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Networking Niches

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When it comes to finding a professional association that provides networking opportunities and educational support, advisors don’t have to look very far. More and more financial trade groups are dotting the landscape these days, offering advisors a chance to interact with like-minded peers.

A newcomer to our annual directory is the Fee Planners Network in Troy, Michigan. The Fee Planners Network has been helping advisors expand their practices through fee-based life insurance planning for four years.

Joseph Maczuga, president of the Fee Planners Network, says advisors who join the group not only learn how to use and design a no-load life insurance product, but they’re also taught the differences between a commission life insurance policy and a no-load one. While no-load life insurance products have been around since 1982, Maczuga says that it’s only been over the “last five or six years that advisors have shown an interest in really learning how to use [the no-load products] and bring a more cost-effective solution to their clients.” By joining the Network, advisors also learn what their fiduciary responsibilities are as providers of fee-based life insurance products like term life, universal life, variable life, and survivorship life.

The Network’s membership roster, which includes advisors who are also members of the Financial Planning Association (FPA) and the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA), is now at 1,500, Maczuga says, a nice leap from last year’s 1,380 members. More fee-based advisors are interested in no-load life insurance products, he says, because they get the benefit of offering life insurance to their clients, without having to refer clients to a commission agent.

If you’re an advisor looking to sharpen your knowledge of eldercare issues, the Society of Certified Senior Advisors, based in Denver, Colorado, may be for you. To become a member, you must first pass a certification class designed to “bridge the gap” between a gerontology degree and a firm understanding of the three parts of aging: physical, social, and financial, explains Edwin Pittock, the Society’s president. The Society has “put together a training program where we teach people how to work more successfully with seniors,” he says. If an advisor is doing financial planning for a senior, “we contend they can do a better job if they understand the issues the senior is going through, like a chronic illness, Alzheimer’s, or anything that is affecting the decision-making process.” And advisors of all ages, with clients of all ages, can benefit from joining. Advisors “want help to understand the client who’s 45 or 50, [so they can] tell them what they’re going to face when they’re older,” Pittock says. “A lot of advisors are also working with younger people who have older parents with eldercare issues.”

The popularity of membership in the Society is evident through its whopping 10,000 members, most of whom are financial advisors, insurance agents, CPAs, and attorneys.

The National Association of Philanthropic Planners (NAPP) in Naples, Florida, consists of a cozy 125 members, and Johnne Syverson, the Association’s president, doesn’t expect that number to budge much. “We will always be relatively small because our core membership is primarily engaged in philanthropic planning during the course of their daily activities,” he says. “NAPP really focuses on philanthropy in the estate planning process. [Our focus] has more to do with incorporating major gifts and major future gifts into [a client's] overall planning.” More advisors are interested in joining NAPP so they can secure a piece of the $41 trillion wealth transfer that’s expected to occur over the next few decades, Syverson says. “Philanthropy is becoming a bigger part in that transfer; it’s not all about taxes and leaving more to the family.”

NAPP members can log on to the association’s Web site to get technical details about “philanthropy planning and how to incorporate it into the planning process,” Syverson says. There’s also an e-mail discussion group as well as an annual NAPP conference. NAPP kicks off its conference each year with a “philanthropic project,” in which members provide hands-on help to local groups and charities. At NAPP’s most recent conference in Chicago, members chipped in at a group home, a Special Olympics event, and at a homeless shelter. “We provide labor, we paint, stuff envelopes, or clean,” Syverson says. “It allows our members to put their philosophy to practice, and provides a sense of camaraderie.”

Strength in (Greater) Numbers

Two trade groups that have experienced sizable growth this year are the Investment Management Consultants Association (IMCA) and NAPFA. Denver-based IMCA’s membership has shot up 47%, and now boasts 4,390 members. That compares to last year’s 2,986 members. Why are more advisors joining? Evelyn Brust, IMCA’s executive director, says “there’s been a flight to quality,” and more consumers are seeking “professional guidance in managing their investments so they have sought out well-educated investment advisors.” Many advisors want to “fine-tune their craft,” she says, by obtaining IMCA’s Certified Investment Management Analyst and Certified Investment Management Consultant designations.

NAPFA now has 1,011 members, up from 831 members last year. Michael Joyce, NAPFA’s chairman, says the fee-only group is now working on providing greater access to its conferences through Webcasts. NAPFA also plans to “promote the concept of being a fiduciary in the financial planning business,” Joyce says, and has increased its consumer advocacy budget.

Washington Bureau Chief Melanie Waddell can be reached at [email protected].

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