Michael Gerber’s famous business book “The E-Myth” points out that most small business entrepreneurs struggle because they spend all of their time working in their business, and too little time working on the business itself. Any small business owner who has a unique and valuable personal skillset – from a pie-maker to a doctor to a financial advisor – is particularly prone to this challenge, as almost by definition what gets them paid is the work they do in the business. And accordingly, to the extent they take time off to go to a conference once or twice a year, they tend to go to events that help them improve their skills in the business (i.e., continuing education), particularly since most regulated professions have CE requirements anyway.
To break the cycle for financial advisors, I’m declaring 2018 as “the year of the practice management (or career development) conference” instead. Because the reality is that there is an ever-growing number of choices on how to fulfill your annual CE requirements online, from conferences that are live-streamed or recorded for subsequent purchase, to an abundance of webinars on demand, and even the Members Section of this blog (and CFP professionals only need to complete CE requirements every other year anyway!). But the opportunities for good practice management content that actually helps you work on the business more effectively, or career development content that helps you grow to the next level, are few and far between. And when it comes to working on the business, it’s especially important to actually physically leave the business and go to a conference, as you have to get beyond your own four office walls to get a fresh perspective on your business or career.
Unfortunately, though, going to a conference is a major investment – with conference registration fees that can run $1,000 or more, plus the cost of airfare and hotel accommodations – which means it’s especially important to pick the right conference to get value. In fact, given that in recent years I’ve been speaking annually at nearly 70 conferences myself, and have presented at virtually every major conference in our industry, from the various membership association events to custodian and broker-dealer and even media publication conferences, I’m often asked for recommendations of what I think are the “best” conferences for financial advisors based on what I’ve seen.
Accordingly, in 2012 I started to craft my own annual list of “best-in-class” top conferences for financial advisors, based on my own travels and experience, and divvied up into categories that would make it easier for advisors to select what matches their own needs at their current business or career stage.
And now, I’m excited to present my newest list of “Top Financial Advisor Conferences” for 2018, all with a focus on practice management and career development. Of course, given that we’re all at different stages of our businesses, some events are much better suited to certain types of advisors, and accordingly I’ve tried to delineate which are the best depending on your size of business, industry channel, and/or career stage.
So I hope you find this year’s 2018 financial conferences list to be helpful as a guide in planning your own conference budget and schedule for next year. And I hope you make the investment – because the truth is that you just need one major takeaway to materially change the trajectory of your business or career in the coming years! Also, be certain to take advantage of the special discount codes that several conferences have offered to all of you as Nerd’s Eye View readers (especially since a few early-2018 events have their Early Bird deadlines closing soon)!
It has long been lamented by advisor conference organizers that Practice Management sessions tend to have far lower turnout than “technical” topics eligible for CFP CE credit. The presumed reason was simply that as financial advisors, we want/demand CE credit, and therefore won’t attend practice management sessions that (rightfully) aren’t eligible. The reality, though, is that practice management content for advisors doesn’t tend to get a low turnout because it’s not eligible for CFP CE credit. Instead, practice management sessions tend to get a low turnout because they simply often aren’t relevant in the first place.
After all, if there’s a major tax law change, or the rules of Social Security change, or a new retirement strategy emerges, almost every financial advisor will need to know about it. Because whether you’re a paraplanner or a lead advisor, under a broker-dealer or an RIA, an employee advisor or an owner, you need to understand the (latest) rules when it comes to tax law, Social Security, retirement, and other core knowledge areas (unless you have an incredibly specialized niche where it truly isn’t necessary to know).
On the other hand, when it comes to practice management, advisor circumstances are far more varied. If you’re a paraplanner employee, you need help with career development, but not necessarily business development (yet). If you’re an employee lead advisor, you may need to learn about business development as well, but not necessarily about business management. On the other hand, if you actually do own the advisory firm, you need to understand a wide range of business management issues, from HR and recruiting to operations and bookkeeping. Yet even those issues vary depending on whether you’re building your advisory business under a broker-dealer or on an RIA platform.
As a result, what’s “relevant” for financial advisors in the realm of practice management tends to be much narrower than it is for technical topics. Which means the practice management topics themselves are almost by definition more “niche” and targeted, as are practice management conferences themselves.
Of course, the reality is that all the advisors on a common platform share a lot of common experiences, from the tools and technology made available to them to use, to the fact that other advisors on the platform tend to have a similar business model and therefore often similar challenges. Which helps to explain why major custodian and broker-dealer conferences, from LPL Focus 2018 to the Commonwealth National Conference, Cambridge Ignite, and the Raymond James Elevate 2018 event, to TDA LINC, Pershing INSITE, and the Schwab IMPACT 2018 conference, tend to be some of the largest in the industry.
Yet while I highly recommend that all financial advisors attend their platform’s national conference at least once every 2-3 years, even advisor custodian and broker-dealer platform conferences tend to be overly broad, and don’t necessarily provide sufficient coverage and depth regarding the key issues that are really relevant for advisors at the various stages of their career and business growth.
Accordingly, this year’s list of “Top Conferences for Financial Advisors” is specifically organized by the type or career stage of advisor – from newer versus experienced advisors, to those running practices versus those trying to build advisory businesses, those looking for technology versus those who need help with business development and client acquisition, and those who are Next Generation (G2) advisors versus those who are trying to attract and grow with Next Generation (Gen X and Gen Y) clientele.
Hopefully at least one category is relevant for you! (And if not, you can always go to your platform’s national conference, and come back to revisit this list for 2019!)
Best Conference For/In: New Financial Planners | Next Generation (G2) Advisors & Successors | Serving Next Generation (Gen X/Y) Clients | Blogging & Digital Marketing | Regaining Control Of Your Advisory Business (& Time) | Transitioning From Practice To Business | Refining A Lifestyle Practice | Looking To Acquire (Or Sell) An Advisory Firm | Practice Management For Larger Independent Advisory Firms | Advisor Technology | Rapidly Growing Advisory Businesses | Business Development & Client Acquisition | Experienced Advisors Looking To Re-Energize And Find “What’s Next?” | Plugging The Hole For CFP CE Credits
Where available, Nerd’s Eye View reader discounts are highlighted in red.
