Call it rebranding 2.0.
Two years ago the Alliance of Cambridge Advisors, founded in 1995 by Bert Whitehead, changed its name to the Alliance of Comprehensive Planners in an effort to increase membership and visibility — but the needle didn't move much.
This year the association, which emphasizes a tax-oriented approach to planning that uses a retainer payment model, hopes a new public relations and marketing campaign will deliver the boost it initially sought two years ago.
The ACP is aiming to increase its visibility in the industry and double its membership to approximately 300 advisors within five years, says the organization's president, Al Davis, founder of Davis Financial Planning of Asheville, N.C.
"We want to let the industry know what we have to offer," Davis says. "We think there's a big difference in our focus, reflected by our name change to 'comprehensive.' We're not just focused on investments, and we emphasize tax preparation in planning. Many of our members are CPAs or enrolled agents, and an understanding of tax planning is a requirement for membership."
JUSTIFYING A $10K MEMBERSHIP FEE
The ACP plans to issue white papers and make presentations at industry conferences to boost name recognition, and will also increase use of social media and press opportunities for association executives, according to Kristen Moosmiller, a financial planner for Partnership Financial in Columbus, Ohio, who heads the ACP's public relations and marketing committee.
Understandably, the $9,900 initial fee to join the organization — not to mention $2,700 in annual dues thereafter — may give some advisors pause.
But the cost, which covers enrollment and training in the association’s ACP System, consisting of an educational "Success Program" and use of proprietary tools, is well worth it, ACP president-elect Lois Basil maintains.
"My business would not be where it is today if not for the Success Program," says Basil, the president of Chicago-based Basil Financial Group. "The tax strategies, planning concepts and tools it provides really aren't available anywhere else."
'LIKE A FAMILY REUNION'
The ACP also offers advisors a close-knit community, Davis says.
"At big industry conferences the people you meet are running their businesses very different from each other," he says. "Within the ACP, advisors are so similar philosophically. When I went to my first ACP conference, I felt like I was walking into a family reunion."
Most members head small firms with only one or two advisors, Davis says, and communicate with each other frequently via message boards, discussion forums, study groups and conferences.
"There's a lot of collaboration," he says. "We share revenue numbers and staffing salaries. I don't know of other organizations that would be that open."
COMPLEMENT TO OTHER GROUPS
That isn't to suggest the ACP sees itself in competition with other industry associations.
"We absolutely complement NAPFA, FPA and AICPA," Davis says. "Our members aren't choosing between us and them. In fact, we want to be more and more complementary going forward."
That works for Geoffrey Brown, NAPFA's chief executive.
"Organizations like ACP have helped amplify NAPFA’s efforts to grow the ranks of fee-only financial planners," Brown says. "Most ACP members also belong to NAPFA, and we see them as an important component of our community of professionals. When those organizations are successful, then NAPFA is successful.”
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