It was Benjamin Franklin who once famously quipped “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest”. The caveat, however, is that like any investment, it’s still important to do your due diligence in researching whether any particular allocation of dollars will be a good investment. And with the proliferation of financial advisor conferences in recent years, it has become more and more difficult to figure out which events are most likely to actually provide a good “Return On Investment” (ROI) in fruitful knowledge that advances your success as an advisor. Even if it often takes just one good takeaway from a conference that can be implemented to make the whole trip worthwhile.
The matter is further complicated by the fact that advisory firms themselves are evolving in an ever-wider range of directions, with small, mid-sized, and large firms, independents versus employee advisors, RIAs versus broker-dealers, and an ever-growing range of niche specializations… which means an objectively ‘good’ conference may be the absolute ‘best’ conference for one advisory firm (or one advisor within a firm)… yet be totally irrelevant for another.
As someone that has been speaking at nearly 70 conferences a year for almost a decade myself, I’ve seen the good and bad of our various industry events, which are spread across membership associations, broker-dealers, insurance companies, RIA custodians, product manufacturers, trade publications, private events, and more. And as a result, I am often asked for my own suggestions of what, really, are the industry’s ‘best’ conferences to attend.
Accordingly, back in 2012, I started to craft my own annual list of ’best-in-class’ top conferences for financial advisors in various categories (to allow advisors to match the available conference specialties to their own needs), and have updated it every year since, in what has become one of our most popular annual articles.
And so now, I’m excited to present my newest list of “Top Financial Advisor Conferences” for the upcoming 2020 year, broken into 5 broad categories: Go Home (to your broker-dealer, RIA custodian, or network conference); Go Local (to network at your membership association's local chapter meetings); Go Scale (whether it’s making your big advisory firm bigger, or your lifestyle practice more efficient); Go Specialize (in the various industry niche conferences for those cultivating deep subject matter expertise); or Go Broad (to one of the major regional or national association conferences).
In addition, we've also launched a new "Master Conference List" of all financial advisor conferences in 2020, for both advisors looking for a wider range of events to attend, and vendors looking for more conferences to exhibit at!
So I hope you find this year’s 2020 conferences list (and our new Master Conference 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!
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 2020” 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 new comprehensive master list of all financial advisor conferences, along with the earlier years’ Best Advisor Conference lists (noted above). There are also many opportunities to exhibit at various FPA chapters, some of which have a sizable (150+) attendance at annual chapter symposia. For those seeking further assistance, I have limited availability to consult directly with companies on distribution and go-to-market strategies to reach financial advisors as well.
Go Home (To Your Broker-Dealer/Custodian/Network Community)
Virtually all financial advisors are part of some advisor community. Most commonly, it is the platform – the broker-dealer or RIA custodian – on which our advisory firms build. For more independent advisors – and particularly those who operate fee-only and especially ‘advice-only’ businesses, where there may be no broker-dealer or custodial platform – that community may be their network or membership association for other similar-minded independent advisors. But in the end, whatever the advisor’s business model, there are always some other advisors out there who have a similar approach, often predicated on similar beliefs and attitudes about how clients should be served – the very essence of what constitutes a ‘community’ – with whom there’s an opportunity to connect and share best practices.
Accordingly, one of the best ways for advisors and their firms to invest in themselves is to “Go Home” to their community – because communities always have some location where the community gathers and comes together, most commonly (at least in the advisor industry) in the form of an annual conference, from LPL Focus to Cambridge Ignite, Schwab IMPACT to TD Ameritrade’s LINC, NAPFA National to XYPN LIVE.
Beyond an opportunity to connect with fellow advisors who often share similar business challenges (as advisors on similar platforms tend to have similar business models and face similar struggles) from whom you can learn, attending your community’s annual conference is also an opportunity to connect with the home office staff, learn about the latest/new enhancements that are inevitably announced at such annual events, and get training on how to better leverage those shared systems for business efficiencies. In addition to whatever practice management and advanced educational content is on the agenda.
Thus, a good starting point for every advisory firm looking for conferences to attend is to “Go Home” to their platform’s annual event every year, or at least every other year. For some advisory firms, the designated attendee rotates periodically (from one advisor or partner to another), while others have a certain person who attends annually (while others attend other conferences for ideas), and still others simply make their annual conference an annual pilgrimage.
