In a couple of weeks, I’m going to be flying to Seattle to attend the Financial Planning Association’s 2022 national conference—my first in six or seven years. Back then, I moved around from session to session to session, taking copious notes of everything that was said, and came back with… nothing. There was nothing in the notes that was worth reporting to my audience. The most important insight I came away with was how many attendees were complaining about the poor quality of the presentations and the overall lack of organization that was everywhere visible at the conference.
That sums up the dysfunctional leadership that the FPA was struggling through back then, and I’m happy to report that the current CEO, Patrick Mahoney, seems to be the polar opposite of the previous regime. Which is another way of saying that I’m optimistic that, this time around, my conference experience will be very different. In a month or so, you’ll get a report which I suspect will confirm this.
Back when I would criticize the FPA as a declining organization (in terms of membership and relevancy), I’d get feedback asking why any of this matters. I actually believe that the health of our membership organizations—the FPA, NAPFA and the AICPA PFP Section—are symbiotic with the health of the profession as a whole. Ideally, they provide opportunities for members to compare notes on what they’ve been doing, what’s working, what they’re working on, which becomes the process by which the community becomes aware of best practices—which, in turn, is how the profession evolves in a positive direction.
Beyond that, the associations represent economies of scale. They collect a few dollars from each member and use that money to do things that are beyond the scope of any one advisory firm. The annual conventions are one example; lobbying the SEC and Congress is another. Negotiating discounts and serving as information clearinghouses, publishing magazines, communicating the profession’s values and value proposition to the press are all important activities that are undertaken on behalf of the membership.
In our last software survey, we asked the 5,000 participants which associations they belonged to, and were surprised to find that fewer than half belonged to any of the nine organizations we listed. Fewer than half! What that tells me is that the planning community has, over the years, grown dangerously cynical about the value proposition of association membership. In the last two years, I’ve watched the FPA rejuvenate its value proposition, and NAPFA appears to be doing the same thing with its own transition in staff leadership.
Unfortunately, that message apparently hasn’t yet reached the mainstream.
Prospective association members have every right to ask: ‘What’s in it for me?’ My trip to Seattle is not just an opportunity to check out the sessions; it’s a fact-finding journey on your behalf. I’m going to talk with the active members and attendees, and ask them what they’ve been getting, these days, in return for their annual dues.
I expect the answers—and the general buzz of the attendees—to be very different from what I experienced six or seven years ago. If I’m right, it would mean that the healing is taking hold, that we’re moving toward a healthier association and, as a result, a healthier, more engaged profession going forward.