Our vision is to provide prepaid legal services, account aggregation services and counseling on employment contracts.

Paradoxically, those who dream the most usually achieve the most. Why? Because every great enterprise starts with a vision. It is also somewhat paradoxical that having a historical perspective facilitates the visionary process. It helps to incorporate the best ideas of those who came before us.

Mark Twain's book, Life on the Mississippi, helps us visualize what the National Association of Investment Professionals (NAIP) could become. It is the story of the Pilots Benevolent Association.

Riverboat pilots were very much like modern day investment professionals. They were the navigators of the steamboats that carried precious cargo and passengers up and down the Mississippi River. The pilots, like you, didn't own the cargo; their customers did. They didn't even own the boats; large companies did. And the captain, like your manager, was the supervisor in charge of the entire boat.

Because of their knowledge of the river's dangers, the pilots were among the most highly paid professionals of their time. Then in the late 1860s, riverboat commerce began to slow because of a weakening economy, causing pilots' compensation to decline. This is when the pilots started their association.

At first, other pilots laughed because there were so few members in the group. They simply didn't see the benefit of joining similar to when the NAIP began.

But then things started to change. The association came up with a brilliant idea that made being part of the group indispensable. At every large town along the river, it installed wharfs for boats to tie alongside. At each location, association officers placed a strong box, fastened with a lock. Every association pilot carried a key to these boxes. Each member was expected to fill out a form with information on the section of the river just navigated and drop it in the box. Pilots who entered that part of the river would be warned of new and shifting dangers.

The outcome: Nonassociation members increasingly ran aground resulting in lost cargo, while association members thrived because they had current information on how to avoid the hazards.

Someone in the riverboat pilots association had the vision to see that the knowledge the pilots had of the river itself made them indispensable. The NAIP has a similar vision.

Our knowledge of the regulatory system has helped many financial industry pilots avoid dangers in the regulatory river. They have avoided these treacherous turns and rapids because of our ongoing lobbying effort and attorney referral network.

However, we realize we need to do more to help guide your ship to safe harbors.

Our vision is to become an organization that provides prepaid legal services, account aggregation services, counseling on current and future employment contracts, and deferred compensation programs. Should you decide to become independent, we hope to provide you with discounted insurance products, discounted office space and discounted contracts for temporary employees. And when it comes to succession planning, we want to help you determine the value of your business and get a fair price.

This is the NAIP's vision for the future a vision you can be part of. However, you need the key for the lockbox, and that key is your membership.

T. Sheridan O'Keefe is a registered rep based in Minneapolis, and president of the National Association of Investment Professionals, a trade group for brokers and advisers. The NAIP can be reached at 952/322-6247. He can be contacted at tokeefe@naip.com.