FPA Steps Up Lobbying Game With First ‘Advocacy Day’

FPA has spent the past year ‘refocusing on advocacy,’ says FPA's Nystrom

FPA members and staffers gathered in Washington on Tuesday to lobby Congress. FPA members and staffers gathered in Washington on Tuesday to lobby Congress.

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Members of the Financial Planning Association descended on Capitol Hill Tuesday for their inaugural "advocacy day" to not only push for a user-fees bill to help boost advisor exams, but to advocate for regulation of financial planners and to “establish relationships” with lawmakers.

Why have the first lobbying day now, after FPA's 14 years in existence? “If you’re going to have advocacy as a value driver” in being a member of the FPA, “you have to provide a mechanism” for members to advocate, Michael Branham, FPA’s 2014 chair, said during a Monday press briefing in Washington. “You have to start somewhere.”

Karen Nystrom, director of advocacy for FPA, added during the media briefing that FPA has spent the past year “refocusing on advocacy,” including state-based advocacy efforts, and that the visit to Washington was member driven. “Members have shown us that they want this [Hill visits] and they are ready to engage” with lawmakers.

Indeed, Branham said that the FPA’s first visit to the Hill—which included more than 60 advisors from 21 states—“is about establishing relationships” with lawmakers.

In between Hill meetings on Tuesday, Branham told ThinkAdvisor in an email message that “all of our meetings have been founded in great dialogue and a respectful discussion of the issues. It appears as if we’re providing useful information to elected officials and policy staff.”

"It was an incredible start," Nystrom added in another email message. "Lots of tired feet and trading of incredible moments at the end of the day."

FPA, as part of the Financial Planning Coalition — which includes the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards as well as the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors — advocates on behalf of about 75,000 advisors, and “we have to be in front of them [Congress] often enough that when it comes to issues around financial planning, they’ll want to hear from us,” Branham said. “We have to be a constant reminder that we are a resource.”

The more than 60 advisors held meetings with 90 legislative offices and with more than 25 members of Congress on both sides of the aisle.

Janet Stanzak, FPA president, said that the Hill visits not only allow members to connect with lawmakers, but give them “education to take back to their [FPA] chapters.” She said that many states held their own advocacy days with state legislators this spring, with more planned for this summer and fall.

“We give the CFP professional a voice,” Stanzak said. Of FPA’s 23,000 members, 16,000 are CFPs. The advocacy is “about ‘having the backs’ of the CFP professionals.”

FPA members continue to attempt to beat back the efforts of some states, like Ohio, Minnesota and Michigan, to impose a consumer-facing tax on financial services. Such a tax "would make financial services harder to get for consumers," Branham said.

Besides voicing their support for Rep. Maxine Waters’ bill, H.R. 1627, the Investment Adviser Examination Improvement Act of 2013, which would allow the SEC to assess user fees on advisors to boost their exam frequency, FPA is still “aggressively” pushing to secure co-sponsors of a user-fees bill in the Senate, Nystrom said, adding that a “bipartisan bill” in the Senate has the best chance of passing.

Nystrom couldn’t say whether such a bill would be introduced in the Senate this year. Waters’ bill, meanwhile, has stalled in the House.

Just as the FPA members gathered on the Hill, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial and General Government approved by voice vote the same day a bill that would give the SEC a $350 million budget increase in 2015, the full amount requested by the Obama administration. A House subcommittee voted last week to give the agency $300 less than Obama requested. The full House Appropriations Committee is set to vote Wednesday on the SEC’s budget.

FPA members’ goal with their Hill visits is also to increase recognition of financial planners “with the aim that one day we’ll be recognized as a bona fide profession,” Branham said, and that includes a willingness to be to be put under more regulation. “There is still a lot of confusion about what a financial planner is,” Nystrom added. Preliminary results of an FPA survey found that 88% of FPA members support regulation of financial planning.

FPA — and the Coalition — remain committed to lobbying for more regulation of financial planners, despite a Government Accountability Office report issued in 2011 saying more regulation was unnecessary.

Branham admitted that getting regulation of planners on Congress’ radar has — and will continue to be — an uphill battle. “We haven’t had a lot of luck at the federal level,” he said. “We are pushing a rather large boulder up a rather steep hill.”

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