There’s a famous saying that to be a successful business owner, you have to make sure you don’t just work in the business, but that you also work on the business. Which means occasionally taking time out to step away from the daily grind of working with clients and running the business – ideally, by literally stepping away from the business, and going to at least one financial advisor conference every year. Because the reality is that for a successful advisory firm, you really just need one good takeaway from a conference to take home and have a material impact on the business that makes the trip more than worthwhile.
The caveat, though, is that there can be an overwhelming number of financial advisor conferences to choose from in the first place. From events run by the various membership associations, to those hosted by custodians and broker-dealers, a growing number of conferences run my media publications, and more, it’s difficult to figure out which are really the top financial advisor conferences, and which will be little more than a parade of thinly-veiled product pitches by sponsors from the podium.
Given that I speak at nearly 70 conferences myself every year, I’ve participated in virtually every major conference out there for financial advisors, and as a result I’m often asked for recommendations of what I think are the best conferences for financial advisors. The caveat is that – as with financial planning advice itself – the “best” will vary depending on the person receiving the advice… in this case, depending on the kind of job or business the advisor has, where they are in their career progression, if they're looking for practice management guidance (or a firm to buy or merge with or sell to) versus a new job and personal career advancement, and what kind of expertise they already have (or are looking for), etc.
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 2017, which introduces several new categories like “Best Fiduciary” (given the looming rollout of the DoL fiduciary rules in April!) and “Best SRI Conference” (given the rapidly rising popularity of sustainable investing!). Of course, the reality is that the current 2016 conference season isn’t even quite over yet, but with some of the best conferences in 2017 running in January and February of next year, the early bird registrations for 2016 events are already closing soon!
So I hope you find this year’s 2017 conferences list to be helpful as a guide in planning your own conference budget and schedule for next year, and 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!
Best Conference For/In: Estate Planning | Technology | Advanced Practitioners | Investment Management | Fiduciary | Overall | Advanced Education | Young Advisors | Retirement Planning | Practice Management | SRI Investing | Cost/Value | Digital Marketing | Non-US Financial Advisors | Private Wealth Management
(Events are listed in chronological order to facilitate planning and registration/early bird deadlines. Where available, Nerd’s Eye View reader discounts are highlighted in red.)
For the embed code to post a “Top Advisor Conference in 2017” badge to your own conference website, click here or scroll to the bottom of this page.
A word to Vendors considering conference sponsorships: Hopefully this list will be helpful to you in deciding what conferences to potentially attend and exhibit at. 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 Estate Planning Conference: Heckerling Institute 2017
As the Federal estate tax exemption has risen over the past 15 years, the number of households exposed to the Federal estate tax has plummeted by nearly 95%... a trend that has only been accelerated further with permanent portability of the estate tax exemption, and the ongoing number of states repealing their own state estate taxes. The end result is that as estate tax exposure declines, so too has the weighting of estate planning topics in the CFP body of knowledge, and the amount of estate planning content found (or rather, no longer found) at the typical conference!
And so for those who are actually still looking for discussions about sophisticated estate planning strategies for ultra high net worth clients – the ones who do still have a substantial estate tax problem – the Heckerling Institute is the place to be, with a true “all-star” estate planning speaker’s lineup, from Jonathan Blattmachr to Howard Zaritsky, Steve Akers, Larry Brody, Gideon Rothschild, and more.
Notably, though, the conference is first and foremost an “attorney-centric” conference (literally hosted under the University of Miami’s law school), and while financial advisors are welcome, expect to hear a lot of speakers citing Internal Revenue Code sections and parsing verbatim the words of the latest Treasury Regulations. Which means that while Heckerling is the best conference out there for financial advisors serious about learning the latest cutting edge strategies, it’s not for the faint of heart.
It’s also important to recognize that as the scope of the estate tax has narrowed in recent years, the breadth of the Heckerling line-up has expanded, and now includes tracks for Charitable Giving, International Planning, Elder Law, and Estate-Tax-Related Litigation and Controversies.
Nonetheless, the core of Heckerling is still focused on minimizing estate taxes for high net worth clients, which may be especially timely given the looming potential of new Section 2704 Treasury Regulations cracking down on Family Limited Partnerships in 2017. While it remains to be seen what the “new” estate planning strategies will be once the regulations are final, you can expect that the next new big ideas will already be getting discussed at Heckerling 2017.
Who Should Attend: Financial planners who have a niche/specialization around estate planning, or who serve ultra-high-net-worth clientele where these issues are relevant. Realistically, attendees should at a minimum have CFP certification, and ideally advanced educational designations/degrees as well; while not a “requirement” for the conference, it will be hard to keep up with the sessions without a sound technical estate planning background.
Details: January 9th – 13th of 2017, at the Orlando World Center Marriott in Orlando, Florida
Conference Website: Heckerling Institute 2017
Best Advisor Technology Conference: Technology Tools For Today (T3) Advisor Conference
The Technology Tools for Today (T3) conference is the largest event focused solely and directly on “FinTech for Financial Advisors”. The conference started more than 10 years ago, founded by advisor tech consulting pioneers Joel Bruckenstein and Dave Drucker, and is now widely viewed as the “go-to” event for advisor technology.
