Political pundits are wringing their hands these days about blue states and red, about the yawning partisan chasm that has opened up in this country. Has the country ever been so divided? Well, yes, it has, numerous times in fact, and even in my lifetime. When I was coming of political age in the 1960s, there were real divisions within the country–between black and white, between the Goldwater conservatives on the one hand and the socialist back-to-the-earth liberals on the other, between the “Proud to be an American” hawks and the “Get out of Vietnam” Eastern elite doves on the other. Moreover, we didn’t just gab about our differences. In those days Americans did something about them: violent protests, race riots, burnings of the flag, and pitched battles between hard-hat construction workers and coddled collegian antiwar protesters. Ah, those were the days! It was during that time–perhaps when I was casting my first Presidential vote in 1972–that I realized that the problem wasn’t the disagreements. The real danger was that the great majority of the population just wasn’t part of the discussion. Even if you disagreed with me, that showed that we shared a deep concern about the outcome. We were in it together, even if we disagreed as to the path we should take and where we should end up.
I wonder if the independent advisor community isn’t at that same juncture. Journalist types tend to go to the officers of organizations like the Financial Planning Association or the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors when we’re looking for reaction to a new tax law or a big shift in the markets. These are the people with their fingers on the pulse, after all. They’ve been raised to those positions because they’re smart people who care about the profession, are willing to put in the time to assume these volunteer positions, and always have opinions on the great issues of the day.
But there are plenty of advisors out there–the majority of independent advisors, and the majority of our readers–who are so involved with running their own practices, with meeting their needs and those of their clients, that the planner associations are irrelevant. Even FPA, which can boast 28,000 members, is barely acknowledged by most advisors. A group like NAPFA, which only counts 1,200 members, is even less prominent, despite its long-term moral leadership.
I happen to agree with Bob Clark’s thesis this month (page 51) that the profession is at war. A battle has already been joined in the nation’s capital that will shape the way you do business in the near future. If you think you’re in good shape because you’ve got a bona fide chief compliance officer and a compliance manual customized to the way you do business, think again. As Melanie Waddell reports in her column this month (page 100), the audits that the SEC is conducting these days reveal a take-no-prisoners attitude that will harden even more in the future, regardless of who replaces Bill Donaldson. Feeling good because we have a pro-business Republican President? Sorry, but it seems that Mr. Bush and his people are more interested in protecting big business than in meeting the needs of small-business folks like you.
If you want to remain your own master, to serve clients in the best way, you must sign up for this battle. I’d suggest joining your local FPA or NAPFA chapter. Contribute your ideas, passions, and dollars. With your help, these groups can lead the way in Washington and in your town, helping to define a bright line between stockbrokers and planners and promoting best practices in areas like finding a way to accommodate new planners to everyone’s benefit–an area that Angie Herbers will be covering regularly for us in a bimonthly column called The Fast Track (see page 43).
But please, for your own good, for that of the profession, for that of your clients, for that of the country, get involved.