The key point, though, is that even if your platform’s annual conference doesn’t always have an ideal agenda for the needs of your business – in reality, some organizations are better than others at putting together a compelling agenda – it’s still worthwhile to attend at least every other year, both to hear from the leadership of the platform on which your business depends, to learn more about the tools and systems the platform offers (and how to better leverage them), and ‘at worst’ to skip all the sessions and simply spend time connecting with and learning from other advisors who share a similar business model and may be able to share perspectives and ideas of how they overcome challenges that may be similar to those you face in your business.
Simply put, every advisor should be a part of their community and engage in that community from time to time. (And if you don’t feel a connection with your community, recognize that’s one of the biggest indicators that it may be time to switch platforms and find a new community that’s a better fit, with whom you’re proud to associate!)
Who Should Attend: Financial advisors who want to learn how to use their platform and core systems more efficiently, and spend time connecting with a community of advisors who share similar business and/or career challenges.
Details: Varies throughout the year depending on your broker-dealer/RIA custodian/network’s event(s).
Cost: Varies by event, but typically $500 - $1,000 for registration, plus travel expenses (airfare and 2-3 nights of hotel accommodations).
Go Local (To Network At Your Membership Association’s Local Chapter Meetings)
While the primary benefit of “Going Home” to your platform event is to connect with your community of like-minded similar-business advisors, the benefit of “Going Local” is to network with others who are different than you, with whom you may be able to develop a constructive business relationship. In other words, ‘community’ is about connecting with fellow advisors like you, while ‘networking’ is about meeting those outside your home community (with whom you might work with in some capacity or another in the future).
Local networking within a membership association can take on many different forms, some of which are guided by the nature of the organization itself. Some, like the Society of Financial Services Professionals (SFSP) or the National Association of Estate Planners & Councils are specifically designed to be ‘multi-disciplinary’, with a wide range of professionals that interact, from accountants to attorneys, trust officers to insurance agents, as well as a wide range of financial advisors. Others are more advisor-centric, like the Financial Planning Association or NAPFA, but still encompass a wide range of different types of advisors, with firms of different sizes, potentially different business models, and often with different types of target clientele.
In practice, advisors often network locally for a number of different reasons, depending on their own priorities of the business or their careers, including: finding new job opportunities that might be available at another firm; finding new platforms to affiliate with if there’s a desire to switch to another advisor platform; finding other advisors to whom the advisor can refer clients who are not a good fit (e.g., those with more specialized needs, or who don’t meet the firm’s minimums); finding affiliated professionals with whom the advisor can work with collaboratively, and/or generate a cross-referral relationship; or finding potential advisory firms that might be acquired, merged, or ‘tucked in’.
The key point, though, is that local networking can ultimately become the biggest driver for everything from finding affiliated professionals with whom you can partner to grow your business and/or service clients better, to finding other advisors with whom you can partner directly to form a newer/bigger/better business (or to employ in the business, or to become employed by in their business). To the extent that most advisors still work for firms that have a local presence, with local professionals, serving local clients, being engaged in the local membership associations can be the best route to finding those opportunities.
And ideally, don’t just show up and ask for opportunities. Volunteer and engage with the organizations, which is how the deepest relationships form, and which can eventually turn into business opportunities in the future.
Who Should Attend: All financial advisors, whether in an owner or employee capacity, as you never know when you may need to rely on your networking connections to find or capitalize on an opportunity!
Details: Membership associations vary in their depth of local resources, but the most popular financial advisor organizations that have at least some local chapter structure include:
Go Scale (Improve Your Business Efficiency Or Personal Productivity)
Scalability is variously defined as “the capability of a system to perform well under an increased or expanding workload” or more simply as “growing or expanding in a proportional [and usually profitable] way”. In essence, ‘scaling’ a business is about figuring out how to do what you do with ever-greater efficiency, to ensure that future growth doesn’t drown you. Or sometimes in the case of advisory firms that have already grown, how to ‘un-drown’ the business owner who may have already grown past their capacity!
However, the caveat of improving business scalability is that the needs (and capacity blocking points) of advisory firms vary greatly depending on the firm’s business model, and its overall size in the first place. For large advisory firms, the challenges may focus on refining the company’s governance and organizational chart, building a leadership pipeline, and efficiently deploying its technology resources. For mid-sized advisory firms, the challenges are more commonly focused on building infrastructure and expanding capacity to serve more clients. For smaller or ‘solo’ advisory firms, the bottleneck is often the personal productivity of advisors themselves, and refining what the firm does (and who it does that work for) to better focus his/her time and effort to generate better results.
Accordingly, when it comes to the category of conferences to “Go Scale” your advisory firm or personal career success, the best conference to attend depends heavily on the size and pain point of the advisor and his/her business or job role in the first case. Thus, conferences in “Go Scale” are categorized by advisory firm size and business role.
