Recent events surrounding the relationship between the American College and the Society of Financial Service Professionals have left some planners questioning the real issues around the situation.
As reported in last weeks National Underwriter, the American College is in the process of forming a new alumni association dedicated to serving the graduates of its programs. Furthermore, the college has decided to withdraw its conferment exercises from the SFSPs annual meeting.
"Sometimes two organizations get to a point of realizing theyre going in a slightly different directionthats what happened here," says Chuck Wright, chairman of the board of trustees for the American College, Bryn Mawr, Pa., speaking on the new direction of the institution.
Historically, the SFSP, also based in Bryn Mawr, was formed as an alumni association for graduates of the American College, according to Wright. But over the years, the college has expanded its role to include educational programs, opened its membership up to professionals from other disciplines who are not graduates of the college, and changed its name--removing the connection to those designations offered by the college.
"Incrementally, the society has taken steps to become more independent and to move in a direction different than its original purpose. I respect that, but the college has its own need for an alumni group," Wright says.
He adds that once people have a better understanding of what is happening with the new association, constituents of both the SFSP and the college will react positively.
"I was disappointed that the American College took this approach," says Russell L. Crook of Crook Financial Services, Red Bank, NJ.
Crook feels that there are already too many organizations that practitioners can belong to, and the formation of another one will dilute the SFSP. "I think it is competition for an organization that already encompasses CLUs and ChFCs," he says.
But Wright insists that the new alumni association will not be in competition with the SFSP for members. "People who want a way of maintaining their contact with the college and supporting it will join the alumni association. People that are looking for the kinds of things a professional association does can join the SFSP," he says.
"We certainly support the goals of the SFSP; we have considerable admiration for what they do. We hope that people dont perceive this as something they have to choose between," says Laurence Barton, president and CEO of the American College.
"I think people can be active in both," Wright adds.
Members of the colleges alumni association will receive a number of benefits, including periodic newsletters, networking opportunities, participation in regional alumni association meetings, as well as sponsored regional seminars on issues of widespread interest, according to officials at the American College.
"That certainly sounds like its in direct competition with the SFSP," Crook adds. "To me thats reinventing the wheel and probably a waste of resources," he says.
As a result, Crook is putting his support behind the SFSP and intends to stop his contributions to the college.
"My support is going toward the organization that does the most for me every day, and thats the SFSP, not the college," he says.
But one of the unique benefits the colleges alumni association is expected to offer is to serve as an advocate to members in the promotion of designations offered by the college, officials at the college say. "To me, thats the most logical venue for that," says Daniel Childress, president of Financial Management Group Inc., Mt Pleasant, S.C.
Childress feels that promotion of the designations offered by the college should be a central issue for the alumni association. In recent years, the ChFC designation has fallen behind the CFP designation in the eyes of the public--so much so that Childress feels that if something isnt done soon, there may be some action taken by a regulatory body making the CFP a standard requirement for all financial planners.
"My concern is that we have not promoted the ChFC to the degree where it would keep something like that from happening," he says.
Childress is hopeful that the new alumni association will act as a unified voice for designees.
On the issue of competing for members with the other associations, Childress admits that since there are so many other associations that planners have an opportunity to join, "people have to pick and choose," he says.
"We cant be members of everything--otherwise, thats all wed spend our time doing and the costs would be high," he says. But Childress hopes this new association offers something different--being the only organization that is able to promote the American College designations.
But due to its lack of promotion in past years, the college now has a bit of a credibility problem with alumni, says Frank S. Dunaway, III, a planner with Compensation-Benefit Systems, Carthage, Mo.
Dunaway feels the American College does have a responsibility to inform the public of the stature of its credentials, yet it has never assumed this role, he explains. "Theyve had some real good things they could have sold to the American public and they didnt," he says.
Dunaway adds that he is not alone in his disappointment, and as a participant in last years American College fund-raiser telethon he came across several alumni who shared this perspective.
"People feel that they paid for the curriculum when they took the tests and bought the study material, but what have they [the college] done for you lately?" he says.
Childress, however, intends to support the new alumni association--as well as the SFSP, provided the dues are reasonable.
Officials at the college note that currently there are no dues associated with the alumni association. Graduates interested in signing up can visit the American Colleges Web site for more information, www.amercoll.edu/alumni.
Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, July 14, 2003. Copyright 2003 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved. Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.