Advocates promote graduate degree, certification in fiduciary leadership

A group of fiduciary advocates launched an initiative Tuesday to provide an executive education certificate in fiduciary leadership and develop coursework for a graduate degree with a concentration in the topic.

The 35 leaders of the effort formed the Center for Board Certified Fiduciaries, a public benefit corporation that is seeking to affiliate with one or more universities to offer the fiduciary curriculum. The board also will conduct and publish research on fiduciary standards and best practices and certify fiduciary professionals in one of 10 areas of specialization.

“We’re looking to elevate and advance fiduciary best practices and a fiduciary decision-making process,” said Don Trone, chief executive of 3ethos and also CEO of the center.

As part of its rollout, the board released a fiduciary workbook that serves as the foundation for board certification.

The coursework incorporates research in “neuro-leadership” and “neuro-fiduciary,” said Keith Loveland, a securities compliance consultant and lawyer.  

The group is trying to add “academic and scientific rigor” that goes beyond current fiduciary training, Loveland said. “We believe the marketplace is going to appreciate and respect this new endeavor we have put forward.”

One market that the center is trying to tap is academia. It has reached out to several universities about developing a curriculum for graduate-level coursework in fiduciary responsibility, Trone said. The goal is eventually to design a master’s in business administration with a concentration in fiduciary responsibility.

“The vast majority of our country’s liquid investable wealth is in the hands of fiduciaries,” Don Jones, chairman of the center and founder of Fiduciary Wise, said in a statement. “As critical as their role is to the fiscal health of our country, we don’t have a single university that offers graduate-level fiduciary education coursework in fiduciary governance.”

Prior to the advent of an MBA program, the center envisions a university offering executive education certificates in fiduciary leadership, stewardship and governance.

The academy often jealously guards its curriculum prerogatives. But Trone said the trend in developing graduate-level courses is through collaboration between faculties and outside groups like the center that offer a “unique body of knowledge” about a topic like fiduciary practices.

“We have reached out to eight different universities,” Trone said. “All have been very receptive to the concept.”

He declined to name them before reaching a final agreement on developing the fiduciary curriculum.

The board also will certify fiduciary professionals in specialized fields, such as working with defined-contribution retirement plans or with foundations and endowments. Professionals can earn the center’s credential, the Board Certified Fiduciary.

The nonprofit sector especially could benefit from fiduciary education, said Kathleen McBride, a founder of the center and president of FiduciaryPath, a fiduciary training firm. People often want to join boards of nonprofit organizations but may not have a grasp of their stewardship responsibilities.

“This is a market that is extremely underserved in terms of fiduciary knowledge,” McBride said.

Financial industry professionals are another initial target for board certification.

The goal of the training is to provide “the skills to work more effectively with their cilents,” Trone said.

[More: Forget the F-word — RIAs play down fiduciary standard online]

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