Be A More Productive Solo Advisor: Strategic Coach
Yet the challenge of having an advisory business with such high retention rates is that, if the advisors stick 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 determine 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 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 or solo advisors within a firm 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
Refine Your Lifestyle Practice (Control The Business So It Doesn’t Control You): Limitless Adviser
However, most solo advisors, unfortunately, 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 advisor coaching firm) asked successful coaching client 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 dubbed “Limitless Adviser”. In 2020, Limitless is expanding to a faculty model with the addition of Carl Richards, Seth Streeter, and others, as well as Limitless Adviser alumni to share their own journey and successes.
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, similar to the Strategic Coach, 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 other members of the Limitless Adviser faculty (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 ‘hows’ to apply the teachings, an Advisor Forum to ask further questions (with set Office Hours to access Stephanie’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 up to $1,000,000 of revenue who feel stuck in their practice, who may be financially successful but 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 a personal commitment to change.
Details: There are two retreats. The first will be held March 16-18 in New Orleans, LA and the second will be in September (exact dates TBD) in Denver, CO. The program also includes live calls with faculty members throughout the year.
Cost: Tuition is $15,000. Nerd's Eye View readers are eligible for a discounted rate of $12,500.
Conference Website: Limitless Adviser
Transitioning From A Lifestyle Practice To A (Multi-Advisor) Business: Carson Excell 2020
In 2018, though, the Carson Group announced that it would open up the Excell conference to any/all advisors who wanted 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 but want to keep growing, 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, the conference itself is effectively still a soft pitch for their Executive Coaching service (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, with a desire and intention to grow the practice beyond themselves. Given the dual-track nature of Excell, advisors should consider bringing their support staff/executive assistant/operations manager as well.
Details: May 26-28 at The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, NV.
Conference Website: Carson Group Excell 2020
Learning To Better Run A Mid- To Large-Sized Independent Advisory Firm: Bob Veres’ Insider’s Forum 2020
Similar to Carson’s Excell conference, Veres’ Insider’s Forum features separate conference tracks for advisors and their staff members. However, since the typical attendee at Insider’s Forum is a mid-to-large sized independent advisory firm (e.g., ‘ensemble’ firms that have at least $2M of revenue, 3+ advisors, and 10+ staff, including firms with $10M+ of revenue and 40+ staff) which has more specialized roles, so too are the Insider’s Forum tracks more specialized, with one for advisory firm owners and executive leaders (e.g., Founders, CEOs, etc.), and a second for operations leaders (e.g., Chief Operating Officers, Operations Managers, etc.). The former covers topics like succession planning, establishing employee compensation plans, and alternative fee models, while the latter includes sessions on topics like cybersecurity, implementing technology tools for operational efficiencies, and tracking business metrics.
Also notable at Insider’s Forum is its invitation-only exhibit hall, where vendors are hand-picked by Veres (who also personally selects and vets 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, either as an independent RIA or under an independent B/D). Ideal attendees include founders/partners, CEOs, and COOs and Operations Managers.
Details: October 14–16 at the JW Marriott Hotel in Austin, TX.
Cost: $995 without discounts for the first registrant from a firm and $795 for additional firm registrants. Super early bird price is $925 and ends on March 27, 2020 ($725 for additional registrants). Early bird pricing is $960 and ends on July 17, 2020 ($760 for additional registrants). Nerd’s Eye View blog subscribers can also receive a $75 discount with discount code KITCESBVIF. (Not stackable with Inside Information subscriber discount.)
Conference Website: Bob Veres’ Insider’s Forum 2020
Developing Your Team And Client Service Offering: AICPA PFP Summit 2020
In this context, the upcoming agenda of the AICPA’s PFP Summit is unique in being specifically targeted to advisory firms that are focusing on the questions like “how to build a team of next-generation talent”, “how to better refine your client service offering”, and “how to create a growth culture inside a client-service-centric firm” (i.e., those firms that are great at client service but struggling with growth because their advisors would rather provide more service to existing clients than actually try to get any new ones!).
Notably, the format of the AICPA PFP Summit is unique as well in its design to dig deeper, with a number of workshop-style sessions that run 90-120 minutes (instead of the traditional 50-minute ‘quick hits’ at most CE-oriented conferences), with ample time for afternoon/early evening networking activities to facilitate connections with other attendees (ostensibly fellow advisory firm business owners facing similar challenges!).
For those who may have attended the AICPA’s PFP Conference every January in the past – a 2.5-day technical content extravaganza 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 100 – 200 advisors or so.
