My blog last week, Dear NAPFA: Don’t Take a Position on a Political Issue…, seems to have struck a nerve with some readers. It was about the announcement by the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors that it is reconsidering holding its October national conference in Indianapolis due to Indiana’s recent passage of the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act.” As you may remember, my contention was that this is a political/social issue, and as such, professional and/or trade associations would be wise to avoid taking a position on the issues involved.
The blog received 13 comments (including responses) but only four of those actually addressed my column: two favorably (thank you); one simply “anti-NAPFA” for taking its political position, and one that “disagreed with a lot” of my “argument.” The other nine were a running debate between a reader calling him/her self Michael Hatem and “Anonymous.”
I mention this breakdown because I believe that it graphically illustrates my point: political issues are inherently divisive and can therefore greatly reduce an organization’s ability to represent all of its members, and represent those members with regulators and lawmakers.
The “anti-NAPFA” response came from Charles Nash, who wrote: “This (among a litany of other reasons) is why even though I’ve been a fee only practitioner since 1998, I’ll never join NAPFA. It is a bit ironic that the most discriminatory organization in the planning industry as it pertains to advisors is now taking a stand against discrimination. Now that’s [a] laugh!”
While I don’t agree that NAPFA is, in fact, “discriminatory,” it is the most exclusive club in the financial planning world. Yet I don’t believe that’s a bad thing. As far as I know, NAPFA doesn’t restrict its membership by race, religion, sex or sexual orientation. Yet it does, again in my view, have the highest professional standards in financial planning. That is a very good thing.
If not discriminatory, professions are, by definition, restrictive. They set out very high standards of education, training, conduct, ethics and remuneration. Hopefully, they are open to every one who can, and is willing to, meet those standards. And they aren’t bashful about turning away those who can’t, or won’t, meet them.
As a society, we all benefit from professions, because they provide us with a high level of competence and reliability in areas that are essential to our well-being: medicine, law, accounting, academic research, engineering and, most recently, financial advice. We take a very dim view of those professionals who would violate our trust in them.