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A Focus on the Consumer, Boomers, and Promoting Fiduciary Values

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Peggy Cabaniss greeted attendees of the 23d annual National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA) by pledging that “we want to help you build your businesses so you can better serve your clients.” Cabaniss, the chair of NAPFA this year, provided some of the group’s recent highlights, including two campaigns–on helping consumers find an advisor who provides NAPFA’s “comprehensive, competent advice,” and on helping consumers understand the term fiduciary–and a redesigned Web site that was launched on day one of the conference. She also pointed out that over the past year, the old Web site had generated some 50,000 “requests” from consumers for help that had been passed on to NAPFA members.

Appropriately for a planning group, the keynote speaker was Gail Sheehy, author of “Passages” and many other books, who said her research into aging had led her to redefine the stages of adulthood. “Americans,” she said, “are taking more time to grow up and to grow old,” and that older people would need the assistance of financial planners like the NAPFA members in exploring this “vast new world.”

NAPFA’s Focus on Fiduciary is a consumer education campaign that is being supported by the NAPFA Consumer Education Foundation, which was founded in June 2005. Through radio public service announcements and a Web site––that will go live on July 1, the fee-only planners group will attempt to educate consumers on what they should look for in a financial planner. “Fiduciary is an adjective, not a noun,” stressed Cabaniss, who said NAPFA has decided to take a clear stand on the fiduciary question, and sent a letter to the CFP Board on May 19 asking that body to take a similar stand.

NAPFA also released the findings of a membership survey conducted by Moss Adams, the first such comprehensive survey ever. Nearly 200 NAPFA firms filled the initial survey forms, which Cabaniss said could take two to three hours to complete. NAPFA chair-elect Dick Bellmer said he hoped this would be the first in an ongoing series of studies designed to help group members benchmark themselves to their peers, and would help guide the NAPFA board in its decision-making. The survey found very healthy growth at NAPFA-affiliated firms, which Moss Adams said could be separated into three general sizes: solo practitioners, where the principal/owner was the sole professional in the firm; emerging ensembles, which can count multiple professionals but with less than $2 million in revenue in 2005; and larger ensembles, which had more than $2 million in revenue last year but averaged more than 20% growth in revenue since 2003.