For Conference Organizers: For the embed code to post a “Top Advisor Conference in 2018” badge to your own conference website, click here or scroll to the bottom of this page.
For Vendors/Exhibitors Considering Sponsorships: Hopefully this list will be helpful to you in deciding what conferences to potentially attend and exhibit at. For further ideas, please see our prior-year 2017 “Best Conferences For Financial Advisors”, which includes a number of other more ‘traditional’ advisor conferences. I also have limited availability to consult directly with companies seeking further guidance on distribution and go-to-market strategies to reach financial advisors.
Best Conference For New Financial Planners: FPA NexGen Gathering 2018
The emerging shortage of young talent makes financial planning an especially appealing career opportunity in the coming decade. The caveat, however, is that it’s still an incredibly challenging profession to get started in, as it’s difficult to even find the “right” financial advisory firms to work for that have good training and career track opportunities, most new “financial advisor” job openings are really just sales jobs, and even when you do find a good firm, the role of a paraplanner or employee advisor can be a relatively isolating experience. Which isn’t necessarily aided by going to a financial advisor conference where most of the other advisors are in their 50s and 60s.
To fill this void, NexGen was born. Now part of the Financial Planning Association, the FPA NexGen community includes more than 2,500 financial planners who are age 36 or under (an actual requirement for membership), who share their experiences and provide support for each other through a combination of a private message forum and an annual conference called the FPA NexGen Gathering.
In recent years, the NexGen Gathering has used an “open agenda” format, where the participants themselves spend the first general session in a large-group discussion voting on the most pressing and/or appealing topics for young advisors, which then become the breakout sessions to be covered throughout the remainder of the conference.
In 2018, though, the NexGen Gathering is shifting back towards its “roots” from a decade ago, with a somewhat more structured format that will combine career development presentations and group discussion in a more formal agenda established in advance (including some sessions available for CFP CE credit). Which may be a bit more appealing for those who really want to know and understand what they’re getting in to with the conference for the dollars they’re going to spend (and to be able to provide a clearer explanation to the boss/owner who may need to sign off for them to attend!).
The FPA NexGen Gathering is a “must attend” for all those new financial planners who are trying to survive and thrive in their early years, and want to find a community of like-minded peers all looking to build long-term successful financial planning careers. In fact, the bonds formed in NexGen are so tight that many members stay connected to their NexGen peers years later by forming study/mastermind groups (once they “graduate” of the community after age 36).
Who Should Attend: While the NexGen community itself has an age required of being 36-or-under, the NexGen Gathering historically has not had any age limit. However, from a practical perspective, the conference is best suited for younger financial advisors, as that’s the focus of the community – ideally, those who are still in the first 10 years of their career (or as little as 0 years of experience!).
Details: June 24th to 26th at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) campus.
Cost: $259 for non-members of the FPA, $209 for members. Discounted onsite lodging option (cheaper than local hotel costs for the multi-day event) at $225 for a single room (+ additional $85 for Saturday) or $140 for a shared room (+ additional $45 for Saturday).
Conference Website: FPA NexGen Gathering 2018
Best Conference For Next Generation (G2) Succession Planning: AICPA PFP Summit
With the average age of a financial advisor in their early-to-mid-50s, an estimated 40% of all of today’s financial advisors are expected to retire in the next 10 years, succession planning has become an increasingly hot topic at conferences. The challenge, however, is that most events just offer a session or two on the topic… which simply isn’t even to really delve into the real issues and complications that arise in trying to transition the ownership, management, and client servicing of an advisory firm.
Which is why the AICPA PFP Summit has scheduled its entire 2018 conference agenda around the theme of G2 (2nd/Next Generation) succession planning, including sessions on practice management and industry benchmarking gurus Mark Tibergien and Philip Palaveev (who recently published “The Enduring Advisory Firm” and “G2 – Building The Next Generation” respectively), industry commentator Bob Veres, practice management coach Tracy Beckes, and advisor business management and succession planning success stories like Cheryl Holland of Abacus Planning Group.
Notably, the format of the AICPA PFP Summit is unique as well. The event is being hosted at the posh Terranea Resort in southern California, with an agenda that is designed from the start to facilitate in-depth networking time with colleagues, including multi-hour afternoon breaks to allow time for activities like hiking, biking, and kayaking (for those less outdoors-inclined, last year’s event also included a group session on making your own guacamole!). Though again, the point is not just to have a conference that mixes in some fun activities as well, but specifically a structure that allows time for colleagues to have casual conversations to discuss the weighty practice management topics of the day.
For those who may have attended the AICPA’s PFP Conference every January in the past – a 2.5-day technical content extravanganza that has long been recognized as one of the best Technical conferences for financial advisors – in 2017 the AICPA moved the PFP conference from January to June to become part of the larger AICPA Engage event. Accordingly, the PFP Summit was created to replace the former conference in the January time slot. Although while the AICPA PFP technical conference has historically attracted a large 1,000+ audience, the PFP Summit is intended to be much smaller and more intimate (apropos for the succession planning topic!), with a likely attendance of just 150 – 200 advisors or so.
Who Should Attend: Experienced advisor founders and next generation G2 advisor successors who want to really focus on succession planning issues and the long-term future of their advisory firm. In fact, the PFP Summit may be an especially good fit for both a founder and successor to attend together to begin tackling their succession plan, although either attending alone will likely have substantial takeaways to bring home to the succession planning discussion.
Details: January 8th to 10th (with a pre-event reception on Sunday January 7th) at the Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA (a suburb of Los Angeles)
Cost: $2,095 for non-members of the AICPA, $1,795 for members. Registrations by November 24th are eligible for a $75 Early Bird discount, and non-members may receive the $1,795 base rate by the Early Bird deadline. AICPA Tax or PFP Section members (or PFS credential holders) save an additional $100. Nerd’s Eye View readers can receive an addition $125 off with the KITCESPFP discount code!
Conference Website: AICPA PFP Summit 2018
Best Conference For Serving Next Generation Clients (And The FinTech To Help): XYPN LIVE 2018 & FinTech Competition
The XY Planning Network is a turnkey financial planning platform created to support financial advisors who want to deliver financial planning to Gen X and Gen Y clients for an affordable monthly fee (i.e., a “monthly retainer” business model). And to support its mission, the XY Planning Network conference brings together financial advisors who are currently executing the model successfully (along with those who want to learn) to share ideas and best practices with each other.
