If you work as a self-employed financial advisor — without a circle of colleagues to provide advice and support — you might sometimes feel isolated and perhaps consider giving up. But support is all around, and many advisors find collegial colleagues by joining membership networks.
Advisors comfortable in large associations — more than, say, 1,000 advisors — might have luck working through NAPFA, FPA and the Garrett Planning Network. Such organizations offer many resources and conferences for planners looking to bond and explore broad topics.
I believe, though, that smaller communities work best for people who work in private practices or who serve specific markets. By focusing on well-defined niches — be they clients who are divorcing, millennials or gay couples — advisors can glean advice from colleagues with similar client pools. Here’s a sampling of specialized associations:
There are times in life when a great deal of money is in motion, and divorce is one of them. For many clients, this is a period of enormous stress and scary life decisions tangled with great uncertainty. It takes a special breed of advisor to properly advise in these situations. Two networks embrace planners in this field.
The Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts has the more stringent membership requirements. This group requires members to obtain the network’s designation of Certified Divorce Financial Analyst and have three years of financial services experience. More than 2,000 advisors have become members.
The $195 annual membership fee is in line with other affinity groups, but the $1,800 cost to complete the coursework for the designation and the one-year deadline to get certified make it clear that the group is more focused on the designation and expertise than the community.
By contrast, the Association of Divorce Financial Planners focuses on networking and community. With a membership of about 140 advisors, the association has requirements that aren’t as stringent as the institute, although many in the group obtain a CDFA designation. To join this association, members must pay an annual $225 fee and finish at least 10 divorce financial planning-related continuing education credits each year.
In return, members can access conferences, webinars and other group events. These associations seem more collaborative and relaxed, rather than being focused on designations and testing.
THE XY PLANNING NETWORK
The XY Planning Network was started last year and has been aggressively marketing itself to attract advisors wishing to work with Gen X and Gen Y clients on a virtual platform. The network includes more than 130 members.
Alan Moore, who founded the group with Michael Kitces, the Pinnacle Advisory Group partner and Financial Planning contributing writer, says the network “grew out of being asked by many people ‘How do you set up a firm?’ ” The duo decided to bring together a software suite for new, fee-only RIA owners and set up a forum so the community could field questions.
The network has evolved into a vibrant gathering of youngish advisors seeking to serve their peers. Judging by interviews with many founding members on the XYPN Radio podcast, it is clear that this network attracted people who have struggled to fit into larger firms while finding a work-life balance.
Many members are new RIA owners, but the network now has membership options for larger firms hoping to learn how to serve younger clients. At $397 a month, the price of membership is one of the highest of the advisor networks, but it does come with a host of software and practice-management tools.
For new RIA owners established in their practices, the price-to-value comparison may not make sense. But for those starting out, the tips and software discounts seem to be a great value for the money.
Founded in 1999, PridePlanners unites advisors who specialize in working with the LGBT community. The association offers resources on relevant laws, and lists more than 80 members. These associates range from those employed by independent fee-only and fee-based RIAs to wirehouses and large RIAs who also act as broker-dealers. The group has sponsored annual and biannual conferences since 2001.
Given that membership costs just $75 a year, it seems a logical resource for advisors who work with clients in this identity group.
Given that marriage has become legal for gays and lesbians nationwide, it is possible that demand for advisors within this niche may shrink. For now, however, experts with knowledge of LGBT issues are needed.
FOX FINANCIAL PLANNING NETWORK
For advisors who want their practices to center on customer relationship management but have no time to implement the software, the Fox Financial Planning Network offers this as its main draw.
Founded by planner Deborah Fox, this network aims to help advisors systemize their practice to provide high-quality service to all clients and increase company revenues. The network offers Redtail and Junxure workflow systems, and advisors can customize the software to fit their practices.
According to Fox, the 350-plus advisor network paves the way for a much closer and more productive client-advisor relationship. This lays the basis for creating a flexible financial plan that guards against clients outliving their money in retirement.
FINANCE FOR TEACHERS NETWORK
A network of advisors started this fall as a home for planners who work with educators. It’s a network I designed and run.
The Finance for Teachers Network welcomes advisors from fee-only practices as well as commissioned advisors. Focusing on marketing and helping advisors grow their practices, the network has six coaches across various membership tiers. The coaches include a freelance writer, marketing experts and online marketing and web designers. What unites these coaches is that they all have experience working with advisors focusing on educator clients.
Membership is tiered, based on the services desired, and ranges in price from $50 to $1,000 a month. Most advisors in the network don’t focus solely on working with teachers, but have client bases in which this demographic represents at least 25%.
Large professional networks can be awesome resources for learning. But advisors honing their niche and building a client base may be better served by a smaller, more intimate community.
Dave Grant, a Financial Planning columnist, is founder of Finance for Teachers, a planning firm, and Fee Only Consulting, in Cary, Ill. He is also the founder of NAPFA Genesis, a networking group for young fee-only planners. Follow him on Twitter at @davegrant82.
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