Investment advisors and financial planners prize their independence, but history shows that an effectively organized group of dedicated people can often achieve far more as a team than any of its members can accomplish individually. Want to change the SEC’s policy on an issue that’s important to you? Raise awareness about the financial ramifications of divorce? Establish or promote a new professional designation for college planning specialists? Take classes to learn how to help clients make effective gifts to charity? Chances are you’ll need to join forces with other planners to make any of these things happen–and chances are that there’s a professional association in this year’s Investment Advisor directory that can help you do just that.
The rainbow of organizations is impressive: Some have been around for decades; others, just a few years. Some have tens of thousands of members, while others have less than 100. But the variation among these groups means that you’re likely to find what you’re looking for, whether it’s a group that’s large or small, old or new, wide-ranging or focused on a very specific issue.
Perhaps the best known of these groups is the FPA, which boasts nearly 30,000 members and in mid-September hosted its annual convention, this year in its headquarters town of Denver. The FPA is well known for its conferences, public awareness campaigns, and educational initiatives, but as regulatory issues have loomed ever larger in the lives of its members, the association has also stepped up its lobbying efforts in Washington and permanently headquartered four staff members in the nation’s capital.
“This is a very high priority for FPA,” says Neil Simon, director of government relations for the organization. “Financial planners deal with an extensively regulated industry, and though there are other folks in the industry who have gained a great deal of influence over the years, financial planning is working very hard to gain as strong a voice.” Simon and his staff work closely with a “sounding board” of FPA members to determine which issues merit the association’s lobbying efforts, and occasionally even seek the entire membership’s input on certain actions. It did just that recently, then filed a lawsuit challenging a proposed rule by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that would permanently expand the ex-emption for broker/dealers otherwise subject to the fiduciary and disclosure standards of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940. “This was a very problematic rulemaking for advisors, because it creates a very uneven playing field for financial planners and broker/dealers who are providing financial planning advice, and also reduces the protection available to investors under the Investment Advisers Act,” says Simon. “We’ve gained the SEC’s attention on this rule, and we are hopeful that it will be either very substantially revised, or conceivably even withdrawn.”
While the FPA focuses on a wide array of financial-planning-related issues and initiatives, there are many other groups that target advisors serving very specific clienteles. One such organization, lesser-known than the FPA but with a surprisingly large membership, is the Society of Certified Senior Advisors, or SCSA. Founded in 1996 and boasting a membership of more than 17,000 professionals in the U.S. and Canada, this Denver-based association works to educate planners, CPAs, gerontologists, and elder law attorneys about the issues facing elderly clients. Professionals can earn the CSA designation by attending three and a half days of classroom instruction or by completing a self-study program within six months. Classes cover nearly two dozen topics that seniors say are important to them, including principles of aging, long-term care insurance, reverse mortgages, geriatric care, Alzheimer’s, grief and loss, and spirituality. Professionals who successfully complete the program have the option to be listed in the organization’s Web-based referral directory at www.csa-csa.com.
A second fairly new niche-oriented group offering a certification program is the National Institute of Certified College Planners (NICCP). Established only two years ago as a joint venture of Savingforcollege.com and College Funding, Inc., the NICCP grants and promotes the Certified College Planning Specialist (CCPS) designation. In addition to completing three self-study educational modules, candidates for this designation must have earned at least one financial certification or securities license, or possess “a combination of education and experience deemed satisfactory by the NICCP Advisory Council,” according to the organization’s Web site, www.niccp.com.
Yet another association aimed at helping advisors serve a specific clientele (albeit without an addition to the alphabet soup of designations) is the National Association of Philanthropic Planners, or NAPP (www.napp.net), which was founded in 1986 to aid advisors in serving the charitably inclined. Despite its small size–the organization includes fewer than 150 members, according to executive director Amanda Simmons-Myers–the association boasts a Web-based referral directory, educational opportunities, members-only message boards, an online compilation of relevant news and technical articles, and an annual convention that focuses on charitable giving issues. Since 1999, the annual conference has provided attendees with insights not only on the technical side of philanthropy (creating trusts, making bequests, etc), but also on the human side.