Accordingly, the XYPN LIVE 2018 conference is especially well suited to financial advisors who are trying to expand their services (or go independent and launch a new firm from scratch) to serve Gen X and Millennial clients. Tracks are focused on how to Start (launch), Run (operations), and Grow (marketing) a next-generation-client-focused financial planning offering, covering everything from how to structure and communicate your ongoing financial planning services, ways to structure a combination of monthly retainer fees along with upfront, hourly, or AUM fees to meet revenue goals, how to launch a Next Generation client offering as an “intrapreneurship” initiative within an existing advisory firm, and even ideas for how to bridge the income gap when starting out (via “side hustles”).
Also notable at the XYPN LIVE 2018 conference is its (now 3rd annual) FinTech Competition, which provides a platform for emerging financial advisor technology solutions focused specifically on helping advisors to serve younger clientele more efficiently (as technology efficiencies are crucial to being profitable when serving a younger clientele with a lower average revenue per client). Prior XYPN FinTech Competition winners include Snappy Kraken (which recently raised $1M of venture capital after its success at the FinTech Competition), and Vestwell (which also just raised venture capital a month after its FinTech Competition victory). In addition, the XYPN LIVE exhibit hall features a wide host of financial advisor technology solutions and practice management consultants, with fewer than 20% of exhibitors directly related to insurance or investment products.
Who Should Attend: Financial advisors who wish to either start their own practice serving Gen X and Gen Y clients, or who wish to launch a “firm within a firm” offering to serve Gen X and Gen Y clients within an existing larger advisory firm. The conference is open to advisors of any age, as long as they’re focused on serving a younger clientele.
Details: September 23rd – 26th at the Union Station Hotel in St Louis, MO.
Cost: $299 for XYPN members and $499 for non-members. An early bird discount of $100 for members and $200 for non-members is currently available through December 31st. Nerd’s Eye View readers can get a further $25 off at any time using KITCES discount code!
Conference Website: XYPN LIVE 2018
Best Conferences For Advisor Blogging And Digital Marketing: FinCon and the Traffic & Conversion Summit
The emerging rise of national RIA firms, from large institutions like Vanguard Personal Advisor Services and Schwab Intelligent Advisory, to independent firms including Creative Planning, Edelman Financial Services, United Capital, Aspiriant, Wealth Enhancement Group, and more, is creating a form of “marketing inequality” between large and small advisory firms. The national firms have the financial means and dedicated marketing talent to establish recognized brands and engage in outbound marketing. Which means smaller independent firms, and the mass of solo advisors, face an ongoing crisis of differentiation to distinguish themselves from their larger peers, necessitating a shift to niches and specialization and the rise of “inbound” digital marketing techniques to attract a more targeted clientele.
Unfortunately, though, the financial services industry is so new to the world of digital marketing, that there aren’t really any existing conferences providing real depth on the topic. However, beyond our industry, the reality is that digital and inbound marketing has been established for years, and as a result, there are several good conferences to consider… albeit not necessarily specific to financial advisors.
Accordingly, those newer to digital marketing, blogging, and social media, should consider the Advisor Track at FinCon, while advisors more established with digital marketing should look to the more advanced Traffic & Conversion Summit.
FinCon (Advisor Track) 2018
While financial advisors can get a taste of digital and inbound marketing at broad-based marketing conferences like Hubspot’s INBOUND 2018 or Social Media Marketing World (SMMW), the appeal of the FinCon conference is that it was designed for the start for financial bloggers (albeit primarily the types who write on personal finance topics directly to consumers, not financial advisors in particular).
To get even more relevant for financial advisors, in 2015 the FinCon conference offered an “Advisor Symposium on Social Media and Blogging”, and in the years since the “Advisor Track” at FinCon has gained substantial momentum as the go-to event for financial advisors trying to get up to speed on the best practices in social media marketing and blogging, and learn from fellow advisors who are actually doing it successfully about what really works (and what doesn’t).
Who Should Attend: Financial advisors who are looking to get started with advisor blogging and social media, or those who are a few years down the digital marketing path and want to find colleagues to learn from and share best practices.
Details: September 26th to 29th in Orlando, FL
Cost: TBD, but last year was $469, with a deep early bird discount of $270 for those who registered shortly after the prior event ended. Nerd’s Eye View readers get an additional $25 off with the KITCES18 discount code!
Conference Website: FinCon 2018
Traffic & Conversion Summit 2018
The world of digital marketing is full of self-professed “marketing gurus” who unfortunately are a lot better at promoting themselves than actually teaching effective marketing techniques for those who follow them. A notable exception is Ryan Deiss of Digital Marketer, whose platform has a strong reputation for “Digital Marketing Strategies that actually work”, anchored by their legendary long-form guide on maximizing customer value through digital marketing upsells of multiple tiers of products/services (which works in any business/industry).
Building on their success in digital marketing, the Digital Marketer team launched “Traffic & Conversion Summit” in 2012 to build an entire conference event around the theme, and it is now recognized by industry experts as one of the leading events for more advanced techniques in digital marketing and traffic acquisition strategies (more so than Hubspot’s INBOUND, which is viewed as a more basic digital marketing event).
The caveat, though, is that Traffic & Conversion Summit (TCS) is not targeted in any way to financial advisors in particular. Which means it’s really only suitable for those who are already very experienced in social media, blogging, and digital marketing, who are looking for deeper expertise to take their success to the next level. Those who are newer to digital marketing may find the depth overwhelming, though, and the strategies too complex to apply (and thus would be better served to start out at the FinCon Advisor Track instead), especially since it will be up to the advisor to figure out how to apply non-industry solutions to the financial advisory business world in particular.
Nonetheless, for those who have already had some traction, and want to figure out how to take their digital marketing game to the next level, TCS is worth checking out, especially if you’ve never attended a non-advisory-industry digital marketing conference in the past.
Who Should Attend: Advisors who are already engaged in financial advisor blogging and social media, and having some success and traction, but want to figure out how to amplify their results with more advanced techniques and are ready to reinvest the time and effort it takes to refine their digital marketing process.