From the advisor’s perspective, the virtue of the T3 conference is that it’s an opportunity to see virtually all the major players in every software category, all in one place. From CRM to financial planning software and portfolio accounting solutions, along with newer advisor FinTech categories like risk tolerance tools, client PFM portals, and even IT outsourcing providers, the T3 conference allows for a broad view of the available solutions across the landscape. This can be especially helpful for independent advisors who may otherwise only see a subset of tech solutions that their particular platform currently makes available, or those who are looking at going independent and need to see “what’s out there” for them to use.
Notably, the T3 conference is also an important “place to be seen” in the broader advisor technology landscape. The event is well covered by industry media and pundits, and as a result it often the place that tech companies announce major releases and updates, and over the years many companies have done their premier debut at T3 (including CRM provider Wealthbox, advisor PFM portal WealthAccess, portfolio risk analytics tool RiXtrema, and more).
For technology vendors themselves, it’s worth noting that the T3 conference is still not a “huge” audience when it comes to independent advisors who might buy software solutions; in recent years, the conference attendance has tipped the scales around 600, but a material number of those registrants are from the vendors themselves, not advisors. Nonetheless, T3 is a valuable conference to attend, both for the opportunities to sell to at least some advisors, a chance to network with the media and advisor tech pundits who attend and write about the conference, and the potential to establish relationships with other tech vendors that may be future integration partners!
For tech companies who specifically want to reach potential enterprise buyers, consider participating in TechLeaders in April, or the T3 Enterprise conference which runs in November every year. For start-up companies trying to showcase new solutions for financial advisors, consider the XYPN17 FinTech Competition.
Who Should Attend: Independent advisory firm owners (or those looking to go independent), and/or the advisory firm’s staff member responsible for technology. 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 14th to 17th of 2017, at the Hyatt Regency Orange County in Garden Grove, CA
Cost: $499. 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 Conference For 2017
Best Advanced Practitioner Conference: FPA Retreat 2017
The FPA Retreat conference is not about advanced planning, but advanced planners – experienced practitioners, who are looking to be stimulated with new ideas, and to get recharged by taking a step away from the business for a few days, and figure out what’s next. In fact, while there are some advance technical sessions on the agenda, along with several on practice management, the biggest takeaway for most advisors who go to Retreat is their opportunity to focus on the art of financial planning, and how to be a better advisor practitioner working with your clients.
The experience of FPA Retreat is further enhanced by the very type of advisors who are drawn to this kind of event; there is a tremendous aura of connection and sharing best practices, of talking about what’s working in your business (or not) and hearing what’s working (or not) for others.
The “what’s next” aspect of Retreat means that the conference itself has also had a major role in many emerging “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 a decade ago, and where advisors continue to push the envelope with tools like using Mind Mapping to better engage clients in meetings.
Who Should Attend: Financial planners with 5+ (ideally 10+) years of experience working with clients, who aren’t interested in more technical content but want to take their actual practice and delivery of financial planning to the next level. Or simply those experienced practitioners who are feeling a bit burned out, and looking for a recharge and some fresh inspiration.
Details: April 24th – 27th at the Chateau Elan, in Atlanta, GA
Cost: $1,349 for FPA members ($1,549 for non-members). $100 early bird discount expires March 17th. Nerd’s Eye View readers get an additional $50 off with KTCSRT17 discount code!
Conference Website: FPA Retreat 2017
Best Investment Management Conference: Morningstar Investment Conference (MIC) 2017
For financial advisors who manage investments, it’s surprisingly difficult to find a “good” investment conference. Many claim to be conferences for advisors who manage investments, but end out being nothing more than a parade of investment product pitches from the podium. Others avoid the product pitches but go too deep on the nuts and bolts of analyzing individual securities, despite the fact that most financial advisors have long since left behind the days of being a “stock picker” and are now focused more on investment strategy and the construction of diversified multi-asset-class portfolios.
Fortunately, the Morningstar Investment Conference manages to find a healthy balance. At Morningstar, you will likely hear directly from a lot of asset managers on the podium, but Morningstar’s size and clout means that it won’t just be a wholesaler pitching the product; it’s just as likely to be the fund manager themselves, sharing real perspective on their economic and investment outlook. In addition, Morningstar also manages to draw out a lot of investment management thought leaders, from Jeremy Grantham and Rob Arnott and Cliff Asness, to Bill Gross, Michael Hasenstab, and more.
Furthermore, the Morningstar conference typically has a number of panels that include Morningstar’s own research analysts, who – again because of Morningstar’s size and scope – have valuable and unique perspective on the broad trends underway in the world of investment management.
And given their recent launch of Morninstar Sustainability Ratings, expect a lot of new SRI-related content at the conference in 2017!
Who Should Attend: Financial advisors who are responsible for selecting investment funds or strategies, or design investment portfolios for clients, along with those who are members of an advisory firm’s Investment Committee who are looking for new ideas to bring back (from Morningstar’s huge exhibit hall of all things investment management!).
Details: April 26th – 28th at the McCormick Place, in Chicago, IL
Cost: $900. Early bird discount of $170 if registered by February 24th. Nerd’s Eye View readers get an additional $50 off with KITCES50 discount code!
