It’s an interesting question for the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, or NAPFA, which has long made fee-only financial planning its cause celebre. As fee-oriented compensation gains widespread acceptance across the financial services landscape, will NAPFA soon have nothing to preach about? And with no burning message, might the organization simply fade into irrelevance?
No way, says NAPFA board president Michael Joyce of Michael Joyce & Associates in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (perhaps not surprisingly), whom we spoke to in Toronto at the association’s annual confab in late April. True, he says, the organization’s first 20 years have been spent beating the fee-only drum, and “we’ve changed the industry; the rest of the industry is trying to look like us.” But the organization’s long-term goals go beyond transforming the way advisors get paid: NAPFA also aims to increase advisors’ skills and knowledge level. “Our goal is to raise the competency level in the industry as a whole,” says Joyce. To that end, NAPFA has beefed up several mentoring and educational opportunities for advisors, including conference-call-based small groups led by experienced advisors (the FOSTER program), a regimen of “basic training” sessions for new planners, regional peer-group idea exchanges known as study groups, office hours at conferences, to name just a few.
The numbers also speak well for NAPFA’s ongoing relevance: Since last year, membership has grown from a little over 900 to more than 1,100, and consumers seeking referrals to a an advisor through the NAPFA Web site last year reached 36,000. “Our consumer referral system has been very strong, and I think [the system] is definitely one of the reasons for an advisor to consider membership,” says Joyce. “Those numbers show that the public recognizes the value of a competent, comprehensive, fee-only advisor who doesn’t have conflicts of interest.” In addition, other segments of the financial world have their eye on NAPFA: Several organizations or companies (Joyce won’t specify just yet) have approached NAPFA about custom-tailoring some of the fee-only organization’s educational and mentoring programs for their constituents.