Details: February 26th to 28th at the Marriott Marquis Marina Hotel in San Diego, CA
Cost: $1,495, with an Early Bird discount of $500.
Conference Website: Traffic & Conversion Summit 2018
Best Conference For Regaining Control Of Your Business: Strategic Coach
One of the biggest success points for most advisory firms is our incredibly high client retention rates – which means if we can just get the clients in the first place, and survive long enough, most financial advisors will be financially successful in the long run. Even if it’s just slowly accumulating a few clients a year until the advisor reaches a critical mass.
Yet the challenge of having an advisory business with such high retention rates is that, if the advisors sticks to it long enough, it’s a virtual certainty that the advisor will eventually reach capacity, and then hit “overload” – where there are suddenly “too many” clients, not enough time in the day to manage the business, and growth hits a wall.
And while technology tools and some hiring can help once advisors hit the wall, the reality is that the biggest change that’s necessary to get past the wall is a mental one – it’s a mindset change, which ultimately leads the advisor to change his/her own role in the business, figure out what to delegate, and where to focus time and attention. Except unfortunately, this doesn’t come naturally to most of us; in fact, it’s almost impossible to get the perspective necessary to change your mindset, without literally having someone else to provide that outside perspective!
Enter Dan Sullivan of the Strategic Coach. The Strategic Coach program is designed for any/all entrepreneurs, and is not specific to financial advisors, but remains relevant because the core challenge of financial advisors is really the same as most entrepreneurs: changing your role to work less in the business, and more on the business, and figuring out what, exactly, is your “unique ability” that contributes to the growth of the business. So that you can re-shape both the business itself, and your team and role, to fit your highest and best-use skills.
Technically, the Strategic Coach is not a conference – it’s a coaching program, that’s built around quarterly in-person workshop meetings with your Strategic Coach and a small group of fellow entrepreneurs. Advisors must generate $100,000 of personal income to qualify for the program, and entrepreneurs are divided into cohorts for those earning up to $500,000/year, and those generating $500k+ of personal income, given that the needs and challenges of the entrepreneur do vary a bit by size and complexity of the business.
The cost of the strategic coach program is not trivial, though the Strategic Coach has a long history of transforming advisory firm (and other) businesses with a significant rise in income that more than pays for the program, along with increases in free time and quality of life as an entrepreneur by regaining control of your business!
Who Should Attend: Advisory firm business owners who feel like they have hit a personal wall in their growth and productivity, and feel like they are no longer in control of their time and business. Of course, the biggest challenge of fixing the problem is that you may not feel like you have the time to take off to make the changes. Do it anyway.
Details: Various Strategic Coach programs are regularly launched, each with their own coach and planned schedule of quarterly workshop meetings. See here for the upcoming workshop availability.
Cost: $10,000 as an annual fee to participate in the 4 annual workshops, plus receive access to the rest of the Strategic Coach online and supporting materials.
Conference Website: Strategic Coach
Best Conference For Transitioning From Advisory Practice To Business: Carson Excell 2018
While most financial advisors proudly celebrate the fact that they are small business owners, the reality is that most advisory firms aren’t really “businesses” in the truest sense – because they wouldn’t be capable of surviving beyond the owner’s lifetime, and in most cases aren’t capable of even growing or sustaining revenue beyond the owner’s personal capacity. In other words, most advisory firms are more of a “personal practice” than a standalone business.
Of course, “just” being an advisory practice isn’t necessarily a bad thing at all. Solo advisory firms can be phenomenally lucrative, and standout advisory practices are netting more than $500,000/year in advisor income (and even partners at $1B+ AUM ensemble firms struggle to generate higher take-home pay than that!). As a result, many financial advisors are quite happy to simply refine their “lifestyle practice” to support a healthy income, while maximizing their work/life balance and ability to take time off.
However, a subset of financial advisors really want to transition from a practice to a bona fide advisory business, which entails hiring both operations and advisory staff, and transitioning the role of the founder themselves to be less of an advisor and more of an advisory business owner. Which for most advisors, is a very difficult transition – but one that legendary financial advisor Ron Carson’s “Peak Advisor” coaching program (recently rebranded to the Carson Group Coaching platform) has been training for nearly 20 years, with a semi-annual conference for its coaching clients called Excell.
In 2018, though, the Carson Group has announced that it is opening up the Excell conference to any/all advisors who want to attend, with a stated focus of trying to make Excell one of the industry’s all-around leading practice management conferences for those trying to make the transition from practice to business (typically advisors generating between $250k to $750k of revenue, who have “hit the wall” on personal growth, and need to transition the business to reach the next level). In fact, recognizing that a successful transition to a business involved both a change for the advisor, and a change and deepening of the staff that supports the advisor, Excell is unique in offering dual tracks for both advisors and their support staff.
Notably, because Excell is still part of the Carson Group Coaching platform, expect that the conference itself will likely still be at least a soft pitch for their Executive Coaching service as well (the original Peak Advisor program) and the Carson Institutional TAMP platform. Nonetheless, the reality is that many advisors going through the practice-to-business transition actually need coaching support to make the transition, and outsourcing investment management is increasingly common, so getting to understand Carson’s related services may be helpful for many! And the Carson Group maintains that it is focused on keeping the conference itself pure with practical takeaways.
Who Should Attend: Advisors (regardless of RIA or B/D) generating between $250k to $750k of revenue who want to make the transition from being an advisor to being an advisory firm business owner, either out of a desire to grow or the struggle of having “hit the wall” on personal capacity. Given the dual-track nature of Excell, advisors should consider bringing their support staff/executive assistant/operations manager as well.
Details: May 30th to June 1st at the ARIA Resort in Las Vegas, NV
Cost: $999. Nerd’s Eye View readers can receive a $100 discount with the code KITCES if you are not already a Carson Coaching Group member!
Conference Website: Carson Group Excell 2018
Best Conference For Refining A Lifestyle Practice: Limitless Adviser Coaching Program
While some advisors who run an advisory practice are trying to transition to a business - with all the hiring and growth and the opportunities and sacrifices that come with it - others really prefer to "just" stay a practice, and try to optimize it to maximize net income and personal freedom and flexibility. Which is quite feasible, given that the top solo advisory firms are netting more than $500,000/year in advisor income serving mass affluent clients.
