Record-breaking attendance of more than 400 for the annual FPA Retreat in Palm Harbor, Florida, this week brought some cheer to Financial Planning Association leaders who are still grappling with the five-year-old group's inability to attract new members. Senior association officials disclosed to Investment Advisor that FPA's rolls have actually fallen by 500 over the past year, to 27,500. That represents only 60% of those holding certified financial planner marks, the credential that is a requirement for FPA membership.
To try to rev up recruiting, the FPA will soon begin offering free three-month trial memberships to anyone who has won a CFP mark in the past 12 months. The group has also staffed up its membership department, says Executive Director Marv Tuttle, hiring a director, recruitment and retention managers, and others. "Finally, we have our team in place," he says.
Former President David Yeske and Duane Thompson, the FPA's Washington-based group director for advocacy, meanwhile, are stepping up their campaign to raise cash for the association's political action committee, which currently holds a modest $52,000. In the FPA's suit against the Securities & Exchange Commission over the so-called Merrill Lynch rule and other issues, "regulators have been very good about listening," says Yeske. "But listening and being influenced by us are different things. It takes money--it's the nature of political relationships in Washington."
While Yeske says that FPA members have started to respond to his calls for PAC contributions, including several national board members writing $500 and $1,000 checks, more grassroots efforts are needed. Yeske himself appealed for cash at a recent FPA chapter meeting in his home base of San Francisco, and says he would like to see the heads of other chapters get their troops more involved in fund-raising.
Thompson, meanwhile, sees the FPA tackling other Washington issues in addition to the Merrill Lynch rule, which currently exempts fee-based brokerage accounts from federal investment advisor regulation as long as advice brokers provide is incidental. Thompson notes that FPA members have expressed concerns about the alternative minimum tax and Social Security reform, among others. He is also paying close attention to the SEC's expected plan to issue a rule soon that will mandate electronic filing for the first time of part two of the ADV form for registered investment advisors. Some advisors at the retreat, however, expressed frustration with the FPA's failure so far to stake out a position on the Social Security debate. "We're sending out a letter to members next week to see what members think is important and what we should do," says Thompson.