Only days after he testified at the Senate Special Committee on Aging on the duties of financial advice givers, Financial Planning Association President Nicholas Nicolette drew spontaneous applause at the opening general session of the FPA's annual conference September 8 when he said "we need to take a stand on issues like the suit against the SEC" over the broker/dealer exemption rule. "When I say I am a financial planner," Nicolette proclaimed, "it's not what I do, but who I am."
In his testimony before the Congressional panel, a video clip from which was played before his speech, Nicolette noted that the FPA's "position on consumer protection is as simple as it is unwavering: financial planners have a fiduciary duty to their clients. Put another way, we are obliged to act in the best interests of our clients--even if it is to our own detriment. There is no higher standard."
He also stressed in his testimony the "client-centered" approach typified by FPA members and CFPs, contrasting it with the "product-centered" approach practiced by many who in particular claim to be experts in providing advice to older citizens. Only one other representative of a planner's group testified before the Special Committee, and the president of that group--the Society of Certified Senior Advisors--came under withering fire, particularly from Missouri Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill, for its less-than-stringent approach to certification (see the lead story in the Retirement Planning section).
In his welcoming speech at the conference, Nicolette said that "the public deserves a unified standard of care," and received more spontaneous applause when he said "we need to change the antiquated regulatory system."
Some 3,000 people, including a sizable international contingent appropriate for what the FPA calls its "gathering of the global financial planning profession," attended the conference in Seattle from September 8 to 11, or about 250 more than attended the 2006 conference in Nashville. The reference to a "global gathering" is much more than mere marketing blather. The FPA's director of international relations, Laura Brook, said that FPA was "really excited" that there were 336 attendees from outside the U.S. in Seattle, hailing from 26 countries, "a record for FPA country representation," with attendees for the first time from Kenya and Ghana.
In a press conference during the meeting, FPA Executive Director Marv Tuttle said the FPA's board had approved a growth plan under which membership would increase from the current 28,300 members to 37,000 members by June 2010, tapping into "allied" members of the association and paraplanners. Tuttle noted several other intitiatives that should help with FPA's 80% membership retention rate, including development of public policy committees, such as one focusing on healthcare, a large firms initiative, and a planners' diversity summit. For the first time, the FPA was able to coordinate its annual meeting with the gathering of program directors who sponsor continuing education events through the CFP Board.
Summing up, Tuttle emphasized another indication of the health of the group and the commitment of its membership: 47 people, he reported, had put forth their names for possible inclusion on the FPA's national board.