The majority of the consulting I do involves working with pioneer planners who are twice my age. My job is to help them understand the different needs of their next generation staff. As a result, I often get told, and enjoy listening to, their tall tales of days gone by. The stories generally go something like this: Long before many next generation financial planners were born, a small group of pioneer planners came together to share ideas. These “gatherings” were a little different from the conferences you attend today. They weren’t held at the Four Seasons overlooking the Pacific Coast. Nor were the sessions funded by sponsors who wanted your business and were willing to pay big bucks for expert speakers to educate you on the latest industry research.

No, these gatherings were held in dorm rooms where the costs may have been minimal and the facilities primitive, but the ideas were powerful.

While the face of the profession has changed quite significantly, two things remain untouched. First is the enthusiasm the next generation has for building a profession, just as the pioneers did “back when they were our age.” Second is the desire to have a community of their own to brainstorm ideas to improve the quality of life for those who work in the profession and those who seek financial advice. As a result, just as the pioneer generation did before them, the next generation has managed to organize a conference of their own with the FPA’s support: the NexGen 2006 gathering to be held August 18 to 20 in Estes Park, Colorado.

For years, several small groups of next gen financial planners had been conversing in private online discussion boards, blogs, and at industry conferences about the problems they face in their employment experiences and their careers. The unfortunate misunderstanding is that these communities are avenues for next generation planners to “complain” about the profession, what they do and don’t have, and what they think they deserve from their employers.

However, the majority of the discussions taking place are deeply thought-out debates relating to issues such as technical planning concepts, developing client relationships, furthering financial planning education, and even how a young planner can be more productive and contribute to the bottom line of the business that employs them. With the exception of career tracks, the ideas discussed are very similar to the debates that used to happen regularly among the older generation.

The Birth of NexGen

It wasn’t until 2004 that an official group called NexGen was formed to bring young planners together in one organization. Ironically, NexGen was launched for new and young planners who were seeking mentorship from older planners; in particular, “The Rat Pack”–a community of older planners led by pioneer Ben Coombs. NexGen was simply established to match interested people with the old “rats” who’d been there before and could help them work through the challenges they faced.

I suspect that the co-founders of NexGen, Aaron Coates and Michael Kitces, didn’t realize what an impact their creation would have on the profession–nor did the FPA. In the new organization, dozens of small study groups of young planners with discussion boards and blogs came together in one big group, eager to have a “place to belong.” What was their number one request? Interestingly enough, a “gathering” just like their predecessors where the costs were minimal, but the ideas powerful.

Not just anyone can be a member of NexGen, though. For many reasons, there are limitations to who can join the group. The biggest restriction is age. Unless you can check the 36 years old or younger box, you’re not invited to join or attend the conference without a special invitation. How 36 became the magic cut-off number, I don’t know. But the age limit has caused some headaches in the past, with outcasts claiming that “this is just another way for young people in the profession to further isolate themselves and create more generational gaps.”

I don’t see the age restriction as something to worry about–if you take a look around, organizations all over the country have done the same thing. Conducting a quick Google search, you can find hundreds of organizations, nationally and locally, who’ve created “40 and under” spin off groups (see sidebar, right, listing such groups).

Why? Because there will be a shortage of young talent in our country to replace baby boomer retirees. We are seeing signs of this already. As a result, industries across the country are doing all they can to keep talented young people. From a financial planning perspective, NexGen provides a community of support to young people that increases the chances of them staying productive and employed in financial planning–talent that you will desperately need in the future to carry out your succession planning strategies.

What’s more, age is not the only requirement for NexGen planners. There are many other restrictions that might surprise you. To join NexGen, you have to have your CFP certificate or be enrolled in a CFP university program, be employed in a financial planning capacity, be actively involved in advancing the financial planning profession, and as a holdover from the The Rat Pack mentoring members, each year perform five acts of giving back to an older planner who’s helped you. It is hard to believe after reading and understanding these guiding principles that this group has motives outside of just wanting an open-minded place to share their experiences, and grow as professionals.

What’s in It for You?

When working with employers of young planners, I am constantly asked one question: “How do we motivate them to be more productive?” What young planners need is the opportunity to discuss their ideas, challenges, frustrations, and goals with someone who is willing to listen. When I offer them that opportunity, my clients immediately notice an increase in their employee’s productivity. What better sounding board than a group of their own peers to serve the same purpose, and at no cost to you?

With the FPA’s assistance, NexGen has now officially put together a conference agenda to bring their community together. The program is packed with ideas from young planners, presented mostly by young planners themselves. The two primary topics of discussion are technical knowledge and career development.

Despite my past frustrations with the FPA and what I believe was a lack of understanding of the “true” needs of the next generation of financial planners–their future membership–I have to give them credit for stepping up to the plate to support the unbudgeted request by NexGen to have a conference. While many older planners didn’t have such a strong organization to help them, I believe it was their hearts’ intent to make sure those who followed did.

My understanding is that one of the FPA’s core missions is to foster communities of support. According to the Small Business Administration, nearly 90% of those who seek a goal alone will fail. But in a community of like-minded individuals, nearly 90% of those same people will succeed. I suspect many of those pioneer planners who built this profession couldn’t have done it without their colleagues’ constant sharing of ideas, guidance, and motivation. If supporting the NexGen conference is a reflection of how dedicated the FPA is to their diverse community of members, then I would say this goal is turning out to be a success.

Some of the best ideas for this industry have came from young pioneers who, back in the day, were passionate about what they did, and didn’t know any better. In American history, many of the most successful businesses were created by young people–ideas that changed industries like FedEx, Subway, Dell, eBay, and Microsoft. Give your employees the same type of environment and you can only help them discover more about themselves. You never know, they might come home with an idea that will greatly impact your business. It doesn’t take much to find a vision and create something new and useful. I have learned that a certain level of creativity and innovation comes from being young and na?ve, and as I get older, that is one trait I fear losing.

Angela Herbers is a virtual business manager and consultant for independent financial planning firms. She can be reached at angieherbers@cox.net.