Investment advisors and financial planners prize their independence, but history shows that an effectively organized group of dedicated people can often achieve far more as a team than any of its members can accomplish individually. Want to change the SEC's policy on an issue that's important to you? Raise awareness about the financial ramifications of divorce? Establish or promote a new professional designation for college planning specialists? Take classes to learn how to help clients make effective gifts to charity? Chances are you'll need to join forces with other planners to make any of these things happen--and chances are that there's a professional association in this year's Investment Advisor directory that can help you do just that.
The rainbow of organizations is impressive: Some have been around for decades; others, just a few years. Some have tens of thousands of members, while others have less than 100. But the variation among these groups means that you're likely to find what you're looking for, whether it's a group that's large or small, old or new, wide-ranging or focused on a very specific issue.
Perhaps the best known of these groups is the FPA, which boasts nearly 30,000 members and in mid-September hosted its annual convention, this year in its headquarters town of Denver. The FPA is well known for its conferences, public awareness campaigns, and educational initiatives, but as regulatory issues have loomed ever larger in the lives of its members, the association has also stepped up its lobbying efforts in Washington and permanently headquartered four staff members in the nation's capital.
"This is a very high priority for FPA," says Neil Simon, director of government relations for the organization. "Financial planners deal with an extensively regulated industry, and though there are other folks in the industry who have gained a great deal of influence over the years, financial planning is working very hard to gain as strong a voice." Simon and his staff work closely with a "sounding board" of FPA members to determine which issues merit the association's lobbying efforts, and occasionally even seek the entire membership's input on certain actions. It did just that recently, then filed a lawsuit challenging a proposed rule by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that would permanently expand the ex-emption for broker/dealers otherwise subject to the fiduciary and disclosure standards of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940. "This was a very problematic rulemaking for advisors, because it creates a very uneven playing field for financial planners and broker/dealers who are providing financial planning advice, and also reduces the protection available to investors under the Investment Advisers Act," says Simon. "We've gained the SEC's attention on this rule, and we are hopeful that it will be either very substantially revised, or conceivably even withdrawn."
While the FPA focuses on a wide array of financial-planning-related issues and initiatives, there are many other groups that target advisors serving very specific clienteles. One such organization, lesser-known than the FPA but with a surprisingly large membership, is the Society of Certified Senior Advisors, or SCSA. Founded in 1996 and boasting a membership of more than 17,000 professionals in the U.S. and Canada, this Denver-based association works to educate planners, CPAs, gerontologists, and elder law attorneys about the issues facing elderly clients. Professionals can earn the CSA designation by attending three and a half days of classroom instruction or by completing a self-study program within six months. Classes cover nearly two dozen topics that seniors say are important to them, including principles of aging, long-term care insurance, reverse mortgages, geriatric care, Alzheimer's, grief and loss, and spirituality. Professionals who successfully complete the program have the option to be listed in the organization's Web-based referral directory at www.csa-csa.com.
A second fairly new niche-oriented group offering a certification program is the National Institute of Certified College Planners (NICCP). Established only two years ago as a joint venture of Savingforcollege.com and College Funding, Inc., the NICCP grants and promotes the Certified College Planning Specialist (CCPS) designation. In addition to completing three self-study educational modules, candidates for this designation must have earned at least one financial certification or securities license, or possess "a combination of education and experience deemed satisfactory by the NICCP Advisory Council," according to the organization's Web site, www.niccp.com.
Yet another association aimed at helping advisors serve a specific clientele (albeit without an addition to the alphabet soup of designations) is the National Association of Philanthropic Planners, or NAPP (www.napp.net), which was founded in 1986 to aid advisors in serving the charitably inclined. Despite its small size--the organization includes fewer than 150 members, according to executive director Amanda Simmons-Myers--the association boasts a Web-based referral directory, educational opportunities, members-only message boards, an online compilation of relevant news and technical articles, and an annual convention that focuses on charitable giving issues. Since 1999, the annual conference has provided attendees with insights not only on the technical side of philanthropy (creating trusts, making bequests, etc), but also on the human side.