Conference Website: Morningstar Investment Conference 2017
Best Investment Conference Honorable Mention: Inside ETFs 2017
With the ongoing decline of asset flows to actively managed funds and the explosive rise of ETFs – which will likely just accelerate further as the DoL fiduciary rule takes effect in 2017 – for many advisors, “Investment Management” is becoming synonymous with “ETF management”. And for those who haven’t made the switch already, the pressure is growing to get up to speed as ETF adoption just continues to grow.
In this context, it is perhaps no surprise that the Inside ETFs conference has also “exploded” to the upside in recent years. Now drawing an attendance of more than 2,000, the conference brings together financial advisors, ETF strategies that offer investment solutions to advisors, and most of the leading ETF institutions and ETF industry insiders.
Tracks at the conference are designed for those across the spectrum, and include several pre-conference workshops, from an “ETF University and Advisor Accelerator” program for those who are trying to quickly get up to speed, to a “How To Launch an ETF” program for those who actually want to get into the ETF business themselves (or perhaps simply to turn their current investment strategies for clients into an ETF with wider potential reach). And of course there’s the “main agenda” itself, which this year features big names from John Mauldin and Bob Doll to Dennis Gartman and even Shark Tank’s Kevin O’Leary (now also an ETF provider with his O’Shares solution!).
Notably, the Inside ETFs conference was originally developed by ETF.com, but the conference business was sold last year to Informa, which will be running Inside ETFs for the first time in 2017. While that has some ETF insiders nervous about whether the conference will still be executed well – and may be a boost to alternative events like the Morningstar ETF conference or the IMN Global Indexing & ETFs conference (formerly the “Super Bowl of Indexing” event) – the Inside ETFs conference is still being chaired by the widely respected former ETF.com CEO Matt Hougan, and the continuity in leadership bodes well for Inside ETFs being able to still deliver under its new ownership.
The conference also has the benefit of being one of the cheapest around, especially in the world of investment management – a tribute to both its size (as 2,000+ attendees helps to keep the cost down!), and its draw amongst ETF exhibitors (who you will periodically see on stage, but hopefully that’s not a problem if you’re there to learn more about their ETF product solutions in the first place!).
Who Should Attend: Financial advisors who invest primarily using ETFs or ETF strategies (or those who wish to start doing so!), who are looking for the comprehensive event on “all things ETFs”.
Details: January 22nd – 25th at the Diplomat Resort & Spa, in Hollywood, FL
Cost: $445 for financial advisors. (Much higher prices apply to non-advisor attendees.) Nerd’s Eye View readers get an additional $100 off with KITCES100 discount code!
Conference Website: Inside ETFs 2017
Best Fiduciary Conference: Fi360 2017
The Fi360 organization started in 1999 as the Center for Fiduciary Studies, created to provide education around the fiduciary standard of care and how to implement it (which at the time, was primarily in the context of executing fiduciary duty for ERISA plans). Since then, the organization has evolved to include a fiduciary toolkit for financial advisors, the Accredited Investment Fiduciary (AIF) designation, and more, all housed under the Fi360 umbrella.
Accordingly, the annual Fi360 conference has long been the leading event that gathers together practitioners focused on best practices in executing fiduciary duty. But with the Department of Labor’s fiduciary rule initially taking effect in 2017, with the full rollout of BICE requirements on January 1st of 2018, the Fi360 conference has become the place to be for all things fiduciary, far beyond the scope of “just” those who work in the ERISA qualified plan space.
So for those who are still struggling to understand the longer term implications of the DoL fiduciary rule in their business, or who want to start building towards fiduciary best practices as the rule kicks in, the Fi360 conference is the place to be in 2017.
Who Should Attend: Financial advisors who are trying to get up to speed on the DoL fiduciary rule and figure out what exactly needs to be done to fulfill their fiduciary obligations, along with advisors who work as or with ERISA fiduciaries in the qualified plan environment who are looking for more tools and best practices to implement.
Details: May 21st – 23rd at the Omni Nashville, in Nashville, TN
Cost: $1,195. Early bird discount of $200 if registered by November 30th of 2016. Additional $200 discount for advisors who already use Fi360 solutions. Nerd’s Eye View readers who are not currently AIF designees with Fi360 can register at the designee cost ($200 off) with Kitces2017 discount code!
Conference Website: Fi360 2017
Best Overall Financial Planning Conference: FPA NorCal 2017
The FPA NorCal conference is a “regional” conference conducted jointly by five northern California chapters of the Financial Planning Association. But after running the FPA NorCal conference continuously for 45 years(!), they have refined the process to the point that the quality of NorCal’s “regional” conference is on par with any national conference.
Accordingly, at NorCal you can expect to see an agenda fully of nationally recognized speakers – not just one or two as keynotes, but also across the whopping 6 different breakout tracks, such that it’s often difficult to decide which session to attend because you want to be in 2-3 different sessions at once. (Fortunately, NorCal records all of its content and makes it available to all attendees after the fact, so you can catch up on what you missed!) And unlike so many other events, NorCal keeps its sponsors entirely separate from its content agenda – so there’s no need to worry about attending a presentation that turns out to be a thinly veiled product pitch.
