From the November 2007 issue of Research Magazine • Subscribe!

FPA Leaders Chart Path for Group's Expansion

Marv Tuttle, executive director of the Denver-based Financial Planning Association, says he is "ecstatic" at the outcome of the group's 2007 annual convention, held September 8-11 in Seattle. "Lots of those attending were enthusiastic, and our evaluations should confirm this," Tuttle explains.

Some 3,000 planners and other guests attended, including more than 300 from 25 countries outside of the United States. That overall attendance tops the group's 2006 meeting in Nashville by about 250.

Gai McGrath of the BT Financial Group in Sydney, Australia, said she came to Seattle "to learn about overseas best practices in the planning industry ... and meet other planners." Her colleague Chris Freeman explained that he came for the sales and marketing sessions. "The United States does that really well," he shared.

At the conference, Tuttle and other leaders outlined the organization's three-year growth plans. To increase membership, the FPA plans to incorporate more individuals who help support and strengthen the profession: staff members of planning practices like para-planners, home- or back-office employees, and allied professionals (CPAs, tax and estate attorneys, etc.).

The group now has about 28,500 members, a figure that's up some 3 percent over 2006. It hopes to have 37,000 by June 2010.

It does have room to grow amongst its core constituency, Tuttle says, since there are 55,000 certified financial planners, or CFPs. Roughly 20,000 are now members of the FPA. "We still want to do better there with further cooperation of our active members," he adds.

The group has been able to raise its profile recently through interaction with legislators. Just a few days before its annual conference, FPA President Nick Nicolette testified before the U.S. Senate Special Committee on the Aging, which is addressing senior investment fraud. "We were the only professional group to testify," Nicollete said during the FPA's gathering in Seattle. "Congress is looking at the professional designations, and the CFP designation has an ethics component to it."

"Advocacy is always a key prong and will be in 2008," says Tuttle. "We want to always work to better represent our members before political and other officials for the good of the profession and the good of consumers."

And there's more to be done. "I was told we need to be stronger in our work and conviction in building this profession and serving the public," Nicolette said during the FPA's Seattle conference. "We have to make it clear to the world what it means to be a financial planner and the need to serve our clients as fiduciaries."

While providing pro bono and educational services is important, "We need to find other ways to reach the public and inspire them to engage the financial-planning process and work with a financial planner some way, some how," Nicolette explained.

He advocates that the group and its members "take risks" as it did in bringing a lawsuit against the SEC over the exemption of many broker-dealers from the Investment Advisers Act of 1940. The position of the FPA and its members has been to say "regulate us on what we do," said FPA Chair Dan Moisand during the conference. "The lines between advice and sales" weren't separate, he explained, which partly prompted the group to instigate its successful lawsuit.

Other initiatives discussed by the FPA in Seattle include the group's new membership/branding campaign: "I am FPA." The group also has expanded its financial literacy work through a new arrangement with Junior Achievement in which FPA members will teach in the schools. "The U.S. Treasury is looking at us and our role in financial literacy," Tuttle points out.

In conjunction with the Seattle conference, the FPA hosted its third-annual Major Firms Symposium which drew 50 companies, including LPL, Merrill Lynch and Securities America. And the FPA's Diversity Summit brought together members of the industry, educators and others.

As part of the conference, the FPA also rolled out a "communities of interest" technology platform to bring together members who "want to participate in conversations and customize their information exchange," Tuttle explains. The program emphasizes discussion boards and other ways for FPA members to be more involved in specific issues that impact the planning profession.

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Janet Levaux is the managing editor of Research; reach her at jlevaux@researchmag.com.

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