4 Professional Associations for Financial Advisors

Financial advisors looking for professional support can join one or more of several key organizations that help in many parts of the trade, including fee-based planning, general financial services, and insurance sales.

Peter Lazaroff, an Investopedia top-10 financial advisor, spoke with us about the organizations he values most in a field that is constantly changing. “The evolution of financial advice is fascinating. Fees haven’t compressed much because advisors are offering more services for their fees, and the nature of the advice has changed significantly,” he said.

That said, financial advisors are not just professionals armed with spreadsheets pointing out potential returns for this or that investment—if they ever were. “The best advisors these days resemble therapists more than number crunchers,” Lazaroff said. “Being a good advisor is about connecting with people, helping them solve their problems, and making life simpler. It’s not all about spreadsheets; people have wants in addition to needs, and addressing those requires listening and empathy.”

Although it isn’t necessary to join any of these, membership with each major professional association comes with several benefits that can help advisors grow their practices and become the kind of advisors Lazaroff describes. Below, we take you through four influential financial planning-related organizations and their benefits: The Financial Planning Association (FPA), the Society of Financial Service Professionals (FSP), the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA), and the Financial Management Association International (FMA).

Key Takeaways

  • Joining a professional association can help you find industry support, quality networking, continuing education, and client leads.
  • In the financial services industry, there are several national and regional associations that advisors may consider joining.
  • The FPA, FSP, NAPFA, and FMA are just four of the most well-respected associations, which we discuss in turn.
  • A financial advisor doesn’t need to join any of these associations, though membership might increase the advisor’s reputation and access to resources.
  • Each membership has varying specialties, membership costs, membership size, and history.

1. The Financial Planning Association (FPA)

The FPA considers itself the main association for certified financial planners (CFP). Founded in 2000 via a merger of the Institute of Certified Financial Planners and the International Association for Financial Planning, the FPA helps keep the CFP credential robust while offering advocacy, learning resources, and practice support. It’s also the organization behind the Journal of Financial Planning, which on its own is an excellent resource for the latest data and tips on a changing industry. It has over 17,000 CFPs among its members.

The association offers its members access to a vast network and opportunities for continuing education through conferences, webinars, local chapter events, and resources such as the FPA’s Journal of Financial Planning and other research publications.

Professional development is a cornerstone of the FPA’s offerings. The association provides pathways to the certified financial planner (CFP) certification, regarded as the standard in financial planning. Members can also engage in mentorship programs, study groups, and other initiatives to improve their skills.

The FPA says it fosters a sense of community and networking among its members. Through local chapters, online forums, and special interest groups, members can connect, share best practices, and collaborate.

FPA members also have access to providing pro bono financial planning to underserved communities nationwide. In 2023, FPA chapters provided nearly 3,600 hours of pro bono advice to more than 1,900 individuals and families nationwide. FPA members also support those needing financial planning guidance through many local, regional, and national organizations, including Family Reach, and Homes for Our Troops, among others, according to Ben Lewis, the FPA’s chief communications officer.

Lazaroff said you want to find an association where you’re not just cutting a check to keep some letters behind your name but gaining a deeper understanding of the profession you’ve joined. “The most important thing when you’re starting out is getting your designations. When you’re young, you don’t have a lot of perspective on what the rest of the profession is doing,” he said. That’s where the FPA and similar groups can be instrumental in your career.

“When you’re joining a professional association, you’re looking for education, you’re looking for resources, you’re looking for peers to connect with,” said Lazoroff, the Investopedia top-10 advisor, who noted he’s partial to the FPA, though he also belongs to other organizations.

2. Society of Financial Service Professionals (FSP) 

In late 2023 and early 2024, the FSP merged with the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors (NAIFA), the oldest financial professionals group, and Life Happens, the life insurance education group. The expanded organization is branded as NAIFA, but professional development is branded as FSP. The group’s public education work is under the Life Happens name.

“Being able to work together as one organization will expand our reach in the industry, help us better serve financial professionals, and increase the impact we have helping all Americans have a secure financial future,” said Kevin Mayeux, CEO of the reorganized NAIFA, when discussing the merger.

NAIFA provides insurance professionals, benefits specialists, and financial advisors with professional and legislative support. It’s, in effect, a major lobbying group for financial professionals. The core of NAIFA relates to its advocacy efforts. The association represents its members’ interests at both the state and federal levels, working to influence policies and regulations that impact the industry.

Its branch for professionals, FSP, is the only such association that requires all members to have a current credential, such as the CFP, chartered life underwriter (CLU), or chartered financial consultant (ChFC). The association also has a code of professional conduct and diversity statement. Members include financial planners, insurance agents, attorneys, accountants, and other specialists in the field.