Another big plus of FPA NorCal is that it’s also an excellent “destination conference”. The venue itself is the beautiful Palace Hotel in the heart of downtown San Francisco, and the event is run on the Tuesday and Wednesday immediately following Memorial Day, which means it makes for a great 5-day excursion to northern California (3 days to wander the city or head up to Napa or Sonoma Valleys, then 2 days at the conference itself, while deducting 100% of the travel airfare for your trip!).
Notably, though, the FPA NorCal conference does sell out every year (as total attendance is limited to around 500 given the capacity of the Palace Hotel). So if you’re interested in attending, don’t wait too long to register!
Who Should Attend: Financial advisors looking for a well-run conference with high quality content, and/or those who want a nice destination conference to travel with a spouse. If you’re only going to go to one “national” conference in 2017, and want to try something new, NorCal is definitely worth checking out!
Details: May 30th – 31st at the Palace Hotel, in San Francisco, CA
Cost: $879 for FPA members ($1,079 for non-members), with a $150 “early bird” discount ending March 6th and a $50 “advance” discount through April 28th.
Conference Website: FPA NorCal 2017
Best Advanced Educational Conference: AICPA Engage 2017 (Formerly AICPA PFP)
Most financial planning practitioners are familiar with the industry’s leading membership associations, including the FPA and NAPFA, but the reality is that there’s a whole “other world” of financial planners: those who started with a CPA license, and are affiliated with the AICPA’s Personal Financial Planning (PFP) section.
And just as most membership associations have a national conference for their membership, so too does the AICPA’s PFP section. Except given the intellectual and academic rigor required to obtain a Master’s in Accounting and a CPA license in the first place, the AICPA PFP conference, through the technical caliber of its participants, has established itself as the leading conference for advanced financial planning educational topics.
The AICPA’s PFP conference runs 5 intensive tracks – Retirement, Investments, Tax/Wealth Management, Risk Management, and Practice Management – and is known for its advanced content and intensive schedule, with sessions typically running from 7AM to 6PM on the main conference days (a total of 22 CFP CE credits if you attend everything!). And those aren’t 7AM “sponsored sessions”; those are breakfast sessions on weighty topics like “Planning for the Terminally Ill Client” or “Managing Investment Due Diligence” or “Developing Your Advisor Niche And Avoiding Burnout”. And the AICPA PFP event has a long history of attracting some of the industry’s top speakers, from tax experts like Bob Keebler, Natalie Choate, and Ed Slott, to investment experts like Rob Arnott and Roger Ibbotson, retirement researchers like Wade Pfau and David Blanchett, practice management and technology gurus Bill Winterberg, Joel Bruckenstein, and Angie Herbers, and more.
Notably, the AICPA PFP conference was historically in January of every year, but in 2017 the conference is being moved to the summer, and will run from June 12th to 14th as part of the broader new “AICPA Engage” conference, a combination of the AICPA PFP conference, along with the AICPA’s Advanced Estate Planning Conference, Tax Strategies for the High Income Individual, and several other non-financial-planner events.
As a result, attendees will have an opportunity to participate in the AICPA PFP conference as they have in the past, but will also have a chance to cross-register for the other advanced estate and income tax planning conferences if desired (at a heavily discounted rate) for additional content, and the AICPA is expected to pool the multi-conference resources to bring in an even higher caliber of keynote speakers, which so far include generational expert Jason Dorsey, Shark Tank entrepreneur Kevin O’Leary, and more.
Who Should Attend: Financial planners who are looking for content that really teaches them new strategies and technical content (beyond the CFP marks). This conference is a good fit for both advisory firm owners, and senior financial planners (or associate planners looking to move up!) who are trying to decide where to allocate their annual conference budget.
Details: June 12th – 14th at the MGM Grand, in Las Vegas, NV
Cost: $1,595. Early bird discount of $100 if registered by April 28, 2017. Additional $300 discount for AICPA members, and further $100 discount for AICPA PFP section members (or PFS credential holders). Further $100 off for Nerd’s Eye View readers using ENG17KIT discount code!
Conference Website: AICPA Engage 2017
Best Conference For Young Advisors: FPA NexGen Gathering 2017
In a world where the average age of a financial advisor is 50-something, those who are new to the profession – particularly those fresh out of college, or are career changers in their 20s and 30s – may find it hard to relate to their “peers” at the typical financial advisor conference.
To fill this void, NexGen was born. A community of more than 2,000 financial advisors under the Financial Planning Association who are age 36 or under (an actual requirement for membership), the group has its own private forum and runs its own conference: the FPA NexGen Gathering.
NexGen Gathering is unique in that it uses an “open agenda” format, where the participants spend the first general session in a large-group discussion voting on what the most pressing topics are for young advisors, and then turning those into the breakout topics that will be covered throughout the remainder of the conference.
Notably, the focus of NexGen Gathering sessions is on practice management and personal career development; don’t expect much of any traditional technical content, or sessions eligible for CFP CE credit.
As a result, the NexGen Gathering ends up being a combination of open forum discussion amongst young planners about how to advance their own careers, and a giant networking opportunity for advisors under age 36 to connect with each other, share stories and perspective, establish professional relationships, and even form study/mastermind groups to stay connected long after the conference ends.
