A CEO Profile Featuring Cary List, FPSC

Interview by Carissa Homme, PhD 

The Financial Planning Standards Council (FPSC), soon to be FP Canada, administers the CFP® credential in Canada for experienced financial planners and the FPSC Level 1 credential for financial planners focused on clients who need less complex financial planning strategies. These certifications are renewed annually. Collectively, FPSC certifies almost 19,000 financial planners in Canada. 

FPSC recently unveiled a new and expanded organizational structure developed under guidance of CEO Cary List, FCPA, FCA, CFP. Credentialing Insights spoke with List to learn about his professional path to this role, FPSC’s expanded offerings, and how FPSC managed this change. 

What was your pathway to a career in the credentialing industry?

I think our paths are all unique, particularly in credentialing and certification. I completed a mathematics degree with a major in accounting, a minor in information technology (IT), and a minor in statistics. I started my career as a CPA when I was just 24.  I immediately determined that, while this was great foundation, it wasn’t a good long-term fit. I spent the next five years in IT and consulting within the accounting industry before taking a year off to travel. 

I was still under the age of 30 and spent that year reflecting on what was next for me personally and professionally. I committed to applying my knowledge and skills in a way that would make a difference in society, which led me to financial planning. 

I obtained my Certified Financial Planner® (CFP®) credential in 1997 and focused on a career as a professional financial planner. Over the next five years I realized how desperately consumers needed quality financial planning advice. I also saw individuals self-identify as financial planners or advisors irrespective of education levels, ability, or experience, and that frustrated me. 


I committed to applying my knowledge and skills in a way that would make a difference in society, which led me to financial planning.


This need to elevate financial planning education and practice motivated my transition into academia as the inaugural Director of the Center for Financial Services at George Brown College, where I ushered in the first bachelor’s degree program in the college system (as opposed to the university system) in Ontario. In Canada, colleges historically have typically offered career-focused education while universities are focused on more academic baccalaureate programs. I am proud to have been granted an honorary degree by the College in 2018 for my contribution to the college, the profession and the community. 

While in the industry, I started volunteering for FPSC. My early experience with the CFP® left me frustrated by the examination and how ambiguous the questions were. Some took 20 minutes to answer while others took one second. While I passed my first attempt at the exam, walking out with no sense of how I’d done was unacceptable to me.

When asked if I would contribute to helping FPSC develop a quality exam and certification program, I was inspired by FPSC’s openness to change and desire to improve, so in 1998 I joined them as a volunteer, where I spent four years on their Panel of Examiners. This is where I learned everything about certification, psychometrics, and quality exam development. It was a great fit with my background in accounting and finance. I probably worked as many hours a day in my volunteer role as I did in my day job, and we’re not talking mere 35-hour weeks, but it was very rewarding!

In 2002 when the Director of Exams for FPSC left, the president decided they needed someone to take certification and standard-setting to the next level, and he asked me to join FPSC as vice president of standards and certification. This is when I connected with ICE. Certification was a whole new world to me, and I loved it. I then became COO in 2004 and President and CEO in 2006. I have immensely enjoyed working these past 15-plus years to enhance the financial planning profession in Canada and aligning our credentials with the needs of clients in the 21st century, digital age. 

FPCS is concluding a strategic initiative designed to increase FPSC’s value and scope in anticipation of upcoming industry changes. Can you expand on this? 

As of April 1, 2019, we will be known as FP Canada. We will be launching two separate divisions. First is the FP Canada Institute and second is the FP Canada Standards Council. The Standards Council will pick up where FPSC left off, and continue to uphold the certification programs. 

The path to this restructuring started in 2015 while reflecting on the state of financial services and financial planning as a profession. The Board and I looked at gaps in the delivery of quality outcomes for consumers and gaps in the quality of advice being delivered. We looked at upcoming technological changes and how this may disrupt the profession. We concluded that if we will be relevant in the future, we need to do more. Delivering quality exams, setting standards, and specifying entry requirements are necessary. However,  we concluded that our scope must be broader to stay relevant and help the profession deliver on its promise to consumers. 

We concluded that we needed a more holistic approach to the financial planning ecosystem. We decided to transition from just a standards council to “Advancing Professional Financial Planning” (our new tagline), with the purpose of fostering better financial health for Canadians. 

