The Financial Planning Association canceled this year’s Success Forum in San Diego following the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. But the educational part of the show will live on this month and next as the Virtual Success Forum. For the FPA, the Virtual Forum represents a daring move into multimedia teleconferencing. While planners will doubtless miss the opportunities to network with peers and exhibitors that the San Diego show would have afforded, they will be able to take part in one of the most intensive remote continuing ed experiments I have ever heard of.

The Virtual Success Forum gets rolling on Nov. 1 and will continue over the subsequent six weeks. To take part in any of the 20 scheduled sessions–and earn as much as 30 hours’ worth of continuing ed credits in the process–all you’ll have to do is dial into a conference call and fire up your PC to watch the accompanying tables and charts go by. Then just sit back, take notes, ask questions, and enjoy the fruits of FPA Director of Education Bud Elsea’s hard labors.

I called Bud and his associate, FPA Education Coordinator Diane McAfee, in Atlanta recently to get the lowdown on the project. Work on it began moments after the FPA decided to scrap the San Diego show. “There were so many great presentations that had been prepared,” Elsea says. “We didn’t want them to go to waste.” Moreover, “we knew we had a huge number of people who had planned to get 10 or 15 CE hours at Success Forum.” The challenge was to keep everyone happy.

But it turns out that Elsea had been doing spadework for a virtual conference series (“planning” is the FPA’s middle name, after all). Indeed, the FPA was already geared up to produce a pilot virtual conference this month. So when Success Forum was canceled, the decision to put on a full-dress program was a natural. “We said, ‘Gee, why don’t we do this?” Elsea recalls, and the staff was off and running.

The Virtual Success Forum will include presentations and panel discussions featuring a panoply of industry luminaries. Roy Diliberto, Richard Wagner, and Susan Bradley, for example, will join pundit Bob Veres to define life planning. Natalie Choate will provide the inside story on making retirement benefits payable to trusts. Chip Roame will tell you how to build a larger firm via acquisitions. And Lincoln Anderson of LPL Financial, a member of IA’s own panel of asset allocation experts, will go over his economic outlook for these troubled times.

The perennially popular CFP Board of Standards ethics course is also on the roster, with Roger Smith at the mike. I’ll be up there too, leading a panel discussion on investing in hedge funds that includes Rob Rosenbaum of Tremont Advisors, Craig Russell of Deutsche Bank, and planner Richard Staves.

Elsea says that putting the Virtual Success Forum together was surprisingly simple. Rather than do an elaborate shindig complete with streaming video, for example, Elsea found that he could tap into software applications from Web Crossing Inc., the folks that already power the FPA’s online message boards, to enable presenters to show PowerPoint slides while they speak. “We wanted to keep it as low-tech as possible,” Elsea says.

Fifteen of the 20 scheduled Virtual Success Forum panels or presentations will be eligible for two hours of CE credit. The FPA is charging $49 to dial into a single session; $44 apiece for those signing up for 5 to 9 sessions; and $39 for anyone who wants to sign up for 10 or more. More information on the Virtual Success Forum will be available at the FPA’s Web site, www.fpanet.org. I encourage you to sign up. You need the credits–and Bud and his crew deserve your support.