However, unfortunately most solo advisors do not experience such financial success. Instead, they hit a capacity wall, where all of their time is consumed by serving a wide range of accumulated clients with a wide range of needs, such that there's no longer any time to even find more new clients (much less do the intensive upfront financial planning work for a new client), and sometimes there's barely enough time to ever serve existing clients well. Suddenly, you no longer control the advisory firm you "own" at all; instead, the advisory firm controls you, and your time.
To help advisors stuck in this "trap", Stephanie Bogan (a practice management guru who sold her first practice management consulting business and is now building a new firm) has paired with Matthew Jarvis (who built a highly successful $1M+ revenue practice with >50% profit margins while taking nearly 100 days of vacation per year by the age of 35!) to create a new coaching program they have dubbed "Limitless Adviser". The idea of the Limitless Adviser program is to pursue what Stephanie calls the "5 Freedoms" of Limitless Advisers, to regain control of your advisory business if you find yourself in the challenging situation where it feels the business controls you... but you want to get back to a world of growing revenue while regaining that feeling of freedom and flexibility that the practice once had (and perhaps even a little fun!?).
Notably, though, the Limitless Adviser program isn't simply a "conference" - it's actually a full-year coaching program, that includes two retreats (in March and September), monthly "Strategic Learnings" calls for 2 hours with Stephanie and Matt (where they take deep dives into the mindsets and methods that it takes to hit $1M of revenue and maintain a healthy lifestyle balance), monthly "Practice Learnings" calls to explore the "how's" to apply the teachings, an Advisor Forum to ask further questions (with set Office Hours to access Stephanie and Matt's expertise), and further tools and resources. The coaching delves into everything an advisory practice needs to refine itself, including how to position the business, branding and sales, marketing, HR and people, operations and processes, and finding the right systems and platforms.
Of course, the irony is that many of the advisors who most need the help that the Limitless Adviser Coaching Program provides may feel daunted by the substantial time commitment it will take to go through it. Fortunately, though, the whole point of the exercise is to free up far more of your time in the business than "just" what the coaching program will take - and the improved trajectory of the business is something you can take with you long after the year-long program is done.
Who Should Attend: Advisors with $200,000 to $500,000 of revenue who feel "stuck" in their practice, with too much to do for too many clients to the point that it's no longer "fun", and want to regain control of their practice... and are ready to make the personal commitment to change.
Details: Retreats are on March 6th to 8th in Dallas and from September 12th to 14th in Las Vegas (both part of the program); remaining calls and other participation is virtual on your own time.
Cost: $12,000 for the full-year program. Nerd's Eye View readers can get $2,000(!) off with KITCESCONF discount code! (Note that the 2018 program is expected to be 'full' by the end of November 2017; those reading this in 2018 who are interested in the 2019 program can view the website below.)
Conference Website: Limitless Adviser
Best Conference For Advisors Looking To Buy (Or Sell): Echelon Deals & Dealmakers Summit
Given the aging of the average financial advisor, and the ongoing shortage of young advisor talent (as there are more CFP professionals over the age of 70 than there are under the age of 30!), the reality is that many or even most financial advisors will not be able to complete an internal succession plan as they won’t be able to find a successor (or won’t have the time or inclination to train and develop them). As a result, more and more advisory firms are being sold instead, with some estimates that there are as many as 50(!) interested buyers for every advisory firm seller!
In turn, the rise of advisory firm dealmaking has led to the rise of advisory firm deal-making platforms, consultants, and investment bankers, including FP Transitions, DeVoe and Company, Succession Resource Group, Advisor Growth Strategies, and Echelon Partners. And it’s Echelon Partners that ultimately decided to go one step further, launching its own “Deals and Dealmakers” semi-annual conference, to both provide a forum for the leading acquirers (and consultants and platforms that work with them) to discuss the latest trends and best practices in advisory firm mergers and acquisitions.
The conference agenda includes the latest industry statistics on deal-making from Echelon’s own CEO Dan Seivert, along with sessions from leading advisory firm acquirers about what’s working (and what’s not) when integrating an acquired firm, to how to complete advisory firm acquisitions successfully (from deal terms to negotiating tactics).
Notably, the Deals and DealMakers (DDM) Summit is also an opportunity to actually meet potential acquirers, for those advisors who are actually looking to sell. Although in practice, the focus of the conference agenda (and the majority of attendees) are acquirers looking for insights on trends and best practices, which means firms looking to acquire should attend for the content (and not just in search of on-site deals). And may be interesting perspective for advisory firm owners who plan to sell in the future, and want to get some better insight into how buyers might be looking at the deal.
Who Should Attend: Advisory firm owners that are involved in acquiring other advisory firms, or who would like to be, and want to understand M&A trends and best practices, and network with consultants and platforms that may be available to support them. Or potential advisory firm sellers looking for buyers, or at least looking for perspective on what buyers want (if planning for a future sale).
Details: September 12th and 13th at the Island Hotel in Newport Beach, CA
Cost: $795 for financial advisors (and $995 for non-advisors), with no Early Bird discount. However, Nerd’s Eye View readers get a $80 off with the discount code KITCES up through August 1st!
Conference Website: Echelon Deals & Dealmakers Summit
Best Conference For Larger Independent Advisory Firms: Bob Veres’ Insider’s Forum 2018
Bob Veres is the former editor of Financial Planning magazine, and for the past 20+ years has been the publisher of Inside Information, the longest-standing (and highly recommended!) newsletter for financial advisors on practice management. And after years of writing about practice management and speaking at conferences, Veres decided to produce his own conference, originally dubbed the “Business and Wealth Management Conference” and now simply titled “Insider’s Forum”.
The content at Insider’s Forum best suited for mid-to-large sized independent advisory firms (e.g., “ensemble” firms that have at least $2M of revenue, 10+ staff, and multiple partners) that are running as bona fide businesses and feel they have outgrown the practice management content of other conferences… as in advisory firms of this size, that are growing beyond their founders, the business faces unique complexity challenges that emerge.
Accordingly, Insider’s Forum offers separate tracks for advisory firm Executive leaders (e.g., Founders, CEOs, etc.), and for advisory firm Operations leaders (e.g., Chief Operating Officers, Operations Managers, etc.), with content tailored for each. The latter includes sessions on designing processes, adopting technology for operational efficiencies, and managing compliance issues, while the former covers topics like finding and developing advisor talent, marketing and business development strategies, and the evolving landscape of advisory firm business and pricing models.