Can you speak more about your educational offerings? 

We believe the core technical education in financial planning is adequate. However, we see gaps in the capstone areas where professionals integrate their technical education into holistic financial planning. Thus, the FP Canada Institute will elevate practice by providing professional education to supplement the technical education, and provide other supports and tools to planners to address these gaps. The FP Canada Standards Council will remain independently governed to meet the expectations of consumers.

The Institute’s first two education programs will include a junior credential (Level 1, soon to be renamed and redesigned as the Qualified Associate Financial PlannerTM, or QAFPTM) and our premier credential, the CFP®. Our goal is to develop and deliver professional education programs for each that incorporate holistic financial planning, dealing with ethical dilemmas, behavioral economics, and behavioral psychology, plus how these concepts can be effectively applied by a planner. This will help overcome challenges that fundamentals of human behavior present to ideal client outcomes. To us, these are key to all professions in the future, so we’ve built the program on the “Three Hs: Holistic financial planning, Humanity, Honesty and ethics.”  It’s a whole new approach to capstone education and we’re really excited about it. 

Is there a revenue source here?

Yes. This represents a diversification of our revenue stream. I can see this generating more revenue than our certification component eventually. 

What is the takeaway for clients from these offerings?

These will become required programs for our two certifications. We’re conscious of ISO and NCCA requirements, and as a result, carved this off into a separate division. We’ll also open these to existing certificants as continuing education eventually. 

Can you talk about the update you’ve done on the certifications themselves?

We realized that our Level 1 credential (QAFP) emphasized  technical topics at the expense of professional skills. QAFP required the same level of technical knowledge as our more advanced credential, but none of the holistic elements I just spoke about. We stripped out the advanced subject matter, added professional topics, and augmented the ethical component. We also discontinued Level 1 certification as a mandatory requirement on the path to CFP®. However, we are working on a bridging program for folks who still prefer to start with QAFPTM and progress to CFP®.   

Can you describe how artificial intelligence (AI) compares to a human financial planner?

Too much of the financial planning industry has focused their value proposition on choosing the right investment products, for example. There’s been too little focus on managing relationships, accounting for human behavior, dealing with ethical dilemmas, addressing complex issues, and formulating truly holistic strategies. Financial planners need to focus on these human elements, and that’s why we’ve augmented our educational offerings in these areas. 

We see technology as being very helpful to the advisor by giving them time and opportunity to deliver real value, serve more clients, and make the best living they can as true human professionals. 

What messaging helps motivate the FPSC team through this change?

We’ve focused on hiring people who want to work in an organization that intends to make a difference in society. Further, we’re very conscious of the impact change can have on staff. People are naturally adverse to change, so it’s important that leadership manage change effectively, with empathy. 

Our COO, Joanna Tukums, and her group took it upon themselves to focus on the change management program. Activities in which they engaged included the following:

  • met with staff
  • checked in regularly with staff
  • were open and transparent about where we are going
  • reassured staff that jobs aren’t at risk, and that there will be more opportunities with an expanded scope
  • let them know where the challenges are and where the successes have been
  • shared video updates on progress to date
  • celebrated milestones 

Lastly, our board and executive leadership have demonstrated contagious passion for the value of this change. 

What drives you in your volunteer work, and particularly your work with the Investor Advisory Panel and National Steering Committee on Financial Literacy?

Wanting to make a difference on behalf of Canadians and the opportunity to give back. I brought a unique voice to these projects based on my experience. 

I think sometimes you get more out of your volunteer work than your paid work. You can also demonstrate “the real you” in action and you become a known commodity. It also helps you make connections outside of your normal sphere. 

Based on your professional experience, what advice do you have for those striving for success in their credentialing careers?

I’d encourage them to think outside the box. Avoid getting caught up in rules, procedures, and regimens without challenging norms. Thinking only in black and white has often been a bane of the credentialing industry. 

Consider your user first, whether they are the patient or the client or the consumer. Be ready to let go of ideals that are not applicable or helpful. Get out and talk to leaders in the industry. Ask yourself “why” things are done the way they are, not just what the rules are.

Volunteer your time and learn. Diversify your experience and don’t focus on any one organization. I’ve worked with ATP, ASAE, CSAE, CLEAR and ICE. You find what’s most relevant and helpful to your professional journey by exploring the different options out there.

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