Who Should Attend: Experienced advisory firm owners with $500k to $5M of revenue, managing a team of 3-15, who want to figure out how to better attract, retain, and develop the talent they need to grow their firm, and how to refine the services they provide to their clients.
Details: January 27–29 (with a pre-event reception on Sunday, January 26) at the Palisades West in Austin, TX.
Cost: $1,695 for non-members of AICPA, and $1,295 for members. A $100 early bird discount is available through December 13, 2019. Nerd’s Eye View readers can receive an additional $125 off with the KITCESPFP discount code!
Conference Website: AICPA PFP Summit 2020
Expanding Or Shifting To Serve Next Generation Clients: XYPN LIVE 2020
The ‘solution’ for most firms has been to take on an increasing focus in serving ‘next generation’ clients instead… only to discover that Gen X and Gen Y clients don’t fit an AUM model very well (given that they may have the financial wherewithal to pay for advice but often simply don’t have available liquid assets to manage), and have substantively different advice needs (focused around student loan planning, career planning, cash flow and budgeting challenges, etc.). As a result, most firms trying to adapt their business and service models to reach next-generation clients have struggled to do so.
By contrast, the XY Planning Network is a turnkey financial planning platform created specifically to support financial advisors who want to deliver financial planning to Gen X and Gen Y clients, built around a unique monthly subscription fee (i.e., a “monthly retainer”) business model to serve that clientele. 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 2020 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 2020 conference is its (5th annual) FinTech Competition, 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), Vestwell (which also just raised venture capital a month after its FinTech Competition victory), Mineral Interactive (acquired by Carson Wealth), and Holistiplan tax planning software.
The XYPN LIVE conference is also unique for its exhibit hall, which features an unusually wide host of nearly 100 financial advisor technology solutions and practice management consultants (i.e., solutions for advisors), with fewer than 20% of exhibitors directly related to insurance or investment products (i.e., solutions not for advisors but targeted at their clients’ money instead).
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: October 10–13 at the Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel in Denver, CO.
Cost: $324 for XYPN members and students, and $549 for non-members. A $100 member/student and $200 non-member “Earlier Bird” discount is available through December 31, 2019; a $50 member/student and $100 non-member “Early Bird” discount is available through April 30, 2020; and a $25 member/student and $50 non-member “Better Late Than Never” discount is available through September 10, 2020. Nerd’s Eye View readers can get a further $25 off at any time using KITCES discount code!
Conference Website: XYPN LIVE 2020
Developing Your Next Generation (G2) Leaders: G2 Leadership Institute
The caveat, though, is that creating an advisory business that lasts beyond the founder isn’t just about creating ‘transferrable value’ in being able to transition clients away from the founder/original advisor to the next. It’s also that by the time an advisory firm is ready to be transitioned as the founder retires, it’s a complex business, often including multiple advisors and other team members (or potentially entire departments)… and while the founder may have grown and developed to the point of being able to manage such an enterprise over 10, 20, or 30 years of his/her career, the next generation of leadership has to learn to manage a business with significant complexity in a far shorter period of time (often ‘just’ 5-10 years by the time they ‘make partner’ and are expected to take over leadership of the firm).
Notably, though, the G2 Leadership Institute isn’t simply a conference… it’s actually an entire 2-year leadership development program, with a series of four in-person meetings, monthly calls, and WebEx meetings, where the G2 leaders actually take on a leadership role in a hypothetical firm and have to navigate business ‘simulations’ with real-world issues like a key advisor leaving, managing the firm through a market pullback, presenting to the firm’s Board of Directors, and rolling out a key new project initiative within the advisory firm.
In essence, for next-generation leaders who haven’t necessarily had the time to cultivate extensive business experience in running and leading a sizable advisory firm, the G2 Leadership Institute provides ‘real-world’ business simulations to supplement and turbocharge that leadership experience, with highly experienced coaches and consultants who can provide critical feedback and mentoring along the way.
Who Should Attend: Key advisory firm employees who are already in positions of management and making resource decisions who are or will soon be in positions of executive leadership within their firm (regardless of whether they have an advisory role), and want to better prepare (and invest in themselves) to climb to the next level of leadership.
Details: Registration for the Class of 2021 is currently underway. The 2-year program will kick off in January 2020 in Austin, TX.
Cost: $5,000 for Fidelity financial advisors (and $6,000 for non-Fidelity advisors), with no Early Bird discount. However, Nerd’s Eye View readers get $80 off with the discount code KITCES up through August 1st!
