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|Summary Study Group Formation Guidelines|
Financial planners must consider and integrate many issues when serving their clients -- investments, taxes, risk management, employee benefits, goals and lifestyle issues, retirement needs, estate planning, college funding, regulatory changes in Social Security, Medicare, IRAs, healthcare or other programs that could have significant impact on meeting financial goals. The interdisciplinary nature of financial planning makes it by definition broad in scope, and keeping up with developments on multiple fronts can be challenging for a planner. A study group can help practitioners keep abreast of new information and also leverage the expertise of their peers to develop competence in the multiple areas of financial planning.
A study group is an alliance of planners who commit to assisting each other by researching, presenting and facilitating discussions about financial planning topics for the purpose of continuing education and professional development. In the process of pursuing such ‘academic’ goals comes the real benefit that planners don’t get from continuing education courses: a study group creates an ongoing community in which members serve as a network for sharing resources, referrals and opinions.
While creating a study group might sound simple in concept, the challenge lies in the details. Successful study groups require commitment by each member and also consensus on a wide variety of details – from the goals and operating principles of the group, to the roles and responsibilities of each member, to the priority and selection of topics, to membership criteria (including the process by which someone is invited to join or asked to leave the group), to the more fundamental logistics of meetings, such as the time, place, duration and format. But the rewards for persevering through the details are great – planners get to focus on new, relevant information on a regular basis; have an opportunity to tackle more advanced planning issues in a supportive setting; and have access to the opinions of trusted advisors when needed. The sense of community fostered by the give-and-take relationship between study group members can be an invaluable part of a planner’s professional development.
The Study Group Formation Guideline template, created from the learnings by two of our chapter’s study groups, is intended to help practitioners interested in starting a study group by outlining some important considerations, enabling the study group founder(s) to proactively address some of the potential problems and avoid unnecessary pitfalls of the process. In addition to identifying structural issues that should be addressed, it also includes a template for a study group charter (an important tool for documenting consensus on the goals and operating procedures of the group) and ideas for meeting topics and other resources.
We hope that you will find this template useful in starting your new study group.