"As part of the conference, we take planners out into the community to do volunteer work," says NAPP President Johnne Syverson of Syverson, Strege, Sandager & Company in Des Moines, Iowa. Each year, attendees troop out of their hotel ballrooms to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty helping others: painting an inner-city church, packing boxes of food for distribution to food banks, volunteering at the Special Olympics, or visiting a group home for mentally challenged adults. "All of these projects take place on the first evening of our annual conference," says Syverson, "and they really help to set the tone for the rest of the conference, where we learn from the speakers, and each other, ways in which to counsel our clients to be more effective in integrating philanthropy into their own financial plans."
Religious and Socially Responsible
While one could expect advisors serving Christian clients to benefit from an affiliation with NAPP, such advisors can also consider another association tailored specifically to them. The National Association of Christian Financial Consultants, or NACFC, "exists to provide fellowship and educational resources for Christian professional financial consultants seeking to integrate Bible-based principles into their financial consulting practices," says Dan Hardt, president of the association. "NACFC was formed in 1997-98 by several Christian financial consultants from various locations around the country, and since then we have grown to over 250 members." Members of the organization must commit to "integrating Biblical financial principles and guidelines into their own lives ... and communicate with their Christian clients concepts of financial accountability of their resources, including charitable giving, debt management, and moral investing," according to the organization's Web site. Advisors who pay the $125 annual membership fee receive a quarterly online newsletter, marketing materials, and the opportunity to attend the group's annual conference. Members also have the option to be listed on the association's Web-based referral directory, at www.nacfc.org. Hardt reports that the organization will soon be launching its own professional designation: the Christ-Centered Financial Consultant, or CCFC.
Another option for advisors serving clients who want to put socially responsible, but not necessarily religious, values to work in their financial lives is the Social Investment Forum (www.socialinvest.org), based in Washington, D.C. and boasting about 600 members. Whether your clients want to eschew investing in companies that belch pollutants into the atmosphere, employ child laborers overseas, or discriminate against minority employees, the Social Investment Forum's myriad resources can help you tailor a portfolio to your ethically minded client's needs. For a $175 annual fee, members can attend national conferences and seminars, peruse special reports on companies' corporate citizenship, get listed in the forum's social investing referral directory, and find mutual funds that not only avoid offensive companies but also pressure public companies to shape up if they're slacking in the corporate citizenship arena.
As for advisors serving clients in the throes of divorce, such planners actually have several options. First is the Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts (www.institutedfa.com), a national organization based in Southfield, Michigan, which was established in 1993 and promotes and grants the Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA) designation. Approximately 1,500 professionals, most of the CFPs or CPAs, have completed the four-module education program, according to Fadi Baradihi, president of the Institute. Graduates are invited to attend the group's three conferences to further their knowledge of the divorce planning field. "We bring judges, attorneys, and CPAs out to talk about their specialties, and they add a different, advanced dimension to the training that the CDFAs have already gone through," he says. As a national organization, the Institute can't really address variations in divorce laws between one state and another, but "we don't really get into the legal aspects of the divorce," says Baradihi. "The work that we do deals with financial issues of divorce, and the tax laws are pretty consistent from state to state, with some minor differences." Baradihi notes that while the Institute cautions its graduates against practicing law without a license, "we highly encourage graduates to get familiar with their state law, not to practice law or give legal advice, but to simply understand it and be better prepared to help clients make smart financial decisions as they go through a divorce."
Planners living in New York State, however, do have an opportunity to explore state-specific divorce issues with their peers through the Divorce Financial Planning Network, Inc. (www.dfpn.org), based in Jericho, New York. With fewer than 100 members, the DFPN encourages its members to earn the CDFA designation, and provides educational seminars on the second Tuesday of every other month on such topics as collaborative divorce law, pre-nuptial agreements, and domestic partnership issues. "We're a relatively new organization," says Annette Spronz of ARISSpro Financial Planning & Investments in Seaford, New York, who serves as vice president of education for the Divorce Financial Planning Network, "and we're really trying to get the word out, because there is, without any doubt, a crying need for this kind of financial assistance for people going through the divorce process."
Whether your target clients are people headed for divorce court, church, or a college dorm room, there's a group of planners out there eager to share their collective wisdom about serving that very clientele. And when nearly every association offers classes, conferences, and message boards galore, the toughest question may actually be: Which one do you want to join first?
Assistant Managing Editor Karen Hansen Weese can be reached at email@example.com.