Conference Website: Ensemble Practice G2 Leadership Institute
Learning How To Buy (Or Sell) An Advisory Firm: ECHELON Deals & Dealmakers Summit 2020
In turn, the rise of advisory firm deal-making 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” annual conference in 2013, both to provide a forum for the leading acquirers (and consultants and platforms that work with them) and 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) is all on acquirers themselves, 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). For those looking to sell in the future, the conference offers an interesting perspective on how buyers might be looking at the deal (but prepare to be outflanked by prospective buyers on all sides!).
Who Should Attend: Advisory firm owners involved in acquiring other advisory firms (or who would like to be), who want to understand M&A trends and best practices, and who also want to 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 perspectives on what buyers want (if planning for a future sale).
Details: September 8 - 9 at the Resort at Pelican Hill in Newport Beach, CA.
Cost: Coming soon (2020 cost is expected to be $995 for advisors and $1,495 for non-advisors).
Conference Website: ECHELON Deals & Dealmakers Summit
Find New Advisor Technology Solutions: Technology Tools For Today (T3) Advisor Conference
Functionally, though, the T3 conference operates less as a ‘conference’ and more as a ‘trade show’ – an exhibition-style event where advisor technology companies come to demo their latest wares and new or coming features. As a result, while there is an agenda of conference sessions, many are simply designed to allow companies to showcase their software… which isn’t seen as ‘selling out’ the session to a sponsor, but the whole point of the trade-show-style session in the first place.
Accordingly, the event is very well covered by the industry media and independent consultants, and many companies time major software or product releases to announce at T3, from the launch of Riskalyze Premier and its Autopilot Partner Store in 2017 to the emX release from eMoneyAdvisor and the newest Morningstar Office Cloud solution… along with many companies that make their formal debut at T3 (including CRM provider Wealthbox, advisor PFM portal WealthAccess, portfolio risk analytics tool RiXtrema, compliance software provider RIA In A Box, and ‘second generation’ FinTech entrepreneur endeavors like Edmond Walters’ Apprise Labs and Oleg Tishkevich’s Invent.us).
Thus, the T3 advisor conference should be viewed as the best way to take in the entire landscape of the advisor technology ecosystem. Which is valuable both for financial advisors who are ‘shopping’ for new solutions – especially those making a transition to a more independent model, and trying to understand what may be available to them – as well as those who simply want to stay cutting edge and see the latest tools coming to the market. Many advisory firms simply come back to the T3 Advisor conference every 2-3 years just to stay abreast of what’s changing… while larger enterprises may attend annually in search of whatever new solutions are available to bring a little more efficiency to a more scaled advice firm.
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 and its next-generation-advisor exhibit hall.
Nonetheless, the T3 conference is valuable for most vendors, both for the opportunity to gain at least some advisor users and introductions to some enterprise buyers who show up at the Advisor conference in addition to the fall Enterprise version of the event… and it also simply provides a chance to network with industry media and advisor tech pundits for visibility, and to establish relationships with other tech vendors that might be future integration partners (or even future strategic acquirers!).
Who Should Attend: Independent advisory firm owners (or those looking to go independent), and/or staff members in the advisory firm responsible for technology decisions. Companies looking to provide tech solutions for advisors should also aim to attend, both to showcase their solutions to the media and consultants, and also for networking opportunities (and perhaps a few advisor user sign-ups as well).
Details: February 17 – 20 at the Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina in San Diego, CA.
Cost: $799, discounted to $599 ($200 off) for early bird registration ending November 30, 2019, or $699 for advance registration ending February 20, 2020. Nerd’s Eye View readers get an additional $100 off with KITCES discount code!
Conference Website: T3 Advisor Technology Conference 2020
Go Specialize (Deepen Your Technical Expertise In A Focused Manner To Better Differentiate)
As technology has increasingly commoditized portfolio asset allocation, and more generally the distribution of investment products themselves (as ‘anyone’ can now buy their mutual funds and ETFs themselves via any number of online brokerage firms), advisory firms have been increasingly compelled to ‘add more value’ in the form of delivering more and deeper personal financial planning advice, and driving the rapid growth of CFP certificants. To the point that today, the majority of all advisors differentiate by their ability to understand and customize solutions to the needs of their individual clients… which, when offered by the majority of all advisors, is by definition no longer a differentiator!
This emergent “Crisis Of Differentiation” is in turn driving more and more advisory firms towards forming niches and specializations, so that the firm can truly differentiate (and also get more efficient) with a more unique and customized solution for the needs of their specific target clientele. Leading to the rise of increasingly specialized “post-CFP” designations and certifications, and entire specialized conferences to help confer those more specialized bodies of knowledge to advisors.