Due to its unique format, the NexGen Gathering is also limited in size to no more than about 125 attendees. As a result, the conference does sell out; those who are interested in attending should not wait too long to register!
Who Should Attend: While NexGen Gathering does not have a formal age limit to attend, its “young advisors” mandate means it is really the best fit for financial advisors who are age 36 and under, and ideally who are still relatively new to the business (i.e., no more than 10 years of experience, and as little as 0 years).
Details: June 23rd – 25th at North Central College, in Chicago, IL
Cost: Not yet announced, but last year was an intended-to-be-affordable $229 for FPA members ($255 for non-FPA-members), with a $30 early bird registration discount, plus a separate discounted onsite lodging option (cheaper than local hotel costs for the multi-day event). FPA has declined to extend a discount to Nerd’s Eye View readers for this event.
Conference Website: FPA NexGen Gathering 2017
Best Conference On Retirement Planning: RIIA Summer Conference 2017
The Retirement Income Industry Association (RIIA) was founded nearly a decade ago, with a focus on establishing a comprehensive “View Across the Silos” of retirement planning. In other words, while most retirement research and thought leadership tends to focus in one particular industry channel – the insurance and annuity companies focus on annuity-oriented retirement research, the investment platforms focus on portfolio-oriented retirement research, etc. – RIIA aims to provide a perspective on retirement planning that incorporates all the channels (and then views particular implementation decisions as downstream choices).
Over the years, RIIA has launched its own Retirement Management Journal, has produced numerous advisor tools in retirement planning (its “Procedural Prudence Map” for retirement planning), and even launched its own dedicated retirement planning designation, the Retirement Management Analyst (RMA). And for the past several years, RIIA has also run its own retirement planning conference.
The virtue of the RIIA conference is that it tends to draw practitioners across a wide range of channels (as well as executive leadership from asset management and insurance/annuity product manufacturers), and its focus on substantiated research and genuine thought leadership in retirement planning (and very limited involvement from sponsors or wholesalers) gives it an academic bent that is refreshing in a world where too many presentations on retirement are heavy on personal views and lacking in substance. For those who really focus on and specialize in retirement planning, and are serious about expanding their minds and stretching their limits on the cutting edge of retirement planning research, RIIA is for you.
Unfortunately, though, RIIA’s greatest virtue is for many its greatest downfall. Its holistic approach of viewing retirement planning across the silos allows the conference to cover a lot of new and innovative ideas in retirement planning, but given that many advisors in practice are running a business in a particular silo, the advisor may come away with some ideas about strategies that would be difficult to implement in their current firm or business model. So if you’re looking for somewhat more ‘tangible’ retirement planning takeaways, you might want to consider the Investment News Retirement Income Summit in April in Chicago, or the FA Magazine Inside Retirement conference in May in Dallas instead. But if your goal is to really go deeper into holistic retirement planning and the research that’s powering it, then the RIIA Summer Conference is the event for you!
Who Should Attend: Financial advisors who focus on or outright specialize in retirement planning, or who are looking for the cutting edge (and academically rooted) research on retirement planning strategies. Already having the RMA designation is not necessary, although substantial discounts apply for RMA graduates, and there is an even deeper follow-up “Master RMA” program that follows the conference for those with the designation.
Details: July 17th – 18th at Salem State University in Salem, MA
Cost: Not yet announced, but last year was $1,695 for non-RMA holders, and $848 for RIIA members (a substantial deal, given that it’s only $395/year to be a RIIA member!), and $424 for RMA students or graduates. An additional 20% early bird-rate was also available last year. Nerd’s Eye View readers get an additional 25% off both regular and early-bird registration with KITCES discount code!
Conference Website: RIIA Summer Conference 2017
Best Practice Management Conferences: Bob Veres’ Insider’s Forum and XYPN17
In the world of financial advisor conferences, it’s long been recognized that “practice management” sessions tend to have lower attendance and participation than “technical” sessions eligible for CFP CE credit. This has led to the widespread view that practice management content should be made eligible for CE, just to encourage more advisors to attend. However, I strongly disagree. The reason why few advisors go to practice management sessions isn’t the lack of CE credits. It’s the lack of relevance.
After all, the latest cutting edge planning strategies for Social Security are important to almost any/every financial advisor. However, a “great” practice management session is likely only relevant to a subset of financial advisors who actually own/manage their own business in the first place (which is fewer and fewer, given the rise of the employee advisor). And even then, the same content isn’t relevant for all advisory firm owners; some want guidance on implementing processes and workflows, while others are trying to figure out whether to change their fee schedule, and some are looking for advisor FinTech solutions. In other words, while there’s a common and widely relevant body of knowledge that almost all advisors “must” know to serve clients, there’s a much more diverse range of needs for practice management content, which means any particular session is not likely relevant to everyone (or even most).
Accordingly, the “best” practice management conferences are really the ones that effectively define their target audience and niche, and build the content that’s relevant for those advisors. In fact, given this dynamic, often the “best” practice management conference for advisors to attend is simply the one that is hosted by their current advisor platform. From LPL Focus 2017 to the Commonwealth National Conference and the Raymond James Elevate 2017 event, to TDA LINC, Pershing INSITE, and the Schwab IMPACT 2017 conference, and association or network groups like NAPFA National or the Garrett Planning Network… by definition of the platform itself, the conference will likely have similar advisors with similar needs and at least some content that is relevant for any/all who attend.
