The future of fee-only financial planning is bigger, younger, more diverse and more flexible, according to the leaders of NAPFA.

As hundreds of advisors gathered in Chicago last week for NAPFA’s annual fall conference, the organization’s leaders pondered what the coming years may hold for their corner of the planning profession.

For one thing, in the last decade NAPFA has nearly doubled its membership, which now stands at 3,700 advisors, according to NAPFA CEO Geoff Brown.

“That brings some interesting challenges and great opportunities for us,” said Brown. “It means there are existing firms who are growing and adding to their advisor headcount, and it also means there are a lot of new businesses and planning firms joining the field and making this community more rich and diverse.”

It also means that NAPFA now looks beyond its continuing work promoting the fee-only advisor and towards cultivating a more informed—and more capable—cohort of advisors.

That’s taking place because there’s a growing expectation among consumers and many advisors that financial advice is best delivered within a conflict-free, fee-only working relationship, NAPFA officials said.

“There was a long period where it was ‘fee only is what makes me different,’ but for the newer people in our profession it’s like oxygen,”  said Dave O’Brien, NAPFA’s chairman and co-founder of Evolution Advisors in Midlothian, Va. “Now the focus has to be on being really good at what you’re doing for clients in your relationships.”

The profession’s changing focus was apparent at the conference, where both keynote and breakout sessions tilted heavily towards topics like technology, next generation advice, behavioral finance and advance planning techniques.

Brown and O’Brien were both quick to point out that these were not new areas of concentration for NAPFA itself, but that financial planning had come to emphasize more of the non-financial issues surrounding building, saving and protecting wealth.

“Consumers want a decision-making partner and they want that person to be ethical, knowledgeable, experienced and to be like them,” said O’Brien. “We’re seeing a much more diverse crowd of people serving clients and delivering services in different ways than the traditional mode of planning.”

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