Accordingly, when it comes to the category of conferences to “Go Specialize”, the key factor is not the size or stage of the advisory firm, but the particular type of knowledge specialization itself that the advisor wants to delve deeper into. Thus, conferences in “Go Specialize” are specifically categorized by the nature of the subject matter expertise they cover.
Best Conference For Retirement Planning: IWI’s Retirement Management Forum
Accordingly, there have not only been a growing number of retirement-centric designations in recent years, from the RICP to the CRC and the RMA, but also a number of specialized retirement planning conferences have been cropping up as well. Most have been delivered by trade publications, which pursued niche conferences – from Financial Advisor magazine’s “Inside Retirement” conference to Investment News’ Retirement Income Summit – as a way to differentiate and attract advisors away from the more ‘generalist’ conferences of the various financial advisor membership associations. But in 2018, the Investments and Wealth Institute (IWI, formerly IMCA) acquired the Retirement Management Advisor (RMA) designation from the Retirement Income Industry Association and has now announced a new “Retirement Management Forum” (RMF) conference to complement its newly acquired designation.
And just as IWI has a long-standing history of conducting some of the industry’s better conferences, including an investment-oriented annual conference in the spring and a separate private wealth management event in the fall, the new Retirement Management Forum conference provides IWI’s usual blend of both practitioners and academics providing advanced educational content, with a purely education-driven agenda (unlike most ‘competitors’ that still include a mixture of educational and sponsored sessions)… but all deeply focused around advanced retirement planning topics.
Who Should Attend: Advisors who specialize in retirement planning, or would like to move in that direction in the coming years and want advanced educational content on retirement planning issues.
Details: December 7–8, 2020 at The Diplomat Beach Resort in Hollywood, FL.
Cost: $895 for IWI members, and $1,095 for non-members who are willing to become members with a “Join & Go” pass. $1,345 for non-members. $100 off for early bird registration by November 6, 2020.
Conference Website: IWI 2020 Retirement Management Forum
Best Conference For SRI/ESG Investing: The SRI Conference (formerly SRI In The Rockies)
And for financial advisors who are involved in such SRI/ESG investing, or especially those who want to learn more, the longest-standing conference on the subject is “SRI in the Rockies”, sponsored by sustainable-investing-manager First Affirmative, and now simply known as “The SRI Conference”.
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 SRI 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.
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: Coming soon (2020 conference will be in November in Orlando, FL).
Cost: Coming soon. Nerd’s Eye View readers get an additional 30% off with KITCES discount code for the 2019 conference!
Conference Website: The SRI Conference 2020
Best Conference for Advanced Estate Planning: Heckerling Institute
At the same time, the dearth of estate tax planning opportunities for estate planning attorneys themselves is leading to a shift in the entire nature and focus of estate planning itself, which today is less and less about reducing estate tax exposure, and more and more about either the income tax planning opportunities in estate planning (i.e., how to maximize step-up in basis at death), as well as the asset protection strategies that can be implemented as part of an estate plan.
And for those who want to keep up on the latest in sophisticated estate planning strategies – from tax planning to asset protection – with a particular focus on the subset of ultra-high-net-worth clientele for whom such planning is still relevant, the Heckerling Institute is the conference of choice. The event typically features a true all-star lineup of the leading speakers (and practitioners) in advanced estate planning, 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!
Who Should Attend: Financial planners who have a niche/specialization around (advanced) 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 13 – 17 at the Orlando World Center Marriott Resort and Convention Center in Orlando, FL.
Conference Website: Heckerling Institute 2020
Best Conference For Deepening Fiduciary Specialization For Retirement Plans: Fi360
And the leading organization providing training to advisors about how to fulfill their fiduciary duties to plan sponsors (or help train plan sponsors how to better do it themselves) is Fi360, which started in 1999 as the Center for Fiduciary Studies, and provides both education around the fiduciary standard of care and how to implement it, offers a fiduciary toolkit for financial advisors, and teaches the Accredited Investment Fiduciary (AIF) designation as well.
Accordingly, the annual Fi360 conference has long been the leading event that gathers together practitioners focused on best practices in actually executing the fiduciary duty. And while historically that education and implementation has been focused around qualified plans, arguably the content is relevant to an ever-wider range of advisors as more and more regulatory action suggests that the future for all financial advisors may inevitably be fiduciary.
Who Should Attend: Financial advisors who specialize in working with qualified plans as fiduciaries (or want to learn to do so), or those who generally want to deepen their knowledge of real processes and systems to fulfill their fiduciary duty.