Also notable at Insider’s Forum is its “invitation-only” exhibit hall, where vendors are hand-picked by Veres (along with all the speakers) to ensure appropriateness and relevance for the independent advisory firm attendees.
Who Should Attend: Advisory firm owners/founders and key personnel at mid-to-large-sized growth-oriented independent firms (typically $2M+ of revenue and multiple staff and owners). Ideal attendees include founders/partners, CEOs, and COOs and Operations Managers.
Details: September 24th to 26th at Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego, CA
Cost: TBD, but last year was $975. Subscribers to Veres’ Inside Information receive a $150 discount (which itself is available at a discount for first-time subscribers to the Nerd’s Eye View Member’s Section!), and Nerd’s Eye View blog subscribers can also receive a $75 discount with KITCESBVIF discount code! (Not stackable with Inside Information subscriber discount.)
Conference Website: Bob Veres’ Insider’s Forum 2018
Best Conference For Advisor Technology: Technology Tools For Today (T3) Advisor Conference
Started more than 10 years ago by advisor tech consulting pioneers Joel Bruckenstein and Dave Drucker, the Technology Tools for Today (T3) advisor technology conference is the largest event focused solely and directly on “Advisor FinTech” and WealthTech tools.
From the advisor’s perspective, the challenge with the typical custodian or broker-dealer conference is that only a small subset of industry technology is ever showcased – in part because not all technology tools are approved for all platforms, but more commonly because all of the investment and insurance product solutions simply crowd out the technology providers from the exhibit hall (as a startup software company simply cannot afford to pay the same exhibit fee as a multi-billion or multi-trillion dollar asset manager).
By contrast, the T3 Advisor Technology conference really showcases the full landscape of what’s available in advisor tech tools in all the major categories (e.g., CRM, financial planning, portfolio accounting and reporting), along with newer categories like risk tolerance tools, client PFM portals, cybersecurity tools, and even IT outsourcing providers. Which is helpful for advisory firms looking to add new technology, or switch to another solution in the category (that might not already be on their custodial or broker-dealer platform but could be), but also for advisors looking to switch platforms and/or go independent (who need to make a whole slew of technology decisions when they switch).
For advisor tech companies, the T3 conference is also an important “place to be seen” in the broader advisor technology landscape. The event is very well covered by the industry media and pundits, and consequently most companies time major software or product releases (last year’s event included the launch of Riskalyze Premier and its Autopilot Partner Store and a major advisor software survey), and many advisor tech companies have launched/debuted at T3 over the years, including CRM provider Wealthbox, advisor PFM portal WealthAccess, and portfolio risk analytics tool RiXtrema.
Notably for tech vendors, though, the T3 conference is still not a “huge” buying audience for companies looking for new users (as almost half of the 600+ attendance is typically fellow software vendors, media, and industry consultants), and those looking for big “deal” opportunities would be better served by the T3 Enterprise conference in the fall (which specifically targets large broker-dealer and RIA enterprise decision-makers), or showcasing their solution in the XYPN LIVE FinTech Competition. Nonetheless, the T3 conference is valuable for most vendors, both for the opportunity to gain at least some advisor users, a chance to network with industry media and advisor tech pundits for visibility, and the potential to establish relationships with other tech vendors that might be future integration partners (or even strategic acquirers!).
Who Should Attend: Independent advisory firm owners (or those looking to go independent), and/or whichever staff member in the advisory firm is responsible for technology decisions. Companies looking to provide tech solutions for advisors should also aim to attend, both to showcase their solutions, and also for networking opportunities.
Details: February 6th to 9th, at the Marriott Harbor Beach Resort in Fort Lauderdale, FL
Cost: $599. Early bird discount of $100, ending October 31st. Nerd’s Eye View readers get an additional $75 off with KITCES discount code!
Conference Website: T3 Advisor Technology Conference 2018
Best Conference For Rapidly Growing Advisory Businesses: Scaling Up Summit & User Conference
For advisory firms that want to run as businesses (and not simply lifestyle practices), growth is an imperative – because without growth, the business cannot great opportunities for its people that are necessary to attract and retain the best talent. Ideally, an advisory firm should be sustainably growing its revenue by at least 15%/year – allowing the business to double in size every 5 years – to create the kind of job opportunities that attract the top young talent.
Except the caveat is that if the business really continues to grow at a 15% compounding rate, it quickly becomes a very sizable business. An advisory firm with $2M in revenue and 8-10 employees that can grow at 15%/year will become a $4M revenue firm with 15-20 employees in 5 years. And an $8M revenue firm with 35-40 employees in 10 years. Which suddenly requires a substantial amount of management infrastructure to actually oversee so many employees, and makes it far more challenging to keep everyone on the team focused (when there are far more employees than what the founder alone can manage).
And ironically, in this context, growing even faster can make the process of managing growth even harder. An advisory firm that grows at 25%/year will nearly double every 3 years. 40% annual growth doubles the firm every 2 years, potentially catapulting a business from 10 to nearly 40 employees in just 4-5 years. Which is important, because as Dave Packard (co-founder of Hewlett-Packard) famously noted, “more companies die of indigestion than starvation”. In other words, for growing companies, often the greatest risk is not that the growth stops… but that the growth continues, and the business compounds past the ability of the founders to manage it effectively (as they can’t “digest” the growth fast enough).
While this problem isn’t terribly common in the advisory industry – where high growth rates are especially hard to sustain as the firm grows – managing rapid growth is a real challenge, and one that today’s industry benchmarking studies and practice management consultants are often not well equipped to handle. Instead, it’s necessary to look beyond the industry.
Fortunately, though, the reality is that when a business is growing rapidly, the pain points are actually quite common to most businesses, regardless of the industry. As it’s no longer an “advisory” business challenge, but simply a “business” challenge of how to manage the people, the strategy, the execution, and the cash (which in a rapidly growing business, proves to be remarkably scarce, as the business must reinvest into hiring more people as quickly as it earns cash from recent new clients).
