Misusing the AICP Credential: Ethics and Consequences

This is one in a regular series of blog posts on planning ethics issues.


Long long ago, in a state far away, my high school civics teacher gave us a booklet about the "Skyway Man.” This was the story of Frank Abagnale, Jr., who later was made famous by Leonardo DiCaprio in the movie Catch Me If You Can.

It was and is a compelling tale: a daring and cunning criminal who poses as an airline pilot, lawyer, and physician — all before he turns 20.

The film is such a fun ride that it’s easy to identify with the dashing criminal, whose impersonations were done to further a criminal enterprise that netted him millions in stolen funds by kiting fraudulent checks literally across the globe.

Alas, the work of a planner tends not to have the flair warranting a Hollywood treatment or the best seller list. But, while our work may not be glamorous, it is important and it provides lasting value to our clients and the communities we serve. And, like the dutiful FBI agent (played by Tom Hanks) who pursues Abagnale, planners do aspire to be on the right side of the law, while observing the highest ethical principles of our profession.

Given our broad scope of practice, however, the planning profession isn’t one that lends itself — except in one or two states — to licensure. Instead, the American Planning Association and its professional institute, the American Institute of Certified Planners, have developed a credential that stands as the preeminent benchmark for a planning professional.

Having the letters “AICP” after your name in business and professional correspondence is not merely honorific — it is earned. The AICP certification signifies that the bearer has met standards for education and experience, while passing an examination of professional competence and knowledge.

Among the rules set forth in the AICP Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct to retain the AICP credential are requirements to pay annual dues, maintain the certification through continuing education, and otherwise comply with membership standards. Those that do NOT follow these minimum requirements — yet continue to use the AICP credential — are in violation of the Code of Ethics and, consequently, are misappropriating a credential justly earned by other certified planners.

Using a credential not earned, or not maintained, is a particularly insidious form of poaching.

While it does not rise to the status of a “serious crime,” as defined in the Ethics Code, it is a form of identity theft. A planner who misappropriates the AICP credential is not dissimilar from Abagnale, who systematically misrepresented himself professionally.

The AICP planning certification is the gold standard credential for planners and, as such, it is a brand that merits protection. Furthermore, some states consider the misuse of a professional credential as a fraudulent, which can be punishable by fines or sentencing.

As a member of the AICP Ethics Committee, I’ve seen numerous cases where planners get lax in paying their dues, in maintaining their credential, or — in some cases — blatantly appropriating the AICP certification without having passed the exam.

Be forewarned that the fraudulent misuse of the AICP credential is indeed being watched and the violators are being taken to task, in order to protect the certification’s value and to uphold the rules and principles of the Code of Ethics, as we certified planners so pledge.

I urge all planners to help maintain the professional value of the credential by reporting instances of misuse to the AICP Ethics Officer.

Top image: Thinkstock photo.


About the Author
Phil Farrington, AICP, is a member of the AICP Ethics Committee and a former member of the AICP Commission. Currently, he is the director of planning and real estate development for the CDC Management Corporation in Eugene, Oregon.

November 7, 2017

By Philip Farrington, AICP