Nonetheless, for those who are looking for something new and different in the world of practice management content, two alternatives that stand out are Bob Veres’ Insider’s Forum, and the XY Planning Network national conference (XYPN17).
Bob Veres’ Insider’s Forum
Bob Veres is the publisher of Inside Information, the longest standing (and highly recommended!) newsletter for financial advisors on practice management strategies and trends. And after years of writing about practice management for financial advisors and speaking at conferences, Veres decided to produce his own conference, originally dubbed the “Business and Wealth Management Conference” and now simply titled the “Insider’s Forum”.
The content at Insider’s Forum fits best for independent financial advisors at mid-to-large sized advisory firms (e.g., an “ensemble” firm with at least $2M+ of revenue and often multiple partners) who operate on the AUM model (either as an independent RIA, or a fee-based advisor at a broker-dealer), who often feel as though they've "outgrown" the content at other conferences... given that at these size levels, advisory firms face a unique set of challenges that begin to emerge as the business expands beyond the scope of its original founder, and the business complexity increases dramatically.
Accordingly, Insider’s Forum is uniquely parsed into three tracks of content: the first is specifically for the founders/primary owners/CEOs of larger advisory firms; the second is for the Chief Operating Officers (COO), Operations Managers, and other key staff members who support the execution of the business itself; and the third is for Chief Investment Officers (CIO) and the supporting investment professionals who drive investment decisions at the firm.
Also notable at Insider’s Forum is its “by-invitation-only” exhibit hall, hand-picked by Veres (along with the speakers on all tracks), to ensure appropriateness and relevance of the vendors/solutions for the independent advisory firm attendees.
Who Should Attend: Advisory firm owners and key personnel at “mid-to-large”-sized growth-oriented independent firms (e.g., an “ensemble” firm with at least $2M+ of revenue and multiple owners). Ideal attendees include founders/CEOs, the COO and/or Operations Manager, and the Chief Investment Officer and/or senior members of the investment team (and there are deals/discounts for multiple attendees from a single firm), who feel that they've "outgrown" the content at most other conferences.
Details: September 6th – 8th at the Omni Hotel in Nashville, TN
Cost: $975 for attendees who work at an advisory firm with a $100 discount before March 24, 2017. $595 for each additional firm member. Registration fee for consultants or those not employed by an advisory firm is $1,000. Nerd’s Eye View readers can get a further $75 off at any time using the KITCESBVIF discount code!
Conference Website: Insider’s Forum 2017
XY Planning Network Annual Conference (XYPN17) and FinTech Competition
The XY Planning Network is a turnkey financial planning platform (TFPP) designed to help bring financial planning services to Gen X and Gen Y clients for an affordable monthly fee (i.e., a “monthly retainer” business model) by supporting the (typically Gen X and Gen Y) financial advisors who serve them. And to support its mission, the XY Planning Network conference brings together financial advisors who are currently executing the model (along with those who want to learn how!) to share ideas and best practices with each other.
Accordingly, the XYPN17 conference is especially well suited to financial advisors who are trying to expand their services (or launch a firm from scratch) to serve Gen X and Millennial clients, with sessions focused specifically on the practice management issues of serving young clients profitably, from exactly what the advisors do and don’t deliver to clients in ongoing services, how to structure and price the monthly retainer model, and even ideas for how to earn income from “side hustles” and bridge the income gap when launching a new advisory firm from scratch.
Also notable at the XYPN17 conference is its focus on financial advisor FinTech, given that serving younger clients (who typically have smaller investment accounts and a lower net worth than baby boomers who have had decades to accumulate) must be done efficiently using technology in order to be profitable. As a result, not only is the majority of the exhibit hall at XYPN17 focused on technology providers and consultants for financial advisors (rather than the typical exhibitors from financial services product providers and asset managers), but the conference also hosts its own FinTech competition to celebrate emerging new advisor tech companies developing solutions for advisors. (The inaugural XYPN16 FinTech competition winner was the advisor marketing automation platform Snappy Kraken.)
Given the rapidly growing industrywide interest in serving younger clients, the XYPN conference sold out in its first conference in 2015 (at 175 registrations), and nearly sold out its expanded space with 400 attendees in 2016. The 2017 event in Dallas is expected to draw 600+ and may sell out again, so interested advisors should purchase tickets sooner rather than later!
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 younger clientele.
Details: August 28th – 31st at the Fairmont Hotel in Dallas, TX.
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 February 28th, with a $50 and $100 discount (respectively) for advance purchase by May 31st. Nerd’s Eye View readers can get a further $25 off at any time using KITCES discount code!
Conference Website: XYPN17 And FinTech Competition
Best Conference For SRI Investing: The SRI Conference (formerly SRI In The Rockies)
In 1990, the sustainable investing manager First Affirmative launched one of the first conferences for socially responsible investing (SRI), in the mountains of Colorado. Dubbed “SRI in the Rockies”, it aimed to bring together a wide range of players in the still-nascent world of SRI, from investment managers to product providers to financial advisors.