And one of the leading experts in the domain of scaling up small to mid-sized businesses is Verne Harnish, author of “Scaling Up” and the founder of Gazelles consulting, which has been recognized around the world as a leading program in helping teach rapidly growing firms how to actually manage and “scale up” in the face of rapid growth.
In addition to its robust Coaching program, the Gazelles organization also sponsors a series of conferences, including its ScaleUp Summit, and subsequent “User Conferences” for those who have gone through the Scaling Up program and want to put its tools into action. The Summit and User Conferences are run in immediate succession to one another (although business owners can select one, the other, or both), where the Summit focuses on high-level keynotes, and the User Conference focuses on breakout sessions to put the tools into action.
For rapidly growing advisory firm businesses, that are struggling to figure out how to manage the actual business as a business – with all the complexity that come from a deepening organizational chart, hiring mid-level managers, needing to get everyone on the same page to execute the business’s strategic plan – the Gazelles program and Scaling Up are real training in how to do it right.
Interested advisors should start by reading Harnish’s “Scaling Up” book before attending, to have better context for the Gazelles tools and business management philosophy.
Who Should Attend: Advisory firm business owners with at least $2M of revenue who are struggling to manage the continuous hiring and rising complexity of 15%+/year annual growth (and especially firms growing at 25%+/year). Notably, the Gazelles program is viable and relevant all the way to $100M+ of revenue, and thus should be considered for very large independent advisory firm leadership as well.
Details: Gazelles actually runs two sets of annual Summits and User conferences. The Spring event is in New Orleans from May 22nd to 24th, and the Fall event is October 16th to 18th in Denver.
Cost: $1,995 per person for the Summit, and a separate $495 for the User Conference.
Conference Website: Gazelles Growth Summits
Best Conference For Business Development & Client Acquisition: Bachrach or SalesPro Insider
Virtually every financial advisor who has been in the industry for more than 15 years started out the same way: they sold insurance or investment products to start, and if they were successful enough, eventually they went back to get CFP certification and migrated to focusing more on financial planning (and perhaps switching firms or starting their own) after already proving they could survive the initial years and get clients. The end result is that almost every advisor with 15+ years of experience already had sales and business development skills, or learned them quickly… or they’d already have long since left the business.
By contrast, with the rise of employee advisors over the past decade, a growing number of financial planners start out with their CFP marks – either directly out of college, or in the initial years of their career – mastering technical competency skills, and then learning the relationship management skills necessary to handle clients (who may be handed to them from the firm’s marketing efforts, or as more senior advisors reach capacity and need to hand clients off). Yet after several years, a new challenge emerges: the advisory firm has a wide base of high-quality financial advisors, none of whom has any skill at business development or acquiring new clients!
This dearth of sales training and business development skills for experienced advisors becomes a significant blocking point – both for the firm that cannot sustain its growth rate on a limited number of founders doing “all” the business development, and because the advisors themselves reach a cap on their careers where their compensation cannot rise higher because they cannot assume a “Lead Advisor” role (and certainly can’t become a Partner) until/unless they learn to help grow the business.
And the challenge is made worse by the fact that financial-planning-oriented “advice” firms tend to have a very non-sales-oriented culture that repudiates the industry’s traditional sales tactics. Which means it’s especially hard to even find sales and business development training that fits the financial planning firm’s client-centric mentality.
Fortunately, though, several “sales and business development” training programs, with an advice- and advisor-oriented focus, have emerged over the past decade, and offer their own conferences and events!
Bill Bachrach’s Advisor Roadmap and Client Acquisition Mastery Workshop
Bill Bachrach is a coach and consultant for financial advisors, best known for his “(and associated training program) from the late 1990s, which was subsequently followed by “Values-Based Financial Planning” a few years later. The essence of the approach was that, rather than “just” trying to sell a financial services product, or even financial planning advice, that the starting point is to really delve into understanding a client’s core values, both as a means to build better trust and rapport, and ultimately to deliver more relevant advice.
In the years since his Values-Based Selling and Financial Planning success, Bachrach has spoken at advisor conferences across the US and around the world, and in recent years has been developing a new program specifically on client acquisition and business development. The end result is an online training program called “Advisor Roadmap”, and a 3-day Mastery conference focused on further developing your People Skills, offered in partnership with Financial Advisor Magazine.
The Client Acquisition Mastery workshop is specifically focused on teaching – and practicing – the skills necessary to build rapport with clients and prospects. As a result, advisors who go through the program will actually practice their skills in paired sessions with other advisors in the workshop, honing everything from the delivery of how you explain what you do (in a way that makes prospects interested in learning more) to how to have effective “values” conversations (without making it awkward and prying), talking through goals, and articulating your value as a financial planning and the implicit promise you make to clients.
For many financial advisors, the idea of “paired practice” of what you would say to a prospect or client may feel canned or awkward, but the reality is that the only way to get good at client conversations is to practice them. Better in a controlled environment, with a supporting colleague and coaches to facilitate, than trying to figure it out the hard way as you lose out on valuable prospects!
Details: August 8th to 10th in San Diego, CA.
Cost: $2,500, but also requires already being a member of Bachrach’s Advisor Roadmap virtual program (which itself costs $900/year if paid all at once, rising to $1,200/year in January). Workshop registration is discounted by a whopping $1,000 (to just $1,497) for those who register by Super Early Mover deadline of November 30th, and the price rises to $1,750 on January 31st, and $2,000 on April 30th. Nerd's Eye View readers receive $100 off the workshop and 20% off the Advisor Roadmap with the kitces discount code!
Conference Website: Bachrach’s Advisor Roadmap And Client Acquisition Mastery Workshop 2018
Nancy Bleeke’s SalesPro Insider
Most “sales training” programs are challenging for financial advisors, because they’re predicated on traditional sales tactics that may work relatively well for traditional product sales, but are poorly suited to financial advisors who are selling themselves and their advice. Even though the reality is that being a fiduciary advisor is still ultimately about sales – because you can’t help anyone as a financial advisor until you convince them to hire you in the first place!
Nancy Bleeke’s “Genuine Sales” program is different, though. As framed in her book, “Conversations That Sell", the focus is not really about selling, but simply to have genuine conversations that connect with prospective clients, understand their problems, and explain how our advice solutions legitimately solve their problems.
