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FPA’s Future: Big-Tent Leader or CFP Board Cheerleader?

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In my first decade of membership (I was a member from about 2001 to 2017), the Financial Planning Association held a special place for me as a young planner.

In the earlier years, FPA was known as the “big tent” that brought together a diverse group of planners and professionals. Opportunities to volunteer were vast. I regularly spoke to communities not traditionally helped by planners and was privileged to write for the national consumer-facing blog, which was instrumental in starting my practice.

If anyone had a reason to be loyal to FPA, I certainly count myself among that group.

While serving on a national public initiatives committee, I recall a member who regularly posed a question that stands out in my mind when participating in any group to this day:

“What brings us all together at FPA?”

The question frequently was in response to individuals pulling the agenda toward personal interests. The answer often was reading the mission statement and realizing that FPA was the “big tent” that passionately promoted a diverse group providing planning to the public.

The Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine gives us the “Core Beliefs” of FPA in 2014:

Primary Aim

FPA® is the community that fosters the value of financial planning, and advances the practice and profession of financial planning.

There are quite a few areas in the Business Objectives section in which nearly anyone could find common ground.

Fast forward to 2020, and FPA’s “Core Policy” has noticeably shrunk:

The CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ certification and the standards it represents constitute the foundation of the financial planning profession.

While I’m not aware of official reasons for the recent separation with CEO Lauren Schadle, other than declining membership, it will be worthwhile for the profession to consider why so many former supporters like myself no longer count ourselves among members.

FPA went from being an outstanding megaphone for all in the planning universe, to an organization solely focused on promoting an increasingly political Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards. As CFP Board conducts its own progressive political experiment, FPA has given away its history of leading to become the board’s woke cheerleader.

Below are a few items that caused one past advocate to be a happy ex-member:

  • 3ethos CEO Don Trone has written that since 2012, FPA and CFP Board denied fiduciary training and research to members due to political conflicts over who would control “fiduciary.” In 2009, FPA CEO Marv Tuttle engaged Trone “to prepare the first fiduciary handbook and training program specifically for financial planners,” Trone said in an email. “When the handbook was published in 2010, the CFP Board began to interfere with the material. In 2012, it’s purported that CFP Board offered FPA ‘sponsorships’ and ‘membership services’ to drop the initiative, which they did. Marv Tuttle was pushed out shortly thereafter.”
  • In its advocacy, FPA has had no positions to increase access to and availability of planning. While there are the beginnings of an agenda on FPA’s website today, mostly it is passive; playing defense, but lacking any ideas to advance access to planners.
  • One of the group’s few advocacy positions during the Trump presidency was to denounce a Republican proposal to expand Roth IRA contributions while reducing pretax retirement plan limits for high-income earners. FPA claimed the proposal would “greatly hinder” the “ability to save,” which on its face is economically absurd, but also was against one of the first major legislative ideas to increase the demand for planners. High-income individuals, who have the means to hire planners, would have a new reason to do so if they needed to save outside of their employer’s plan. FPA’s advocacy against conservative ideas was also a position fought against its own membership.
  • For an organization that claims progressive credentials with diversity, they took quick action to remove a minority and female leader and shut down her FPA of New York chapter.
  • FPA regularly promotes postmodernism in socialist Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) — a theory that says, “Society doesn’t have to plan… it can have it all!” — and FPA-funded publications including the Journal of Financial Planning today promote concepts like social justice. Postmodernism is not compatible with personal financial planning. FPA funds a podcast called “2050 Trailblazers” that purports to raise a conversation on increasing the number of minority planners but often simply resorts to divisive social commentary and criticism of Republicans, capitalism and business.

We are a compassionate and caring profession. One aspect of that, which kept my membership alive for years, was past opportunities FPA provided for outreach to less privileged communities. The goal of social justice, however, is not a hand to lift up, but rather to tear down societal constructs. As planners our value comes from being a positive force to build futures using the tools society provides; grievance and despair are not what we do.

While progressives like Bob Veres seem to believe Schadle’s failures came from not being political enough, the profession should take a more introspective look.

My FPA membership dues were a check I once wrote with a smile. Having seen what it has become, I am far happier to be a voice against its pushes today.

FPA’s fate should also come as a warning to groups like the CFP Board and the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors: Continue to politicize your membership and you may not decline as quickly as FPA, but advisors will find groups that do not abuse their good will for their conflicted agendas.

If FPA does not find a way back to being a “big tent” organization with a diversity of opinions, business models and ideas, the organization will serve no purpose to the profession that develops outside of it.

During these politicized times, alienating a significant portion of the membership who are not supportive of postmodernism and progressive politics, and even more against the destructive aspects of social justice, is a sure way to get more advisors who want to see the profession flourish ask, “Why am I here?”

Rob Schmansky

Rob Schmansky is the president of Clear Financial Advisors LLC and a co-founder of the Financial Stewardship Network