26 years later, SRI in the Rockies – now simply renamed as “The SRI Conference” – continues to be one of the largest gatherings for financial advisors looking to get more involved with SRI solutions – a growing trend, given everything from demographic trends (as Millennials are widely viewed as being more inclined towards sustainable investing), the announcement that Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan will direct 99% of their wealth to a form of Impact Investing entity dubbed the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and even Morningstar is getting involved with the launch of its new “Morningstar Globe” sustainability ratings for mutual funds and ETFs.
The content at The SRI Conference is a blend of discussion on the trends in sustainable investing itself – from new ways to evaluate companies on their environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors, to new impact investing approaches, and more – and also an opportunity to meet the asset managers that provide SRI investing solutions. As a result, the conference is both helpful for those who want to learn more about SRI investing, those trying to stay on the cutting edge of SRI trends, and financial advisors who perhaps want to add SRI investing solutions for their clients but are trying to figure out what investment solutions, exactly, are appropriate to use, and how to go about actually doing it.
Notably, though, with the overall growth of SRI, there are larger events out there for those who really want to delve even more deeply into sustainable investing, especially RIAs who may be interested in exploring private investing options (beyond just the kinds of market-traded funds you’re likely to find at The SRI Conference). An alternative for those who want to go even deeper would be the SOCAP conference, held every fall in San Francisco (though don’t expect to see very many financial advisors there, except for a few others who are deeply immersed in the sustainable investing space).
Who Should Attend: Financial advisors who want to learn more about SRI investing, and/or are looking for new ideas on how to implement SRI strategies (using widely available funds and asset managers).
Details: November 1st – 3rd at the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego, CA
Cost: $1,095, with a $100 early bird discount (and a $100 late/on-site surcharge for those who don’t register in advance at all). Nerd’s Eye View readers get an additional $200 off with KITCES discount code!
Conference Website: The SRI Conference 2017
Best Value Conference: FPA Minnesota 2017 Annual Symposium
The sheer size of the Financial Planning Association, at 24,000+ members, means that the organization has a substantial volume of members in certain metropolitan areas where financial advisors are concentrated, including northern California, southern California, the mid-Atlantic region of the east coast, and Minneapolis.
While some may not think of Minneapolis as a financial services mecca, the reality is that it actually does have a tremendous density of financial planners, due in no small part to the fact that broker-dealers Ameriprise Financial and Securian Financial are headquartered there, along with other major financial services players like Thrivent Financial, U.S. Bank, and Allianz Life.
As a result of this concentration of advisors, the “local” FPA Minnesota chapter is actually one of the largest in the country, and its Annual Symposium draws a strong representation of national-caliber speakers (with last year’s event featuring IRA guru Ed Slott, and J.P. Morgan’s David Kelly). The two-day event draws over 600 participants, and as a result has outgrown the local hotel options, and instead runs in the Minneapolis Convention Center!
Yet despite its size and scope, the FPA Minneapolis Annual Symposium runs at an incredibly affordable price point. The two-day event, featuring about 14 hours of CFP CE content, runs a mere $569 registration fee, with discounts for being an FPA member (even if not based in Minnesota), and additional early-bird discounts. Even someone completely non-affiliated with the FPA at all can register early for both days of the Symposium for just $469, which is a steal-of-a-deal by financial advisor conference standards.
Notably, though, advisors look for "good value" on CE credits should also look to their local FPA chapter's annual symposium. While the size and length (and quality) of local chapters do vary a bit, most have a very reasonably priced one-day symposium every year (and the cheapest 2-day FPA chapter symposium is FPA Dallas Ft. Worth, which last year was an astonishingly affordable $185 for FPA members registering early!).
Who Should Attend: Financial advisors who are looking for an in-person conference of good quality and a good price to catch up on and knock out their CFP CE requirements for the year.
Details: October 16th and 17th, at the Minneapolis Convention Center
Cost: $579, with a $100 advance registration discount by September 15th, and a further $100 discount if you’re a member of an FPA chapter (registration should open by the end of April). Nerd’s Eye View readers get an additional $25 off with KITCES25OFF discount code!
Conference Website: FPA Minnesota 2017 Annual Symposium
Best Conference For Advisor Digital Marketing (Blogging & Social Media): FinCon 2017
The latest 2016 Putnam Social Advisor survey shows that financial advisor use of social media and blogging is finally starting to gain traction, not just in terms of adoption, but actually driving favorable business development results. Yet despite the rising success of digital marketing strategies for financial advisors, most conferences are still weak in providing speakers and sessions that discuss best practices and the path to success.
For instance, financial advisors could go to broad-based digital marketing conferences like Social Media Marketing World, or a financial blogging conference like FinCon (for personal finance bloggers who write directly for consumers), but unfortunately those events aren’t cognizant of nor sensitive to the real-world compliance constraints that financial advisors face when engaging in digital marketing.
It was in this vein that the first Advisor Symposium on Social Media and Blogging was launched in 2015, in conjunction with FinCon, but as a separate track specifically created by financial advisors, for financial advisors.
