized in 26 territories around the world. It’s considered the gold standard for the profession.
FP Canada™ operates in all provinces except Québec, where FP Canada’s standards are applied through a strategic partnership with the Institut québécois de planification financière (IQPF), the only body in Québec authorized to confer financial planning diplomas.
CFP professionals have proven they possess the necessary knowledge, skills, experience and ethics to examine a client’s entire financial picture at the highest level of complexity required of the profession, and the ability to work with clients to build them a suitable financial plan.
Obtaining the CFP designation
The CFP examination is pass or fail — no grades are given. The criterion-referenced methodology used by FP Canada does not employ a bell curve. Performance is scored against an established passing standard rather than relative to others writing the exam during a single sitting.
The passing standard is determined by a committee composed of CFP professionals from across Canada, using widely accepted psychometric principles and methods for standard setting.
To be eligible to write the CFP examination in Canada, candidates must complete one or both of the following FP Canada Institute™ courses, as required for their certification path:
- Introduction to Professional Ethics
The course introduces the specific professional obligations of CFP professionals, why they matter and what they mean in practical terms.
- CFP Professional Education Program
Prepares candidates to handle complex scenarios by understanding the key behavioural factors that affect client decisions. It’s equivalent to a single-semester university course and takes an estimated 75–95 hours to complete.
While there is no maximum time limit to complete the CFP certification, there are currency requirements and time limits for some steps along the way, which are detailed in FP Canada’s CFP Certification Policies.
The CFP exam is a comprehensive six-hour competency-based test that consists of open-response questions (70-80%) and multiple-choice questions (20-30%). It’s administered over three two-hour segments on a single day. The exam is written in English, but is available in French upon request.
CFP exam questions are competency-based, not knowledge-based — as the goal isn’t to test technical knowledge, but rather the application of that knowledge.
Candidates are expected to:
- Apply knowledge to determine client needs in multiple scenarios;
- Know the options and find the best solution for a client; and
- Assess the potential impact of any recommendations made to a client.
The exam focuses on complex financial planning situations, with a full breakdown as follows:
- Basic: 4% to 14%
Application of knowledge of various facets of financial planning to straightforward situations. Questions might focus on specific content areas and may require basic calculations, evaluation across a single or a small number of topics, or making simple recommendations.
- Moderate: 35% to 45%
Application of knowledge in situations with multiple variables. Requires the assessment and processing of different elements to identify a solution or formulate a recommendation. Questions will focus on more complex situations and may require multi-step calculations and the assessment and integration of multiple variables and interrelated factors.
- High: 46% to 56%
Application of advanced knowledge to unique situations involving multiple variables and considerable integration of financial planning practices to analyze situations and form recommendations. Questions will focus on sophisticated situations that may require complex, multi-step calculations and understanding of complicated family or business situations.
Note that there are other avenues to the CFP designation. Individuals who hold a relevant financial or other professional qualification (e.g. CPA, CFA, FCIA, LL.B./J.D. or Foreign CFP Professional) may be eligible to pursue an alternate path to CFP certification.
Work experience requirement
Those seeking accreditation must have three years of qualifying financial planning work experience at the time of applying for CFP certification.
FP Canada stipulates that Qualifying Work Experience must involve the application of the knowledge, skills and abilities described in the FP Canada Standards Council Competency Profile and should help candidates in the application of financial planning processes that best meet client needs.
Qualifying Work Experience includes the following:
- Financial Management;
- Investment Planning;
- Insurance and Risk Management;
- Tax Planning;
- Retirement Planning; and/or
- Estate Planning.
These activities can be done in a supporting role as long as it benefits the client-planner relationship, such as managing, training or assisting planners, all of which would qualify.
Teaching financial planning courses at a post-secondary institution will qualify for up to two years of relevant work experience as long as the courses include the application of the knowledge, skills and abilities described in the aforementioned Competency Profile.
Financial planning research may qualify as relevant work experience, depending on the specific nature of the research. This determination is made on a case-by-case basis.
Work experience outside Canada will be considered, provided it is deemed equivalent to the type of work experience that could have been gained in Canada.
Timeline to earn CFP certification
Someone working in the financial planning industry, who has already satisfied the work experience requirements, would be looking at a time frame of about two years, as the fastest possible option.
Anyone outside the financial services industry is likely facing a minimum timeline of four years between the necessary exam prep and the recommended study time.
Continuing education requirements
Given the stringent and regularly-updated requirements for successful completion of the FP Canada Institute’s Professional Education Program, most CFP professionals who obtain the CFP certification after January 1, 2020 under the new paths to certification, are exempt from all continuing education (CE) requirements for the year in which they pass the CFP exam and the following two calendar years.
Thereafter, CFP certified financial planners are required to complete 25 hours of continuing education each calendar year. Although there are some exemptions for those who successfully complete the CFP Professional Education Program.
Any candidate who does not obtain certification within two calendar years of the year they pass the CFP exam, is not eligible for the CE exemption.
CFPs in Canada
There are approximately 17,000 Canadians with the CFP designation who are part of a global network of more than 192,000 professionals who have earned the CFP certification in 26 territories around the world (as of mid-2023).
Some of the more common roles occupied by those who have achieved the CFP designation include Financial Consultant, Financial Planner, or Investment Advisor.
To learn more about how to locate a financial planner in Canada and/or learn about the potential value of financial planning to Canadians, please consult this website.