NAPFA Debates Its Future

The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA) was formed with a goal of taking fee-only financial advisors from the fringe and into the mainstream. Eighteen years later, it‚s a mission accomplished. So what does NAPFA do for an encore?

As a first step, the association is consulting with a futurist. John L. Petersen, founder and president of the Arlington Institute in Arlington, Va., will run a session at NAPFA‚s annual meeting in May that the group describes as an effort "to help fashion ideas for NAPFA‚s future."

"It has to essentially do with how NAPFA can best support its membership in different worlds that might evolve in the future," Petersen says.

The debate could get hot. The 750-member organization recently set up a members-only online forum on the topic, and it‚s reportedly bristling with opinions. One advisor privately describes the debate as "NAPFA with an identity crisis."

Much of the debate revolves around what the group‚s priorities should be after successfully promoting the merits of fee-only advice, which has now gained broad acceptance. "What happens when you win the war?" the advisor asks. "Their primary issue has prevailed. What next?"

Janet Briaud, the lead organizer of the session, counters that NAPFA is not undergoing an identity crisis but a shift in focus. The group‚s primary goals–serving clients better and helping advisors do their jobs better–remain the same, says Briaud, of Briaud Financial Planning in Bryan, Texas. "It‚s just looking at the same issues and saying, "Now what?" she says. "We still want to do the best we can for clients and advisors."

The four-hour session will be held May 16 at NAPFA‚s annual conference in Phoenix. Titled "Envisioning the Future of NAPFA," it will center on four possible scenarios for the group.

Petersen says he hasn‚t decided what the scenarios will be, but they primarily will be based on what feedback he sees in the online forum. "There‚s lots of different opinions," says Petersen, who is the author of several forward-looking books, including, "The Road to 2015: Profiles of the Future."

Briaud says she hopes that by bringing in a futurist, NAPFA members will be encouraged to think outside of the box. "They really try to get you to think way beyond what you would think of normally," she says.

Among the subjects NAPFA members are debating among themselves are whether the organization should continue to require its members to offer comprehensive financial planning at a time when more advisors are specializing and how to help new advisors get a practice up and running on a fee-only basis. "Fee-only practices are gaining lots of momentum with established practitioners, but it‚s still very difficult for new advisors to go fee-only," one NAPFA member says.