Every year, a few hundred CPA financial planners kick off the New Year by sharpening their technical skills at a financial planning conference in January put on by the American Institute of CPAs.

For four of the last five years, I've joined them. It's a good way to find out what the hot financial planning topics are, to get a few story ideas, to make some new contacts, and it doesn't hurt that the conference is usually somewhere where the weather is considerably better than in the Northeast. It's also a great place to hear what's on people's minds related to the profession.

This year, I'm looking forward to the conference, particularly for that last reason, since it will be the first large gathering of CPAs financial planners since the AICPA Council decided to keep the specialty credentials -- the PFS, the ABV and the CITP -- in-house.

Many, if not most, of the planners at the meeting are PFS credential holders, and I’m curious to see what their sentiments are about the designation’s future. As we've reported, the move to keep the three designations comes with a caveat -- they all have to hit certain membership levels by 2006.

Many of the practitioners I've spoken with since the announcement was made in October have mixed feelings. While they are happy the credentials will stay at the institute -- which is what the Council found was what the majority of members wanted -- many practitioners were less excited about the news that the designations had to hit target numbers or face the possibility of extinction.

While the institute has to carry through on its promise to support the designations, it's going to take a lot of effort on the part of the credential holders to get some momentum going. I have to agree with what one active member of the PFS community said to me back in October -- now is the best shot this thing is ever going to have at success. It's almost the start of the new year, and it's time to start looking ahead, not back.

A lot of practitioners who will be at the conference worked hard to ensure that the credentials had a home, and I'm looking forward to the chance to find out what they're going to do next to ensure their success. I'm certain some of the most interesting discussions at this meeting will take place outside of the conference rooms.

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