The growth in the financial planning industry over the past few decades has led to the establishment of several professional associations that are dedicated to furthering the interest of advisors as well as protecting and educating the public. Three major organizations now stand above the rest in this category: The Financial Planning Association (FPA), the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA), and the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors (NAIFA). These organizations each provide a wealth of benefits for both advisors and consumers that have combined to elevate the quality and public perception of the financial planning industry in the U.S.
The Financial Planning Association (FPA)
The FPA was created at the beginning of 2000 with the merger of the Institute of Certified Financial Planners (ICFP) and the International Association of Financial Planning (IAFP). One of its chief goals is to help the public understand what services financial planners can provide and exactly how they will pay for them. The FPA requires all members to adhere to its standard of care, which includes full disclosure of all forms of compensation and possible conflicts of interest.
The FPA website provides a wealth of tools and resources for consumers including articles, books, brochures, a financial planning blog, a retirement planning app for smartphones, and a search feature that allows users to find member planners in their area. It also sponsors community outreach programs that are designed to promote consumer awareness of the importance of financial planning, including:
- National Financial Literacy Month
- America Saves Week
- Money Smart Week
- Financial Planning Week
The FPA has worked in coordination with other consumer protection groups in the past to help promote the protection of the elderly from financial abuse. It also created a National Financial Planning Support Center on Oct. 8, 2001, to provide free financial advice for those who were directly affected by the events of 9/11.
The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA)
NAPFA is dedicated to furthering the interests of fee-based advisors in order to provide the public with competent, unbiased financial planning. It was begun in February 1983 and has since grown to over 3,500 members and hundreds of academic and financial affiliates.
NAPFA's website includes useful links, an advisor search engine, and other resources. Member advisors are required to take a fiduciary oath that they will always put their clients’ interests unconditionally ahead of their own and take a holistic approach to financial planning that deals with all aspects of their clients’ finances without charging commissions. They are also required to submit a sample plan in the format that they intend to use in their practices for approval, along with the financial planning software that they intend to use.
The National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors (NAIFA)
NAIFA is by far the oldest financial planning organization in existence today. It was founded as the National Association of Life Underwriters in 1890 and differs from the FPA and NAPFA in that it focuses chiefly on the insurance industry and directs its efforts towards creating and protecting the tax advantages of insurance and annuities. It also promotes private ownership of health insurance and other benefits. It has collaborated with regulators and governments at the state level to work with retirees and elderly consumers who buy annuities and other fixed products, to protect them from unscrupulous individuals and business practices.
NAIFA is also attempting to create a national association of agents and brokers that will allow consumers to retain their insurance agents if they relocate to a state where the agent or broker is not licensed. NAIFA endeavors to train its members how to correctly coordinate and integrate their clients’ insurance coverage into the rest of their financial plans and also how to act ethically in their clients’ best interests.
Its website offers resources for both advisors and consumers, including links to other key organizations such as the Institute for Life and Health Education and the state insurance commissioners, consumer articles and public service announcements, as well as a plethora of educational information. NAIFA is heavily involved in community outreach with programs that are sponsored by its local chapters in health care, helping the homeless, educating young people, HIV education, substance abuse, family and eldercare issues as well as relief support for various crises that occur in the U.S. Its efforts were lauded on six separate occasions in the 1980s by both the Reagan and Bush Administrations.
The Financial Planning Coalition
The financial planning industry has made an increasing effort over the years to make its presence felt in Washington. To this end, the FPA teamed up with the CFP® Board of Standards and NAPFA in 2008 to create the Financial Planning Coalition. This organization has three distinct goals:
- To ensure that financial planners deliver transparent, fiduciary quality services to the public
- Unify, update and overhaul the hodgepodge of obsolete rules and regulations that govern much of the financial industry
- Cover the numerous regulatory gaps in the profession
The coalition is now working with legislators to create and enforce a blanket fiduciary standard for all financial professionals who provide any kind of financial advice or present themselves to the public as financial planners in any capacity. The coalition is also lobbying for the creation of a federally governed oversight board that would oversee the financial planning profession and establish minimum standards of industry practice and competence (albeit at a level somewhat below the standards set by the CFP® Board of Standards).
The Bottom Line
The financial industry has continually evolved and adapted itself to meet the changing needs of consumers over the decades. Although they do not all focus on exactly the same issues, organizations such as the FPA, NAPFA and NAIFA are striving to provide higher standards for the financial planning profession and greater protection for consumers through a combination of community programs, public educational initiatives, and federal legislation.