CFPs: Rise up and run for office

Sep 23, 2012 @ 12:01 am

The Republican and Democratic national conventions are behind us, and America is in a mad rush to Election Day.

Both sides are jamming the airwaves to criticize one another, and the American people are left to decipher and decide who has the best solution for our country's concerns.

Moreover, the latest news from the Securities and Exchange Commission is that in view of all the many pressing issues that it must address, it is putting the concept of a universal fiduciary standard for all those who provide financial advice on the back burner — at least for now. I am hard-pressed to understand what might be more important than protecting the investing public from financial advisers who fail to place their clients' interests ahead of their own, but I digress.

Conspicuously absent from all the political rhetoric are the discussion and application of basic financial planning principles to our problems. Where are the trained professionals in this debate?

Why aren't any certified financial planners in elected office or running for elected office? Isn't it time that changed?

A RADICAL THOUGHT

Our profession should consider how effective we could be in the worlds of politics and public service.

Not only could we influence the process and raise the public's awareness of the benefits of our profession, but we could go a long way toward solving many of our country's financial worries by using the very same techniques that we employ when working with clients: examining the entire situation, determining priorities, spending less than we earn, implementing and executing a plan when debt exceeds assets, developing a long-term strategic vision and, perhaps most importantly, placing our clients' (in this case, the constituents who voted for us) interests ahead of our own. Now there is a radical thought: forcing politicians to live up to a fiduciary code of conduct.

Other than GOP vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., I have yet to hear or read of any elected official who leads this type of financial discussion. I suspect that a primary reason is that like many Americans, they are uncomfortable discussing financial principles and, in many instances, are ignorant about basic financial concepts.

Financial illiteracy is, in fact, an epidemic, and the very top of the sociological food chain isn't immune to this insidious and destructive problem. A political discussion in statehouses and in Congress, led by CFPs, would serve to highlight this national emergency and maybe begin the process of moving to solve it.

In my travels as president of the Financial Planning Association for 2012, I was struck by how many of my colleagues complain about this sad state of affairs yet recoil at the thought of wading into the battle. They have such disdain for the officeholders and the process that the mere notion of “being one of them” causes discomfort.

NEW ORDER

I submit that if they conducted themselves as their financial planning training demands, they would not be like the others and, in fact, would stand out as examples of a new order. Moreover, as we slowly become established as professionals who are a necessary part of a consumer's team, representation in state and national politics simply speeds the process.

We might borrow a page from the medical profession's playbook.

In the mid-1800s, as doctors were organizing and coalescing around formal training and rules, the newly formed American Medical Association encouraged its members to seek higher offices in their states. It was so effective that at the turn of the 20th century, physicians in many states represented a relatively high percentage and, in some cases, the majority of the elected representatives.

This changed the way in which the medical profession was viewed and conducted.

Can you only imagine what the world would be like and how our profession would be viewed if we undertook this noble challenge? We are talking major change in relatively few election cycles.

There has never been a time when the public is as fed up with career politicians as they are now, and that opens the doors of opportunity for newcomers without the money and layers of political party support that, heretofore, made it virtually impossible for novices to break into the ranks. Voters actually find comfort and security in electing candidates who don't represent the status quo.

One only has to view the incredible recent successes of Tea Party candidates to witness this phenomenon. Whether you agree with their message, they have risen up out of the frustration of everyday Americans and successfully engaged the public in a conversation about debt and money.

Too bad none of them has the professional training to solve our problems once they are in office.

We are in the business of counseling individuals to understand and manage money effectively. We are also, by our very nature,communicators.

This combination of skills is uniquely suited to holding elected office. Rather than merely uttering expletives at the evening news, start thinking about whether you have what it takes to serve our country — and our profession — in this capacity. It's like good diet and exercise: The benefits are too numerous to list.

A very real outcome for the gutsy few who take up this challenge is that it is good for business. Even if you lose, you win, so to speak, because as long as you run an upstanding, honorable and ethical campaign, there is no downside and plenty of visibility.

And when you consider all the ways we attempt to increase our visibility, this hits me as a opportunity of epic proportions.

A DUTY TO SERVE

We live in the greatest country in the world and, as such, we have a duty to serve our country in times of crisis. Those periods of national service generally are reserved for war-time, but aren't we in a crisis now?

Isn't our fiscal situation an “attack” on our way of life? If so, the fact that we possess skills every bit as valuable as the bravest warriors would seem to demand that we offer those talents to the public to save them from impending financial doom.

I look at this as a calling, and I invite you to consider this type of service as your call to action next year and beyond.

Paul H. Auslander is a CFP, co-founder and chief executive of American Financial Advisors Inc. and 2012 president of the FPA.

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