Get ready to connect with far-flung colleagues: The FPA’s much-awaited new social networking site is live and picking up speed. Several thousand members worldwide are already connecting online, forming groups and developing their own self-directed platforms within the 24,000 member-strong organization.

“It’s the technological connection that we really need when we are spread all over the nation and, really, the world because we have an international group,” FPA President Marty Kurtz said. “When communities bubble up on their own, that’s what works. That’s at the core of why we are doing this.”

FPA Connect, a sort-of Linkedin for planners, spent much of the year in beta tests. Regional FPA board members in Massachusetts and Colorado came online months ago to start working out kinks in the system, as did members of the national board. Since the site first went live in late September during the association’s annual conference in San Diego, it’s been enthusiastically received by planners.

Mark Prendergast logged onto FPA Connect in the first days of the conference and saw a post from a speaker who would be presenting on annuities. Despite his reservations about annuities, or maybe because of them, the post prompted Prendergast to attend the talk.

“In our practice I don’t want to say we are anti-annuity, but there has been a lot of abuse in that area,” said Prendergrast, a national FPA board member and a planner in Huntington Beach, Calif. After the talk, Prendergast sat and peppered the speaker with questions and now says he sees annuities as “a tool, but not a cure-all.”

Several months ago before FPA Connect had launched, Juan Ros called the FPA to inquire how he could set up an offline group focused on philanthropy. No one called him back and, in short order, the Simi Valley, Calif.-based planner forgot about the idea. When he heard about FPA Connect, however, Ros took it upon himself to start the Charitable Donations and Philanthropy Group. Thus far, it has five members.

“I think it’s great,” Ros said. “In the last week, it just clicked and I thought, ‘This could be a really cool thing.’ ”

On Friday, he gave a talk on charitable donations to the Ventura, Calif. chapter of the FPA and then returned to his office to post his Power Point presentation to the site.

Advantages of the site include the ability to post large documents for members of private or public groups. Various committees of the national board already operate their own groups in part for this feature.

Other groups include Life Planning with 70 members, Women in Finance with 400, the Colorado FPA with 539 and Massachusetts with about 800.

Every FPA member is automatically a member of FPA Connect and can use their regular FPA website login to access it.

Kurtz noted that some broker dealers have had compliance issues using Linkedin, but, he said, that won’t happen on FPA Connect. “This is peer-to-peer,” he said. “There are no clients involved.”

Earlier this week, Jessie Foster, a planner based in Boston, posted an article written by an attorney she works with about divorce issues.

“I already see that’s been downloaded by several people,” Foster said.

Kurtz hopes the site prompts planners to change the way they do business and inspire them to reflexively seek input from their colleagues – and share it themselves.

“We just have to get used to doing that,” Kurtz said.

The idea for FPA Connect goes back several years, the association president said, adding that it took a long time for the price to drop to a place where it became affordable. Six months ago, the FPA came close to taking the site live when the vendor operating it was sold to another company.

“The new company came in and changed the contract and we said, ‘No, this isn’t going to work,’” Kurtz recalled.

The association then switched to Higher Logic, a Washington D.C.-based provider of social networking sites. Higher Logic clients include groups ranging from the New Jersey chapter of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to the Society for Corporate Compliance and Ethics.

Kurtz said he expected the site to continue to grow organically.

“It’s going to be this slow build,” he said. 


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