Details: May 17 – 19 at the JW Marriott in Austin, TX.
Cost: $1,195. Super early bird discount of $200 if registered by December 7, 2019, or $100 early bird discount by February 29th of 2020. Additional $200 discount for advisors who already use Fi360 solutions. $195 for attendee guests (allows attendance at evening receptions only).
Conference Website: Fi360 2020
Best Conference For Executive Compensation And Stock Option Planning: MyStockOptions Planning For Public Company Executives
At the same time, the rise of the internet made the once specialized knowledge of advisors who worked with executives more accessible to the end client directly, through sites like MyStockOptions.com and MyNQDC.com, providing educational resources and even stock option tracking and modeling Tools.
However, the reality is that not all executives want to do their own planning around their stock options, restricted stock, and non-qualified deferred compensation, even when the requisite information and tools are made available directly online. At the same time, the rise of specialized content sites like MyStockOptions and MyNQDC became a resource for financial advisors themselves, seeking more educational information about how to serve their clients, launching a ‘Pro’ version specifically for advisors.
Accordingly, in 2018 Bruce Brumberg, the founder of MyStockOptions and MyNQDC, decided to launch a one-day conference for financial advisors who do planning for public company executives. Now entering its third year in 2020, the event provides a deep dive into both the complex investment decisions themselves, the legal rules and SEC regulations that must be complied with, both income and estate planning issues with executive compensation, and the industry trends in executive compensation itself that advisors need to know to work with this specialized clientele.
Among the new features for the 2020 conference is a half-day Stock Compensation Bootcamp for Advisors the afternoon before the one-day conference.
Who Should Attend: Financial advisors who specialize in working with executives of publicly traded companies, or those who want to begin developing the unique expertise in order to do so.
Details: June 15 - 16 at the Hilton San Francisco Airport Bayfront in San Francisco, CA.
Cost: Early-bird discount pricing is available until April 20, 2020.
- Combined Conference & Stock Comp Bootcamp: $1,490 (regular $2,190)
- Conference Only: $995 (regular $1,295)
- Bootcamp Only: $695 (regular $895)
Conference Website: MyStockOptions Planning For Public Company Executives & Key Employees
Go Broad (With A Single National Conference That Covers It All)
For many advisors, there’s not one singular purpose or topic to target when attending a conference. It may not be to deepen a particular specialization, or to clear a specific business challenge. Sometimes, the whole point is simply to be exposed to a wide range of content and ideas, and to see if something comes forward to inspire them in the business or their work with clients… perhaps in the process of trying to ‘check the box’ to satisfy an annual CE requirement as well.
The caveat, though, is that there are very few conferences that are good at trying to be ‘everything for everyone’, and that carry both a breadth of content and still maintain the depth of quality in each area or track. And the stakes are often high, as such regional or National conferences tend to be more expensive – often $1,000+ in registration fees, plus the cost of airfare and several nights in a hotel – in addition to the lost productivity of taking several days out of the office.
Fortunately, there are a few conferences that have emerged over the years as consistently delivering a wide breadth of high-quality content, for those who do want to Go Broad, with some tilting towards a broad range of more ‘technical’ content (i.e., advanced educational content in the various principal knowledge topics of CFP certification), others that cover the full gamut of technical and practice management content, and some that are more cost-effective for advisors who want to Go Broad but are still trying to do so on a budget.
Best Advanced Educational Conference: AICPA ENGAGE 2020 (Formerly AICPA PFP)
By contrast, most of the AICPA’s Personal Financial Planning (PFP) section members are already CPAs, and by virtue of having already completed a Master’s in Accounting and the rigorous educational and exam requirements to receive the CPA license, their typical member tends to have a higher caliber and depth of technical knowledge. Which in turn results in the AICPA PFP annual conference having a much deeper level of content for advanced practitioners (though a CPA license is not required to register or participate).
Over the span of 3 days, the PFP section of the AICPA ENGAGE conference runs 5 intensive tracks – Retirement, Investments, Tax/Wealth Management, Risk Management, and Practice Management – with a full-day agenda that starts with 7AM breakfast sessions and runs until 6PM in the early evening, allowing the event to cram in a whopping 20+ hours of CE content.
