Rye helps students prep for planning exam

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By Chi Nguyen

Just getting to take the Certified Financial Planning Exam is half the battle. But don’t fret, budding business-types: you may already be taking the required courses.

Want to be a financial planner? Get ready for two days’ worth of test-taking fun.

If you’ve met the requirements.

Anyone who wants to become a certified financial planner must take the CFP Professional Proficiency Examination — 285 multiple choice questions in 10 hours, administered over two days. They also have to shell out a $350 fee.

But there are stiff requirements as to what courses aspiring financial planners have to have taken before getting to the exam room.

Sucheta Rojagopal, a certified financial planner with Hampton Securities, wrote the exam shortly after it was first offered in Canada.

Hers was different from the current version; it had 120 multiple choice questions and a case study.

In order to prepare more thoroughly, Rojagopal took specialized courses in security investments because she felt that the required courses were not enough.

“I was very nervous,” she says. “I knew the exam was going to be very demanding, but I didn’t rely only on the required courses.”

But Ryerson instructors say the university’s courses are enough preparation for students interested in taking the test.

Business professor Colleen Clark is the only instructor teaching Ryerson’s CFP requirement courses. She says her courses provide background and principles that go beyond CFP requirements, but are good preparation for the test, she says.

“They were developed by me with CFP requirements in mind,” she says. “I team teach FIN 812 with Tom Zaks, an investment advisor for RBC Dominion Securities. (He) is also a certified financial planner and is well-versed in CFP requirements.”

Another worrisome aspect of the exam, some say, is how few people pass.

The test is administered twice a year, and historically, the passing rate has always been around 60 per cent while marking on a bell curve.

It’s also relatively new in Canada. Elizabeth Moran, a certified financial planner with CIBC, didn’t have to write the exam. She considers herself lucky.

“I had become a CFP before the exam was mandated (in 1997),” she says. “I was just grandfathered to the certification since I had already completed all the necessary experience and training.”

But she believes that passing the exam is a good indication of whether or not the individual is ready to be certified.

Rojagopal says she would be concerned if the passing rate was too high. “It’s never been high, like 90 per cent, since the CFP sets the bar very high,” she says. “It’s intended to be a very comprehensive exam, after all.”

Approximately 60,000 people currently offer financial advice. Of that number, only 16,000 are certified, and 14,000 are working towards their certification.

Before anyone can even qualify to write the exam, they must complete educational requirements set by the FPSC. Required courses are offered by several community colleges. The personal finance program at Ryerson was the first university-level program in Canada that also met the FPSC requirements.

Passing the exam fulfills the second part of the criteria, and former testees say it’s the most nerve-racking part of the process.

Clark believes that advertising which courses can help qualify students for the test has increased turnout. She estimates that between 40 and 50 Ryerson students wrote the CFP exam this year. Until June 2006, only two Ryerson students had written the test.

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