Some advisors eschew the CFP


Accountants have CPAs and financial planners have CFPs.

At least that’s the common view from most consumers’ eyes, but there are several area financial planners who want to dispel the myth that there is an industry standard certification like there is for accounting.

Jaime Westenbarger, president of Forest Hills Financial, said there are several respected and quality financial planners — including him — in the area who don’t have the Certified Financial Planner designation.

“I don’t have a CFP — not because I can’t get it, but because it doesn’t reflect what most people are looking for in a financial advisor,” Westenbarger said. “We’re all licensed financial advisors.”

Forest Hills Financial manages about $140 million and has offices in Grand Rapids, Grand Blanc and Kalamazoo, as well as Omaha, Neb., and New Orleans.

Westenbarger also has a radio show that is syndicated in six markets. He does everything a CFP can do, from 401(k) planning and review to estate plans, IRAs, mutual funds and insurance.

Westenbarger said in his 14 years of advising, he’s only had one potential client decide to go elsewhere with their money. Forest Hills Financial does have certified financial planners on staff.

“They wanted a CFP,” he said. “Now, if someone really wants that we can provide that within the office. Once people understand that it’s more of a politics thing, they don’t mind.”

He said the CFP designation is sold by a company that wants to give the impression that there is an industry standard.

“Someday it may be the standard,” Westenbarger said. “But until it is, I am not going to spend $5,000 and a lot of time away from helping my clients just so I can get some initials after my name.”

Westenbarger, a University of Michigan graduate, pointed to the requirements that, prior to 2008, allowed someone without a college degree to become a CFP. He did point out that financial advisors don’t need a degree like accountants and attorneys do, as the industry sort of came out of thin air a few decades ago. Private business popped up to offer certifications that give credibility.

“Those that have had (the designation) for 10 or more years are not really held to the same standards as new enrollees,” he said. “There are other designations that are even more intense than others. CFA is a much more investment and research type of designation. It doesn’t deal as much with budgeting but with analysis of investments.”

David Muilenberg, principal and owner of Discovery Financial, has more than 30 years of experience and three designations, none of which are CFP. His designations include Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC), Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU) and Accredited Investment Fiduciary (AIF) — all of which require coursework and tests.

According to Claire Horlings, Discovery Financial director of marketing, “(Muilenberg) has built up a very successful practice in West Michigan and is recognized as a top producer by his broker dealer — LPL Financial, the largest independent broker dealer in the country.”

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