The Certified Financial Planner designation is about to become more challenging to obtain. The Board of Standards this month approved a new prerequisite for its two-day certification exam: a 45-hour capstone course on financial planning. But representatives of the three largest CFP education programs—The American College, the College for Financial Planning, and Kaplan University—balked at the proposal.

The organization’s executive director, Kevin Keller, said the board will have the requirement in place in 2012, which would begin affecting applicants who plan to take the certification exam no sooner than March of that year.

Applicants already must complete six classes that cover such topics as investments, insurance and estate planning before signing up for the exam; the new course is intended to serve as a practicum, ensuring that students can actually assemble a plan. The board said details about the scope of the course would be outlined in coming weeks. Among those who will be watching closely will be the 221 institutions that currently provide CFP-sanctioned instruction, some of whom have emerged as the biggest critics of the change.

About 61,000 people in North America have the CFP mark, considered among the more prestigious in the financial services industry. The difficulty in obtaining it is part of the reason. Just 54 percent of applicants who took the certification exam in November managed to pass it. Applicants also must demonstrate experience in the field before qualifying for the certification. The capstone course is the latest change the CFP board has made since 2001, when the board agreed that applicants must have bachelor’s degrees. The board had been mulling the new capstone program, called the Financial Plan Development Course, for several years before opening the debate to public comment in 2009.

“The new requirement will provide a better opportunity for CFP Board and financial planning educators to assess the ability of students to deliver professional and competent financial planning services to the public,” Keller said in a statement following the board’s action. “Through this new course requirement, future CFP professionals will have proven their ability to apply the financial planning process to real-life situations, as well as their ability to communicate their planning recommendations to a client.” The vast majority of those who submitted public comments on the board’s Web site last year agreed.

But representatives of the three largest CFP education programs say the additional course isn’t a good idea. Jeffrey Mershon, Kaplan’s chair for financial planning, predicted it would add about $1,000 to the cost of each student’s education, about a 30 percent increase. Others said the course was redundant, given that many of the people who have enrolled in CFP programs already are working at jobs where they are creating and preparing financial plans. Jesse Arman, vice president for academic affairs at College for Financial Planning, wrote the board last September that training directors at five financial planning firms that make up the college’s largest source of enrollment had told him they felt the class was unnecessary. In an interview this week, Arman said he hadn’t seen anything since last fall that had changed his mind. “I think we were heard. It just didn’t go our way,” he says. “We’ve accepted the decision and we’re going forward. The next step is to see what specifics the board will have…The devil’s in the details.”

There are some in the broker/dealer channel who feel the capstone course is a good idea. Patrick Daxon, director of the financial planning group at Raymond James Financial Services, said the CFP board is trying to expand technical expertise. “I’m a big believer in the more you practice, the better you get,” he says. “There is no one right way in addressing client issues. There are a lot of different product solutions, there are a lot of different technique solutions…What they’re trying to provide is a framework.”

Keller said the CFP is also considering broader interests. “We think this is the right thing to do for the profession,” he said in an interview. “We think it will make better financial planners. The public at large will benefit from people who have demonstrated they can integrate and apply” what they have learned.

One early effect of the new curriculum may well be an uptick in applicants who register to take the exam ahead of 2012, when it goes into effect. The CFP board saw a similar boost in enrollment before its bachelor’s degree requirement went into effect.