At its annual gathering, the Financial Planning Association celebrated the 40th anniversary of the founding of the profession, complete with a new history of the profession and a cake, in Anaheim, California, from October 10 through the 13th. The largest group of planners is also flexing its advocacy muscles as Congress and the regulators seek to reform financial services regulation in the wake of recession, market swoons, bailouts, and fraud; the group believes its voice is being heard in Washington, on its own and as part of the Financial Planning Coalition with the CFP Board and the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA). Dan Barry, who has assumed the mantle of chief lobbyist for the group in the wake of Duane Thompson’s departure in September, says, in fact, that “if we ask for a meeting, we get a meeting,” with policy makers in the nation’s capital (see related story, page 32). However, the recession and the market crisis has also hit the FPA in its membership rolls and its purse, with Executive Director Marv Tuttle saying that membership has fallen 10% from 28,000 a year ago to 25,000, helped along by a dues increase during the year. While the decrease has now “leveled off,” Tuttle lays the blame for the falloff squarely on the economy and the markets, but as the staff member given the duty of finding out why members of at least 10 years standing let their membership lapse during the year, Tuttle said he also found many planners were choosing to retire earlier than planned. The average age of a member, Tuttle said, was 54.
At the conference itself, which the FPA calls the gathering of the international planning community and the heart of planning, those two characterizations were proven true, with many visitors from Europe, Asia, and Australia in attendance, and with the group’s ongoing pro bono efforts much in evidence. However, attendance itself was down at the event compared to last year’s gathering in Boston, according to the FPA, to about 2,000, while in the exhibit hall there were more than 150 exhibiting companies, which represents a 20% to 25% decrease. Considering the challenges of holding live events, Tuttle said “we’ve had discussions with the Schwabs and Pershings” about perhaps collaborating on future conferences.
Discussing how members fared during the financial crisis, President Richard Salmen began by saying financial planning is one of the “helping professions” which is unique among those professions because of its technical aspects. The crisis did advance the fiduciary conversation “further down the road,” Salmen said, though the question remains if any standard that is adopted “will be a true fiduciary standard,” under which you put your client first, but also “that you have the competency to deliver on that promise.”