From the October 2009 issue of Investment Advisor • Subscribe!

Catching Up With: Bill Baldwin

The fiduciary issue is a hot topic among many advisors these days, but at the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, embracing a fiduciary standard is old hat. Group Editor-in-Chief Jamie Green caught up by telephone with the new chairman of NAPFA, Bill Baldwin of Pillar Financial, based in Waltham, Massachusetts, in early September.

What are your priorities? I'll be actively working with [outgoing chair] Diahann Lassus through the end of the year in the Coalition for Financial Planning, with the FPA and the CFP Board, which is when the leadership of those two groups turns over.

The education aspect of NAPFA, which has always been important, has grown and developed. I'm determined to see it continue. Three people are directly involved: Mark Berg and John Ritter (both on the board), and then Bob Maloney, who's running NAPFA University. They're working with Robin Gemeinhardt [the NAPFA staffer for education] to coordinate education efforts for the association.

What specifically on education are you interested in? Everyone's gone to college, so we should have graduate-level education, and a lot of truth in advertising in labeling the educational offerings. My long-term vision is to create a Web site where firms can manage the educational needs of their employees, not just from NAPFA but other organizations as well.

How many NAPFA members are there? Membership has grown slightly--to about 1,200 NAPFA-registered advisors and about 2,200 total--and we have a very high retention rate.

Do you feel optimistic that a true fiduciary standard will be adopted as part of reregulation? NAPFA will continue to operate with all its members subscribing to our fiduciary oath; fiduciary for us is a given. The proposed regulation is to extend that fiduciary obligation to brokers. There are so many layers to this debate.

The Administration is proposing a uniform standard for all, so some people are talking about harmonizing regulations, especially around the conflicts of interest issue.

The argument among brokerage firms is that under a fiduciary standard they can't figure out how they can get paid--they want a revised fiduciary standard that allows them to sell a proprietary product with a higher commission than they otherwise might have received with institutional shares, for instance.

The Coalition would like to see financial planning adopted as a profession--to rise to a professional status; and if someone does two or more of the traditional elements of financial planning--investment management or tax planning or retirement planning, or holds themselves out as a financial planner--then the fiduciary standard should apply. And the Coalition agrees on protecting the definition of fiduciary.

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