Collaboration and networking are also major reasons members join the FSP. The organization encourages members to work together across disciplines, providing a platform for sharing knowledge and best practices. This varied membership means that joining its community should give financial planners access to very different professionals who can help them serve their clients.

Comparing Four Major Financial Advising Associations
 Focus Financial planning and advising Interdisciplinary financial services Fee-only financial planning and advising Financial management research and education
 Members Financial planners, educators, students, and financial services professionals Financial planners, insurance agents, attorneys, accountants, and other financial professionals Exclusive to fee-only financial advisors Academics, professionals, and students in finance
 Requirements Varying levels based on experience and credentials Varies by chapter; professional designations CFP certification, adherence to fiduciary standard Open to those whose careers touch on finance
Benefits Networking, continuing education, advocacy, access to resources Continuing education, ethical standards, and interdisciplinary collaboration Fiduciary standards, fee-only models, continuing education, networking Research support, academic journals, conferences, professional development
Professional Development Offers certification programs, conferences, webinars, and local chapter events; publishes the Journal of Financial Planning Offers seminars, webinars, and conferences on various financial topics Provides educational resources, webinars, conferences, and workshops Sponsors academic journals, organizes conferences, and provides forums for research presentation
Ethics Standards Code of ethics for professional conduct Code of ethics for professional conduct Adherence to fiduciary standard Focus on academic integrity and research ethi

3. The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA)

FPA and NAIFA both work with several different types of advisors and use various platforms, such as broker-dealers, independent marketing organizations, or registered investment advisory firms. For its part, the NAPFA was created exclusively for financial planners who charge a fee for planning services and receive no commissions. This fee-only model ensures that advisors are compensated solely by their clients, which NAPFA says eliminates potential conflicts of interest that arise from commission-based compensation.

Professional credentials, such as the CFP or CLU, are not required for membership, but members are required to sign a strict fiduciary oath annually. There is also a code of ethics that requires full disclosure of any possible conflicts of interest to clients. Members’ adherence to the fiduciary standard is at the core of its ethics code. Members are required to act in the best interests of their clients at all times, providing financial advice that is objective, independent, and tailored to each client’s individual needs.

NAPFA says it fosters a strong sense of community and collaboration among its members. Through local study groups, online forums, and national events, members can connect, share knowledge, and support each other in their professional growth.

4. Financial Management Association International (FMA)

Established in 1970, the FMA is a membership group that unites academics and financial professionals, creating prospects for them to interact and network.

The FMA membership includes academics, professionals, and students from various finance disciplines. This broad membership base allows for a rich exchange of ideas and perspectives, enhancing the understanding and practice of financial management.

Central to the FMA is its work to support financial research. The association sponsors several academic journals, including Financial Management, the Journal of Financial Education, and the Journal of Applied Corporate Finance. FMA also organizes conferences and seminars that provide forums for presenting research findings, discussing current issues in finance, and networking with peers.

For finance professionals, FMA offers resources and opportunities for professional development. The association provides seminars on best practices and the latest trends in financial management. Through its events and publications, FMA helps professionals stay informed and improve their skills in a rapidly changing financial scene.

What Is the Oldest Financial Advisor Professional Association?

Founded in 1890, though local chapters are founded on varying dates, NAIFA is the oldest professional association for financial advisors.

How Do Financial Advisors Join a Professional Association?

Financial advisors join professional associations by paying annual membership dues. These associations often cater to new entrants into the industry as well as industry leaders, so there are often no education requirements. In addition, students or prospective financial advisor candidates may have lower annual due assessments to encourage membership before obtaining trading licenses.

Which Professional Association Should I Join as a Financial Advisor?

Each professional association is specialized. Some focus on specific products, while others may have a larger presence where you live. Before deciding which association to join, research which groups support the financial advising services you wish to pursue and which have a local chapter.

Lazaroff said that some associations offer free services to members that can be instrumental in your business. He mentioned that continuing education and even media training are crucial things some organizations offer that modern financial advisors can’t do without. “Join a professional association that has continuing education, other resources to support your practice’s growth or your growth, and peer networking opportunities—those are what’s crucial to me,” he said, reviewing what he looks for in any group he joins.

The Bottom Line

Although these four organizations are by no means the only associations available to financial services professionals, they are among the most respected and well-known in the industry . Each one of them has local chapters that meet on a regular basis and sponsor local activities, and they each have a respected, rich history. To find a chapter near you, visit each association’s website for more information.