The war over the term "fee only" has died down to a skirmish.
After months of criticism over its attempted trademarking of the term, the National Association of Personal Finance Advisors has apparently found a compromise trademark-a recognizable icon with the letters "FO," which professionals can use on stationery and other advertising to indicate they charge on a fee-only basis, not on commission.
To use the so-called visual mark, financial advisers will be required to pay $200 in registration and licensing fees and go through a third-party review demonstrating that they actually charge on a fee-only basis. They'll also be subject to a yearly $100 fee.
But the group said the mark, which it unveiled at its annual meeting last week, would be available to nonmembers. That decision defused much of the controversy.
It was by trying to make "fee only" its exclusive domain-by filing for trademark protection in January in the Patent and Trademark Office-that the group angered similar trade associations.
It wasn't just the size of the National Association of Personal Finance Advisors-600 members-or the fact that 80,000 financial planners belong to other associations.
"There was real cause on the part of our membership that NAPFA was trying to seek monopoly status for the term," said Paul Geoghan, assistant general counsel for the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, New York. Fee only "is an extremely generic term; it's been used for quite some time" by the CPA group's 50,000 financial planning members.
In addition to Mr. Geoghan's group, the Certified Financial Planners Board of Standards and the International Association of Financial Planners had opposed NAPFA action.
But NAPFA, which is based in Buffalo Grove, Ill., still maintains that the term is often misused by financial advisers who work on commission as well as fee-only bases, thereby confusing the public.
"Too many financial advisers, wittingly or unwittingly, are blurring the line and improperly using the term 'fee only' to describe their practices," said NAPFA chairman Mark Spangler.
Brigid O'Connor, a spokeswoman for the Institute of Certified Financial Planners, Denver, said its board would review the new NAPFA stance. " We suspect it will be a nonissue," she said.