After a grueling listening tour where the Financial Planning Association toured its member chapters, the national organization is taking steps to centralize many of its functions in a massive organizational overhaul called the OneFPA Network.

But the original idea floated and feared—that the FPA would dissolve its sovereign chapters and engulf them into one legal entity—received enormous backlash and is now off the table. That’s a reflection of the fierce independence felt by some chapters, which are wary of a national organization peeking over their shoulders at their budgets, programs, sponsorships and technology.

Some critics even called that initiative a power grab.

But in what it now calls “participatory governance,” the association is creating the OneFPA Advisory Council, which will come online in September. The FPA is also beta-testing with 10 volunteer chapters a more centralized approach to its organization. The applications for the beta test are due September 15, and the FPA emphasizes the chapters, many of them famously independent-minded, will remain separate entities legally.

They “will continue to control budgets and reserves, raise and control sponsorship revenue, develop local programming as they desire, determine local leadership and governance, and direct/oversee the work of their local staff, according to a Master Services Agreement for chapters participating in the beta-test,” the FPA said in a press release. National will want to look at the budgets, but it will be “read only,” says leadership.

In an interview with Financial Advisor, FPA President Evelyn Zohlen and CEO Lauren Schadle said the idea behind centralizing functions came from the leadership’s study of other organizations and the reality that many of the FPA’s chapters are siloed against their own best interests—paying inconsistent prices for things and using incompatible software.

“So many chapters are doing so many things well,” Zohlen said. “So many of them have so many opportunities to improve. And I think that they were afraid that opening themselves to those channels to receive input and guidance would translate into a dictatorial relationship where they were going to be told what they had to do as opposed to [the suggestion] this is how you make things better.”

Yet she said there are inherent problems in the current Wild West, disorganized version of the FPA. “In some cases, some chapters are spending more for the same speaker than another chapter is paying,” Zohlen said. “And they don’t know that because there’s no integration of financial information.”

She, Schadle and 2019 FPA chair Frank Paré do not put the current initiative in the context of the organization’s long-term membership decline, which various observers have blamed on demographic changes and cultural division between CFP license haves and have-nots.

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