NAPFA National Conference Report

Attendance down from last year, but lots of new initiatives planned

Article updated at bottom.--Ed.

While attendance was down slightly at the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors' (NAPFA) annual meeting June 4, held just outside of Washington, DC, in National Harbor, Maryland, the fee-only group was nonetheless busy announcing a bunch of new initiatives for this year.

Total attendance for this year's annual event reached 775--525 members and 250 exhibitors (last year's event drew 600 members and 300 exhibitors)--but NAPFA execs say the trade group is still experiencing about a 12% growth rate each year.

One issue that's front and center at NAPFA, of course, is its role as a member of the Financial Planning Coalition, which also includes the Financial Planning Association (FPA) and CFP Board. The three groups joined together last year to lobby Congress on financial services reform. During a press briefing at the conference, Diahann Lassus, chair of NAPFA, told reporters that while she's hopeful the coalition can move forward with its plans to establish a professional regulatory body (akin to an SRO) to oversee financial planners, the coalition is running up against opposition from a number of financial services trade groups--namely SIFMA, ACLI, AICPA, NASAA, the Consumer Federation of America, and the Investment Adviser Association (IAA). Lassus did say, however, that members of Congress as well as consumers are throwing their support behind the notion of a professional regulatory organization for financial planners, particularly in light of the Bernie Madoff scandal. Lassus said the coalition is now scheduling meetings with members of Congress, but declined to say which members.

Meanwhile, NAPFA has been busy upgrading its web site that allows consumers to search for an advisor, allowing consumers to search for an advisor via name, firm name, and expertise. On tap for roll out June 5 will be a new service for NAPFA members, called MD Preferred Financial Advisor Network, that allows NAPFA members, for a $375 annual fee, to market their services to 831,000 physicians nationwide.

NAPFA members will also be gearing up to comment on a number of important issues this year, said Susan John, a member of NAPFA's Industry Issues Committee, and a CFP with Financial Focus, Inc., in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. "The level of assets required to be an SEC registered advisor will be one issue that comes up this year," she said. Also, NAPFA will be commenting on 12b-1 fees, as well as trying to beat back the attempts by the states--such as New Jersey and Florida--who are about to be the latest to attempt to levy a sales tax on financial services.

NAPFA is also now polling its members on how they feel about the contentious "surprise audit" proposal that the SEC put out last month. About 40 or 50 comments have been received thus far (the comment deadline is July 25), John said, and most members say the audits are a bad idea.

UPDATE:

In response to this article as originally published, Diahann Lassus contacted Investment Advisor to clarify some of her remarks. While the various trade groups cited are not supportive of the professional regulatory organization concept for financial planners at the present time, the Financial Planning Coalition is still in early-stage conversations with these groups. "We are talking with the other groups to see if they can support this," Lassus said.

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