Bleeke’s program builds around a core 5-step process of WIIFT – an acronym for both focusing on “What’s In It For Them”, and also a process of Wait (do your background work and prepare in advance of a meeting), Initiative (to find connection points with clients and set the stage), Investigate (to really learn about them and help them understand the risks and rewards of working with you as a financial planner), Facilitate (to make it easy for them to find out how what you do actually helps them), and Then consolidate (bring all the key themes together to help them understand how to proceed).
Because the reality is that good sales and business development doesn’t have to be “salesy”, nor is it something that is just for extroverts. Instead, the reality is that sales is really just a process – not a script, but a process – of having a conversation that connects with prospective clients, understands their real issues, and positions your services to solve their problems. Bleeke provides the process.
Details: Genuine Sales workshops occur quarterly. There’s also a "Virtual" Genuine Sales program occurring throughout the year, for those who want to try out the training without traveling!
Cost: $2,995 for the workshop and supporting online tools. Nerd’s Eye View readers receive 10% off with the KITCES discount code!
Conference Website: SalesProInsider Genuine Sales Training
Best Conference For Experienced Advisors Who Need A Recharge: FPA Retreat
For very experienced advisors – those with 15+ years of experience – it’s not uncommon to have a “mid-career crisis”. By this point in your career as an advisor, you likely have most/all the clients you need to be financially successful, are only adding a handful of new clients a year (to replace the few that leave or pass away), and are basically in the “maintenance mode” phase with virtually all of your clients. A phase that will likely last the rest of your career.
The problem with this phase of the financial advisor’s career? It can get boring. Having few new clients means there are few new opportunities to dive in to, few new interesting scenarios to analyze, and not as much intellectual challenge. Client conversations can become remarkably mundane, as the same clients as the same questions and raise the same neurotic concerns they’ve been expressing for 5-10+ years. The same questions and concerns they’ll likely be raising for the next 10+ years of working together as well.
So how do you overcome the mid-career crisis? Take a pause to recharge and re-find your purpose and a new direction… by going to the FPA Retreat.
The FPA Retreat has long been recognized as one of the leading “advanced planning” conferences, but the truth is that it’s more about advanced plannERS than advanced plannING. With a focus on both the “art” and “science” of financial planning, the conference tends to attract very experienced practitioners who attend seeking the opportunity to share best practices and find a community of experienced colleagues. And although it’s not openly stated, many are facing their own mid-career crises.
In point of fact, the “What’s Next” nature of FPA Retreat has led the conference to have a major role in a number of “cutting edge” developments in financial planning. It’s rumored that the birth of Morningstar style boxes came in part from a panel discussion at Retreat decades ago, and it has also been the place where “life planning” was discussed long before it became popular, where the potential shift from AUM to retainer fees has been discussed for a decade already, where the NexGen young planner movement was birthed more than a decade ago, and where advisors continue to push the envelope with tools like using Mind Mapping to better engage clients in meetings.
Simply put, for experienced advisors trying to find their own “What’s Next” in their career, FPA Retreat is the best place to try to figure out the answer to that questions for yourself. (And talk to some other advisors who may be struggling with the same feeling!)
Who Should Attend: Financial planners with 15+ years of experience working with clients, who are struggling with their own mid-career crisis of comfortable business income but stagnant client meetings and flat growth, trying to re-find their purpose and figure out “What’s Next?”
Details: April 23rd to 26th at The Wigwam in Phoenix, Arizona
Cost: $1,549 for non-members of FPA, and $1,349 for FPA members. $100 discount for Advance registration by February 26th, and an additional $100 discount for Early Bird registration by January 29th. Nerd’s Eye View readers can save an additional $50 off with the RET18KC discount code!
Conference Website: FPA Retreat 2018
Plugging The Hole For CFP CE Requirements
Notwithstanding that 2018 will hereby be known as the “Year of Practice Management Conferences”, some advisors need to get continuing education credits as well. And given that practice management content is (rightfully!) not eligible for CFP CE credit, those who do need CE credits may need to look to alternatives.
Notably, though, a few of the conferences listed here do at least have “CE tracks” as a part of their agenda, including Veres’ Insider’s Forum, XYPN LIVE, and FPA Retreat.
In addition, there are a wide range of other industry conferences with CE credit available. Of course, the unfortunate reality is that many of those events simply load up the CE with sponsored sessions of poor quality – in point of fact, the original reason we created these annual conference lists was to help financial advisors identify the best conferences that had bona fide educational content!
Accordingly, those looking to plug a hole of CFP CE (or related designations like IMCA’s CIMA or CPWA) should look to our prior “Best Conferences” list for 2017, which was comprised almost entirely of CE-eligible conferences. Of particular note is the FPA NorCal regional conference (a perennial “top conference” for advisors based on its high-quality advanced content), and the AICPA’s PFP (Personal Financial Planning) conference which is now part of the broader AICPA Engage event (although given conference execution challenges at last year’s inaugural event, advisors would likely be better served attending FPA NorCal in 2018 and planning for AICPA Engage in 2019). In addition, many FPA chapters offer local 1- or 2-day chapter symposia that can help fill the void for advisors who are a little short on CFP CE credits.
Alternatively, for those advisors who need CFP CE credits, but still want to attend one of the listed practice management conferences, consider purchasing a “virtual pass” for one of the other more technical events. Video of last year’s AICPA PFP Engage sessions are available online for $459, while NAPFA National sells recordings for its great lineup of technical sessions for just $279, the Financial Planning Association sells its FPA Retreat session recordings for $369 (or its full Annual Conference lineup for $965, with substantial discounts for FPA members), the IMCA Annual Conference is available for $595 (discounted lower for IMCA members), and the CFA Institute actually makes the recordings of its annual conference content available for free! And of course, the Nerd’s Eye View offers IMCA and CFP CE credits for many of these blog posts, along with additional white papers and webinars, in its Members Section, too!
The bottom line: By all means, get the CFP CE credits you need to maintain your designations. But don’t let the need for CE credits take away from the time you need to invest in yourself to work on your business, too!
So what do you plan to attend? Do you have any conference favorites that I didn’t include in the list? Please share in the comments section below!
Disclosure: Michael Kitces is a co-founder and partner of the XY Planning Network, which was mentioned as a “best conference” on this list.
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