Since the merger of the IAFP and the ICFP over 14 years ago, the FPA has faced trying times. Amidst a backdrop of aging advisor demographics, a growing tide of retirees, and a declining total headcount of financial advisors, the FPA has never managed to grow materially beyond its peak membership on the day it was born, and since the 2008 recession was suffered from a 17% decline in membership and a 36% decline in revenue.
Yet the reality is that notwithstanding the difficult environment, the number of CFP certificants has nearly doubled since 2000, and the FPA’s failure to grow actually marks a drastic decline from having over 50% of all CFP certificants as members to under 25% of them, leading in turn to a significant loss in its power and standing as an organization. The FPA’s "mysterious" inability to grow despite the tremendous growth of its target market seems to stem from a battle between the legacy of the IAFP and ICFP that still rages on, with the FPA moving close enough to the ICFP’s "CFP-centric" worldview to alienate non-CFPs, yet not close enough to be a beacon of advocacy and success for CFP professionals either. The end result: while 10 years ago the FPA still had enough strength and momentum to sue the SEC and win in pursuit of its advocacy goals for financial planning, now the FPA’s power has waned to the point that it defers to the CFP Board on key issues to certificants and when the CFP Board launches a career center to compete with the FPA’s own Job Board the FPA congratulations the CFP Board for the competitive victory!
Ultimately, the FPA’s inability to honor its own bylaws and its founding Memorandum of Intent, and the organization's struggle to focus effectively to champion and advocate on behalf of CFP certificants – or even control their own advocacy efforts and messaging amongst the leadership and the chapters – raises the fundamental question of why it’s even necessary to have a standalone membership association separate from the CFP Board that grants the marks. Would CFP certificants be better served by going from paying two organizations to only one, and simply having the CFP Board function as both the credentialing body for CFP professionals and their membership organization as well, as is done in many other countries around the world?
Of course, longstanding CFP certificants have witnessed the CFP Board engage in many of its own blunders over the years, and an outside membership association for CFP certificants can be an effective (and even crucial) form of checks-and-balances against the CFP Board. Yet the FPA has increasingly failed to execute this key role, and the FPA’s ongoing loss in power has been the CFP Board’s gain. As the FPA becomes weaker, is the CFP Board becoming increasingly aggressive in trying to chip away at the FPA’s sources of members and revenue and professional impact, potentially accelerating the FPA’s demise? Will the FPA be able to step up and grow its “market share” of CFP certificants to regain its former power before it’s too late, or has the FPA already lost too much focus and momentum, and made itself too irrelevant for too many CFP certificants?