The Financial Planning Association likes to call its annual conference “the gathering of the global financial planning profession,” and the international aspect of that description was on display during this year’s meeting from September 15-18 in San Diego. There were 275 attendees from 20 countries other than the U.S. at the meeting out of 3,000 people registered for the meeting, noted conference chair Nancy Johnson on the opening day of the conference. The focus of the meeting was squarely on U.S. considerations and the community of planners, however, as reflected in FPA President-Elect Dan Moisand’s opening general-session comments on the reasoning behind the FPA’s lawsuit against the SEC over the Merrill Lynch rule, aka the broker/dealer exemption. “The vast majority of our members wanted us to sue the SEC,” Moisand said, wryly noting that while finding such unanimity among planners was rare, it happened over the Merrill rule “because it’s the most important matter we face.” He went on to say that “real financial planners are willing to be held to a higher standard,” and that “the public deserves clarity” on the differences between brokers for whom advice is “incidental” and true financial planners. In his welcome to the attendees, President Jim Barnash pointed out, however, that “all compensation models have a place in our world,” and that “it’s not important where planning happens, but how.”

FPA leadership knows its members are concerned with practice-building issues, and thus it has instituted a new educational conference called Business Solutions that will take place in Dallas on March 1-2 of next year. Executive Director Marv Tuttle says the group expects some 200 to 250 attendees for the inaugural event.

FPA members aren’t just jawboning about the group’s efforts in Washington; efforts by former chair Dave Yeske have resulted in more money being contributed to the group’s political action committee than ever before, he said during the meeting. Moreover, the group has added a public affairs director in Washington and is relocating its pro bono staff to D.C. to help ratchet up its inside-the-Beltway influence.

Highlights of the conference included keynote speeches from Stephen Covey of “Effective Habits” fame, who lauded the FPA for its values (which he said overlapped his own), and an entertaining presentation by Peter Ricchiuti of Tulane University that had attendees rolling with laughter as he explored the behavior of the stock markets and world economics.

The subtext to the gathering was Hurricane Katrina. The FPA’s 2006 conference is scheduled to be held in New Orleans, and Tuttle said the group will likely decide by January 1 whether it will still hold the conference in the devastated city. The group has also formed a task force to explore ways for the group to assist financial planners–not just FPA members–whose lives and practices have been affected by the storm and its aftermath. Laura Garrison of the FPA staff is coordinating the effort (laura.garrison@FPAnet.org). Finally, the Foundation for Financial Planning has earmarked $100,000 that it will grant to the FPA to help advisors affected by the storm get their practices back in order.