This is the third year Marv Tuttle has been honored on the IA 25. (Portrait: Joel Kimmel)

If you want to build a profession, you need fiery visionaries and tub-thumping evangelists who can energize the grass roots. You need folks with specific technical knowledge and contacts among legislators and the profession’s regulators.

You also need someone like Marv Tuttle, who headed the Financial Planning Association from 2004 until his retirement in 2012, but who has been a quiet, conciliatory force—with a steel backbone and clear-eyed ethics—in forging the profession beginning way back in 1983 when he became communications director for the ICFP.

Tuttle’s vision and guidance was seen in the successful merger of the ICFP and IAFP to form the FPA in 2000, but also in multiple FPA moves that served to build the profession—and better serve clients—even if it meant FPA itself could suffer some financial and membership consequences. In writing about Tuttle at the time of his retirement, IA Editor-at-Large Bob Clark said that naming “Marv as CEO was the smartest thing any financial planning association has done in the 30 years I’ve been observing the profession,” and concluded that Tuttle’s crowning achievement was his ability to bring together FPA, NAPFA and the CFP Board into the Coalition for Financial Planning, “which someday could form the basis of a cohesive advisory profession.”   

In a May interview, Tuttle deflected such praise, noting that without “so many volunteer leaders, the profession wouldn’t have gotten” to where it is today. Financial planning “could be and is an honorable profession,” though without the “patience and hard work” exhibited by FPA’s leadership and others since the early 1980s, financial planners could still be considered “no better than used car salespeople.”

While other professions like medicine, law and accounting “took a much longer time to develop,” the planning profession’s development, Tuttle pointed out “has been compressed into 50 or 60 years.”

So what are the elements of a profession? “It was things like ascribing to a code of ethics and a desire to be regulated” that allowed the profession to form, but “also, one of the things I’m most proud of, was the willingness to give back, to help others” exhibited by financial planning practitioners.

The “planning community raised it a notch or two or three in terms of public service,” especially after 9/11. “Most of FPA’s chapter community is involved in pro bono” work, he reported, providing planning services to the military, women’s shelters and Junior Achievement to name but a few. “It took an awful event like 9/11 to kickstart” that effort, Tuttle said, and he gave kudos to the Foundation for Financial Planning, “which has done a wonderful job” providing “the core of how those services are funded.”

“In the early days,” Tuttle recalled, it was a challenge “just building trust within the key centers of influence—government, media—that financial planning could be a legitimate profession.” One development that helped in gaining that legitimacy was having FPA leaders and “mainstream” planners who “knew what they were talking about” in conversations with government and the media. The consumer media in particular “now looks at planners as great resources,” he said.

The profession’s development was helped by the fact that on both the professional and volunteer levels, “at the ICFP and the FPA, the right leaders came at the right time.” And the volunteer leaders saw their participation “as a significant honor, though they had to give up” much of their time to do so, mentioning in particular leaders like Dave Yeske, Dan Moisand and Elizabeth Jetton.

On a personal level, Tuttle said he’s proud of the work done by the ICFP and FPA on launching and preserving the Journal of Financial Planning, which began in 1979 with the intent of publishing “the best we could do in research, including from practitioners. There have been milestone articles published there.”

Tuttle said that “one of the highlights of my career was to hit the road to colleges and universities,” and noted that “in 2003 and 2004 FPA helped establish the NexGen group as an important cohort in the profession, encouraging the youth of the profession to take it forward.” Tuttle said “I’m excited about the people coming up” who will lead the profession into the future.

When asked about the seminal lawsuit filed against the SEC over the “Merrill Lynch rule,” aka the “broker exemption,” Tuttle said winning that suit “put everybody on a level playing field, which the public deserved, starting with a level of commitment at a fiduciary level.” Moreover, the lawsuit “rescinded some of the advantages the broker community had,” and with the suit, the “FPA sent a message that the public should be honored and treated fairly; it was a monumental effort.”

Tuttle recalled that “the board was reluctant” at first to file the lawsuit, initially proposing that FPA file with other like-minded groups, but eventually the board backed the lawsuit completely.

“FPA, when it was created in 2000, was meant to be broad-based—professional and corporate” so when the decision to file the lawsuit “came about, it caused some consternation among the corporate community and our members as well,” since it “clearly lined up” for “providing professional financial advice under a fiduciary standard. It cost us members and revenue,” he admitted, but “the board figured it was important to the development of the financial profession. We did our best on projections; there were intended and unintended consequences, but we did the right thing for the financial profession.

“I’m just really proud of all the people who held the vision” of a strong planning profession, Tuttle said. “For 45 years, it’s taken shape, doing what was necessary to go forward.” He praised CFP Board CEO Kevin Keller for his efforts, especially the Board’s public awareness campaign. “CFP Board has become a strong, legitimate institution,” Tuttle said. Considering the current state of regulation and Congress’ reluctance to adequately fund the SEC, “the government might say the financial planning profession” needs a self-regulatory organization, perhaps “something like the CFP Board.”

On the fiduciary issue, Tuttle said the CFP Board and FPA “are doing the best they can in sticking to your guns; doing the right thing for your clients, whether we have a fiduciary rule or not,” and he remains proud that “FPA put its stake in the ground.” That commitment “is starting to have an impact.” While the Department of Labor “is not where we were originally headed” in terms of a fiduciary standard, “it’s a good development.” DOL, he said, “has gotten there on its own; President Obama has gotten there—the president recognizing” the important of a fiduciary represents a major victory.

As for the future of FPA and the profession, Tuttle voices concern on how financial planning will “coalesce and progress in the corporate environment—within the major firms and in individual practices.” There remain “some struggles ahead to get it out there in a way that the public is not confused as to what financial planning is.” 

As for his own future, Tuttle said that while he’s enjoying the family time that retirement provides, he just may come out of retirement.