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The FPA wants you ... to be one of its 10 test chapters

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The FPA is looking for 10 guinea pigs from among its 86 chapters around the country.

Applications are due by Sept. 15 for those interested in becoming beta test participants in the FPA's "iterative" process of better integrating the country's largest membership organization for financial planning.

Once selected, the chapters will begin a two-year process of testing centralized technology, staffing and finance functions, led by the organization's national office in Denver.

As currently configured, the FPA is hobbled at the national level by disparate technology and organizational systems used by its autonomous 86 chapters and two state councils, FPA Chairman Frank Paré tells Financial Planning.

"Right now we are operating in various silos," he says, adding that the association faces unknown opportunity costs from "not knowing what our members are doing."

By Jan. 1, when the beta test period begins, non-volunteer staff executives of the beta chapters will become 1099 employees of the national office, according to FPA President Evelyn Zohlen.

However, full legal absorption of its affiliated bodies into one entity remains "off the table," she adds, given that members have made it clear they don’t want to lose that much control. "These beta test chapters will retain their full autonomy."

The FPA is moving carefully through its ongoing six-year-old integration process, given concerns that its initial and since-abandoned drive to legally combine all chapters represented a “vast, ambitious and slightly creepy overreach," as Inside Information publisher Bob Veres wrote in April. He and others have questioned initiatives emanating from the national office given the decline in FPA membership from 28,000 in 2007 to 23,000 today.

But FPA leaders say a national listening tour, which drew input from 75 of the 86 chapters, revealed strong enthusiasm for better harmonization at the national level under the OneFPA Network plan.

During the integration process, chapters will continue to control their budgets and reserves, raise and control sponsorship revenue, develop their own programming and choose their own leaders, the FPA says. These rights of governance are laid out in a master services agreement for the beta chapters.

A OneFPA task force will select the beta test chapters by Oct. 15.

An "unfiltered, unaudited" blog on the OneFPA website will allow chapters around the country to track how the beta testing is going, Zohlen says.

Throughout the testing period, the guiding principle for OneFPA will be to proceed "thoughtfully," the FPA says."One of the things that we made a decision not to do was to be wedded to the outcome," Paré says.

That could conceivably include halting the entire process, according to Zohlen.

"At any point if the consensus … was this is a horrible idea," she says, "we would just stop."

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