In addition, the 2017 consolidation of the PFP conference into the broader multi-section AICPA ENGAGE conference also brought two other advanced conferences under the umbrella that may be relevant to advisors – Advanced Estate Planning, and Tax Strategies for High-Income Individuals. Consequently, in addition to registering for the AICPA PFP conference tracks, advisors will also have the option to register for ‘crossover’ sessions at the Advanced Estate conference (which runs concurrently on the same 3 days), and/or add one more day onto the event (the 4-day pass) to gain access to the Tax Strategies conference as well (which runs on the 2nd and 3rd days of PFP, plus a 4th day of its own).
Unfortunately, the fact that the AICPA PFP conference is just one small slice of a much-larger ENGAGE conference – including events for auditors and corporate financiers that have little relevance for advisors – means that it’s difficult to connect with other financial advisors (as AICPA ENGAGE overall draws more than 3,000 attendees, the majority of which are CPAs participating in other non-financial-advisor tracks), and as a result the networking and community experience suffers.
Nonetheless, for advisors who just want to put the blinders on and focus on advanced educational content, the AICPA ENGAGE conference consistently delivers.
Who Should Attend: Financial planners who already have CFP certification (or a similar educational designation, or a Master’s in Financial Planning) who don’t really care about networking and are simply looking for more advanced conference content that really digs deeper. This conference is best for advisors in a technical support (e.g., central planning department, paraplanner/associate planner) or client-facing role, who want to sharpen their technical planning skills and strategies.
Details: June 7 – 11, at the ARIA Resort in Las Vegas, NV (or online, as the entire conference is available on livestream as well).
Cost: $1,995 for a 3-day pass (which covers all of the PFP and Advanced Estate conference), $2,295 for a 4-day pass (to stay for the final day of Tax Strategies), and $2,395 for the All Access Pass. AICPA members receive a $400 discount on all rates, and AICPA PFP section members receive an additional $150 discount. Nerd’s Eye View readers get an additional $110 off with KITCESPFP discount code!
Conference Website: AICPA ENGAGE 2020
Best Value Conference: FPA Minnesota 2020 ASCEND Conference
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 ASCEND Conference draws a strong representation of national-caliber speakers (including those like IRA guru Ed Slott and J.P. Morgan’s David Kelly). The 2-day event draws over 600 participants, and as a result has outgrown the local hotel options, instead running as a ‘chapter meeting’ in the Minneapolis Convention Center! In fact, there’s such a density of financial planners that this year the FPA ran its own National Conference in Minneapolis instead – unfortunately knocking the chapter’s own conference out of the running for 2019.
Fortunately, though, the FPA Minneapolis Annual ASCEND Conference is back for 2020. And despite its size and scope, the event has traditionally run at an incredibly affordable price point. The two-day event, featuring about 14 hours of CFP CE content, costs a mere $549 for registration, 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 $499 with the earliest early bird registration, which is a steal-of-a-deal by financial advisor conference standards for a high-quality 2-day event.
Notably, though, as discussed in the “Go Local” section, advisors can often also get good value for CE credits with their local FPA chapter’s annual symposium. As 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, on February 12-13, 2020, which is an astonishingly affordable $375 for FPA members, with an early bird discount rate of $345 for members registering before January 7!).
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: November 2–3, at the Minneapolis Convention Center in Minneapolis, MN.
Cost: $549 for FPA members, $599 for non-members. $100 discount for early bird registration, which ends on July 31, 2020.
Conference Website: FPA Minnesota 2020 Annual ASCEND Conference
Best Overall Financial Planning Conference: FPA NorCal 2020
The NorCal conference features national-caliber speakers, not only in its keynote sessions, but also across all of its 6 different breakout tracks – which ironically leads to a common frustration at NorCal of wanting to be in more than one session at once and having trouble choosing (though fortunately, NorCal includes a recording of all the conference sessions as a part of the registration fee, so you can catch up after the conference on the sessions you couldn’t attend!). And unlike so many other events, NorCal fully screens out and separates its sponsors 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 stunning 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 over Memorial Day weekend to wander the city itself or head up to Napa or Sonoma Valleys, then 2 days at the conference, while deducting 100% of the travel airfare for your trip as a business expense!).
Notably, though, the high quality and long-standing reputation of the FPA NorCal conference means that it 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 to with a spouse. If you’re only going to go to one ‘national’ conference in 2020, and want to be confident you’ll have a good experience at a reasonable (albeit not cheap) price, you can’t go wrong by going with FPA NorCal!
Details: May 26 – 27 at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, CA.
Cost: $949 for FPA members, $1,149 for non-members. $150 discount for early bird registration, which ends on January 17, 2020.
Conference Website: FPA NorCal 2020
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 operates one of the “best conferences” on this list, and has been engaged as a speaker in the past for several of the events listed.
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