Thoughts from the Conference: Financial Advisers, Where Are You?

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I’m writing this blog during the FPA annual conference in Denver. So far, I’ve attended the opening general session and several breakout sessions. With nine concurrent tracks ranging from technical knowledge to business skills, there are plenty of educational options for attendees to choose from. But my personal favorite (at any conference) are the keynotes—because I get exposed to great speakers who have some wonderful ideas I can use.

Dan Ariely, the keynote on Saturday, spoke on “The Upside of Irrationality.” I especially enjoyed his story about how different countries obtain permission for organ donation. Instead of using a form that says “Check here if you want to donate”—like we do in the U.S.—the countries with the highest percentage of people participating in organ donor programs use a form that says “Check here if you don’t want to participate.” Sometimes, we make life more difficult than it needs to be. This story will stick with me for a long time, and I wager I will return to it repeatedly in the next year.

More than the keynotes, though, I simply enjoy people-watching. And at the FPA conference, it doesn’t take long before I start counting hugs. How do all these people know each other? It seems like meeting friends is as much a part of the agenda as those nine educational tracks. Indeed, when I listen to members of the leadership, they commonly speak of “community.” It seems to me that if establishing a community is a goal for the FPA, based on hugs that goal has certainly been accomplished this year.

Still, I’m curious. There are about 310,000 advisers in the industry, according to Cerulli Associates. Only a small fraction of them are FPA members, however, and the conference attracted around 2,500, which is considered a good turnout. I wonder . . .

  • Are advisers faced with too many conferences to choose from?
  • Is the tough economy causing some advisers to cut back?
  • Do some advisers prefer to read in lieu of attending a conference or joining a community, as a way to stay up to date?
  • Are there mysterious industry politics at play, affecting which conferences garner the most attendees?
  • Are some advisers simply uninterested in the sessions here, even with nine tracks?
  • Is it easier to buy audio recordings of the sessions, instead of attending the conference?
  • Have some advisers simply never attended an FPA conference before and are therefore intimidated to come?

With so much legislation coming out of Washington that could potentially impact our industry for many years to come, not to mention the continued negative press I’m sure investors are exposed to daily, don’t more of those 310,000 advisers need to get involved?

Joni Youngwirth
Managing Principle of Practice Management
Commonwealth Financial Network
Waltham, Mass.

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