Surrendering the CDFA

Daniel YergerAbout the Firm, Financial Planning Leave a Comment

In 2019, I completed the Certified Divorce Financial Analyst designation. The designation was created to help qualified financial planners better assist their clients in the divorce process, whether complementing a collaborative divorce or helping clients keep as much on their side of the scale as possible in the division of assets on an adversarial basis. The designation included four courses covering everything from the practice of family law to tax ramifications and modeling division of asset scenarios both in the present and with extension well into the future. It was a valuable form of professional education that I’m glad I attained.

However, this week brings the deep sigh of a decision to relinquish my CDFA membership and approval to carry the CDFA marks as part of the extended alphabet soup behind my name. It’s a decision not made lightly or casually but one that results from a long period of consideration. Back in January, a colleague asked me if I felt the CDFA designation was worth it. I wrote up a thread answering that question here, but the summary was that while the education was valuable, the cost benefits were more mixed than I’d like. Issues included the education being broad but the practice of ultra-localizing divorce planning, confusion by consumers about service and fee models, consumers attempting to use you as a “discount lawyer,” and the simple interpersonal challenges that come with divorce-based planning engagements.

Please make no mistake: I am proud of the work that I’ve done as a financial planner in the divorce arena. I have helped clients escape abusive and lopsided relationships with their dignity and finances intact, helped couples who’ve fallen out of love separate as amicably as possible, and even today work with a small subset of clients who are working through marital challenges such as separation or the genuine risk of divorce. Divorce is often a controversial and challenging topic for many based on their history, religious and social upbringing, and personal views on the topic. But I will never regret having done CDFA work. It has been a powerful and meaningful part of my client’s lives and an important and valuable service to provide. It is one that I will continue to provide; simply not under the auspices of being a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst and with the letters accompanying it.

If I’m being entirely honest, perhaps two straws have broken this respective camel’s back. The first is related directly to the designation; the second is client-related. The designation-related issue is relatively straightforward: The CDFA requires 30 hours of divorce-related continuing education every two years. To give you some context, this is the same level of ongoing continuing education as the CFP® Certification. In fact, it’s about equal to all of my CE requirements combined, including those state-required IAR CE requirements. Yet, despite this hefty education requirement, it is not well-supported. There is a dearth of high-quality CDFA education, and the scarce options available to those who pursue them are CE businesses that sell them at a premium price and with a rather burdensome approach to delivery. The alternatives are those self-reported CE options that are tangential to the CDFA, such as a financial planning session on blended families that might support the designation. Frankly, the constant pursuit of valid continuing education on the topic is exhausting. The ecosystem for continuing education for the CDFA isn’t built out, and despite a roster of online CE that you can pay for listed on the CDFA website, you can’t casually acquire it at conferences other than the annual IDFA conferences, obtain it through valid self-study, or even get cross-credit for other planning-related topics that might support CDFA work.

The client-related straw was simply one of an observed futility. A few years ago, an individual client who was married but only engaged us for some limited investment work asked us about ensuring their information was more carefully protected from their spouse. This is a clear warning sign of marital discord or the intention to begin a separation or divorce. At the time, we obliged this individual’s request and mentioned that we were able to provide financial guidance as a certified divorce financial analyst, to which we received no reply. This past week, we received notice via the custodian (not the client) that this client was moving their assets elsewhere. When we reached out to confirm, this individual said they were moving their assets because, for the past year, they’d engaged another financial planning firm to help them with their divorce and other financial matters. In other words, despite receiving weekly newsletters for years mentioning our divorce work and having spoken to this client directly about our divorce work in the past, “Certified Divorce Financial Analyst” was a meaningless phrase in this otherwise sophisticated client’s eyes.

So, therein is the decision. While the CDFA was valuable education, it is simply not worth retaining. The effort to do so is greater than the value; sophisticated clients do not recognize it or see value in it, and though divorce work is simultaneously some of the most challenging yet enjoyably complex work that we do, it is not worth bearing the designation to maintain the public credentialed appearance of doing the work. While we will continue to do divorce work for our clients, we will no longer subject ourselves to the burdens of the designation.

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