And after two years of success, the Advisor Track at FinCon is now gaining traction as the best place for financial advisors to go if they want to get up to speed on what actually works when trying to market to prospective clients online, from blogging tools and social media strategies, to the benefits of podcasting and doing webinars, along with the best tools to use to actually achieve results.
Who Should Attend: Financial advisors who are looking to get started with blogging and social media and want to scale up their digital marketing efforts, or those who have already started down the path and are looking to share ideas and best practices with others doing the same!
Details: October 25th to 28th at the Sheraton Dallas Hotel in Dallas, TX
Cost: $469, with a deep early bird discount of $270 off for those who register by November 1st of 2016, plus Nerd’s Eye View readers get an additional $10 off with KITCES17 discount code!
Conference Website: FinCon 2017
Best Conference For Non-US Financial Advisors: FPA Annual Conference 2017
This fall, the number of CFP certificants in the US crossed 75,000, but that’s still not even half of the 162,000+ CFP professionals worldwide. Yet given that the US still has the greatest concentration of financial planners, many others from around the world visit the US from time to time, to gain better perspective on the trends here – from business models to regulation to advisor technology – and consider how they may translate back to other countries.
Accordingly, I’m often asked by financial advisors outside the US what the best conference is to attend in order to get the best view of what’s happening here in the US. To which I can only answer: the FPA Annual Conference, the “Big Show” in financial planning.
Not only is the FPA Annual Conference (formerly, "FPA BE") the largest independent gathering of financial planning professionals, but the FPA’s business-model-neutral stance helps to bring a fairly broad cross-section of different types of financial advisors, from those working in independent channels (from RIAs to independent B/Ds), to those in large firm environments (wirehouses, insurance companies, and banks).
Ironically, the FPA has struggled to grow its US attendance at the event for years, especially as other conferences (including many listed here) have used their specializations to chip away at the FPA’s core audience. As a result, the FPA Annual Conference in total is still barely half the size it was 8 years ago. Nonetheless, its turnout seems to have stabilized in recent years around 1,500 to 2,000, which is actually quite a sizable event, and will still be larger than anything except a handful of major firms events (e.g., Schwab IMPACT or LPL FOCUS 2017) which don’t necessarily have the depth of financial planning or breadth of participants that FPA Annual does.
For non-US advisors who have attended FPA BE in the past, and are looking for something new or different, consider alternative association events like NAPFA National, or some of the dedicated practice management events discussed earlier.
Who Should Attend: Non-US-based financial advisors who want perspective on the financial planning industry and trends in the US, and are seeking the opportunity to network with leading US advisors and firms (many of whom are typically in attendance at FPA Annual).
Details: October 2nd to 4th at the Nashville Convention Center in Nashville, TN
Cost: $1,099 for FPA members ($1,299 for non-members), with a $200 advance discount and another $100 super early bird discount. Nerd’s Eye View readers get an additional $150 off the lowest available rate by using the discount code KTCAC17 when registering on the FPA website. (Note: one discount code per person, if you have several!)
Conference Website: FPA Annual Conference 2017
Best Private Wealth Management Conference: IMCA Private Wealth Advisor 2017
As more and more financial advisors in recent years have become financial planners, those who were financial planners are now migrating towards new labels like “wealth managers” instead. However, IMCA makes the case that there is still a substantive difference between financial planning and private wealth management. The distinction is that financial planning is a broad-based framework of providing financial advice to help people achieve their financial goals, while private wealth management is specifically focused on the needs of very high net worth clients (e.g., $5M+ of net worth), who have unique private-wealth-related challenges (from estate tax issues to complex investment situations to sophisticated charitable planning strategies, and a whole host of issues pertaining to large privately-held family businesses).
And accordingly, the IMCA Private Wealth Advisor (PWA) conference is designed specifically to support financial advisors (whether at wirehouses, independent RIAs, trust companies, or multi-family offices) who are working with those types of ultra-high-net-worth clientele, where issues like navigating large employee stock option and restricted stock positions and engaging in GRAT and IDGT strategies are a real challenge and opportunity, along with “softer” issues like guiding the ultra-wealthy on how to raise financially responsible children so they’re not spoiled (in a world where there’s enough money for them that they don’t “have to” be financially responsible) and navigating the family dynamics of trying to keep a multi-generational business intact.
For those who have obtained IMCA’s Certified Private Wealth Advisor (CPWA) or CIMA certifications, the IMCA PWA conference is also a nice opportunity to get the requisite IMCA continuing education credits, too. (Sessions are also available for CFP CE credits as well.)
Who Should Attend: Financial advisors who work with ultra high net worth clientele (e.g., $5M+ and ideally $10M+ of net worth), whether from wirehouses, independent RIAs, trust companies, or multi-family offices, who are looking for either relevant tax/estate/investment strategies for clients, or ideas on how to better manage complex ultra-high-net-worth relationships.
Details: October 16th to 17th at the Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile in Chicago, IL
Cost: TBD, but last year was $1,345 for non-IMCA members and $895 for IMCA members, with an early-bird discount of $100, and Nerd’s Eye View readers can get an additional discount at registration (2017 discount code still pending).
Conference Website: IMCA Private Wealth Advisor (PWA) 2017
So what do you plan to attend? Do you have any conference favorites that I didn’t include in the list? Please speak up in the comment 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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