After more than 2 years of ongoing disruptions, from the original COVID-19 outbreak, to wave after wave of variants as the pandemic rolled on, 2022 proved to be the year that advisor conferences were “back”, as events ceased canceling or rescheduling in response to new variants and powered forward… often with virtual options for those who still felt uncomfortable traveling, but with most events actually reaching or even exceeding their pre-pandemic highs as advisors showed that they, too, are hungry to re-connect and re-engage.
However, not all advisor conferences have recovered, and, instead, the pandemic seems to have operated as a catalyst that took ongoing shifts in the conference landscape and accelerated them. As while conferences in the past were primarily a combination of ‘trade shows’ (where advisors could see the latest products and services from the vendors who exhibited) and educational content for CE, the conferences that have been the fastest to rebound are either built around their communities that also offer education and networking (as advisors still have a desire to ‘go home’ to their communities, from RIA custodians to broker-dealers, to advisor networks and associations they’re connected with) or those that are built around practice management.
In fact, with the astonishing success of advisory firms through the pandemic – as nearly all firms held onto and still managed to grow their client count despite the disruption, and saw revenue reach new highs as AUM was largely buoyed by market growth (recent market volatility notwithstanding) – in the new conference landscape, the challenges that advisors face when trying to “scale up” through the growth have become a major focus. Leading to an expansion in various ‘niche’ conferences that specialize in particular challenges that advisors face as they follow the growth journey. Which, in turn, is spawning even more hunger for specialized practice management conferences in 2023.
As someone who has been speaking at 50-70 conferences a year for 18 years myself, I’ve seen the good and bad of our wide range of industry events, which are spread across membership associations, broker-dealers, insurance companies, RIA custodians, product manufacturers, media companies, 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, allocated across a range of different categories (as what’s best for solo advisors isn’t the same as what’s best for larger advisor enterprises, what’s best for fee-for-service advisors isn’t the same as what’s best for AUM firms, more technically-oriented advisors will prefer different conferences than those seeking practice management or marketing ideas, etc.).
Having updated our annual conference list every year since, I’m excited now to present my newest list of “Top Financial Advisor Conferences” for the upcoming 2023 year, with a particular focus on the best conferences for advisors facing various “scaling up” challenges – from solo advisors who have gotten ‘stuck’, advisors looking to transition to become a multi-advisor boutique, navigating the unique human capital and growth challenges that founders face when scaling up an enterprise, as well as the best conferences for scaling up advisor marketing, advisor technology, and the advice delivery process itself. Along with a few other notable conferences for those looking for a good overall educational experience (for those who don’t yet want to get their CE online!), those who need a ‘recharge’, and those who are just looking for something new and different (who may want to check out Future Proof’s new ‘un-conference’ wealth festival!).
In addition, we've also updated our popular "Master Conference List" of all financial advisor conferences in 2023, for both advisors looking for a wider range of events to attend (if you want to delve deeper into a particular topical area), and for vendors looking for more conferences to exhibit at!
So I hope you find this year’s 2023 top 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.
Best Conference For/In: Overall Financial Planning | Scaling Technology | Scaling Yourself | Scaling Beyond Yourself | Scaling Enterprises | Scaling Advice | Scaling Marketing |
Recharge And Reconnect | Best Conference Experience | Community Conferences
For Conference Organizers: For the embed code to post a “Top Advisor Conference in 2023” 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 which conferences to potentially attend and exhibit at. For further ideas, please see our 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.
The Evolution Of Advisor Conferences: From CE Trade Shows To Practice Management Experiences
For most of their history, traditional financial advisor conferences were effectively “trade shows” – in an era where most financial advisors were paid a commission to sell products, conferences were an opportunity to see the latest and ‘greatest’ range of products available to sell, along with (some) potential technology or consulting services for their business. Which was then supplemented by educational sessions that could provide the continuing education (CE) credits that at least some advisors (who had professional designations like CFP certification) needed on an annual basis.
Over the past 20 years, though, financial advisors began a slow and steady shift in the financial advisor business model – from one largely based on commissionable product sales, to a recurring-fee model based on assets under management. From the financial advisor perspective, the shift in business models has had a profound impact on traditional advisory firms. In the commission-based model, every new year the advisor starts back at zero (or near-zero with perhaps a small level of trails), and there are only so many prospects who can be seen (and potentially sold to) in any particular year. Which meant that commission-based firms never grew much beyond 1-2 (administrative-support) team members, and advisors needed a steady flow of new products to have new stories to pitch prospective new clients (and current clients where there may be an opportunity for a new sale)… which the traditional conference and its trade-show-style exhibit hall and sponsor-driven ‘educational’ sessions fulfilled.
By contrast, as AUM grows in a fee-based model, at some point after a few years the advisor wakes up on the first day of the year, and realizes they have hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue and “all they have to do” is provide excellent advice and service to their clients to retain them. Which leads to the firm hiring more advisors to provide the advice, along with more operations staff to service the clients, and systematizing the recommendations and solutions they implement for their clients… which creates a fundamental mis-match to the traditional advisor conference. As now the advisor no longer needs the breadth of trade-show-style product offerings (once the advisor finds a comfortable line-up of solutions for clients, it’s far more efficient for the business to implement those consistently), has a higher expectation of conference content (as they increasingly invest into expertise to provide better and deeper advice, which results in a desire for more advanced CE content to meet their rising expertise), and increasingly needs practice management sessions on how to scale up their business (now that it actually can scale as a recurring-revenue business).
As a result of this shift, the 2010s witnessed a substantive shift in the growth of advisor conferences. Growth at ‘traditional’ broad-based advisor conferences like the Financial Planning Association’s annual conference stalled, while the AICPA’s Personal Financial Planning conference (now AICPA ENGAGE) and its more advanced educational conference (thanks to its CPA roots) flourished, along with the Heckerling Institute for Estate Planning. And conferences focused more on practice management – where a significant portion of the agenda had no CE credit at all – began to emerge, like Bob Veres’ Insider’s Forum, Carson’s Excell, and the #XYPNLIVE conference.
And then the COVID-19 pandemic happened.
While the pandemic has been characterized by many as an industry disruptor, in practice it doesn’t appear that the pandemic really ‘disrupted’ industry conferences, as much as it simply accelerated the conference trends that were already underway. With advisors forced to find CE options in an online/virtual environment for nearly 2 years, advisors built new habits in how to satisfy their annual CE obligations without an in-person event… to the point that suddenly there’s little purpose to travel to a conference (at a far higher investment of time and dollars) ‘just’ for CE that can be easily obtained online. But that hasn’t led to an abandonment of in-person conferences as they’ve re-emerged after the pandemic. Instead, it’s led to a shift in what advisors want and expect at a conference – which, increasingly, is either about a ‘deep learning’ experience (something that goes above and beyond what online education alone can deliver) or is about “practice management” and how to scale up advice businesses that, increasingly, need help in scaling up because of the ongoing transition to recurring-revenue business models that almost inevitably lead to scale (and scaling up challenges) as they accumulate clients over time.
The caveat, though, is that practice management conferences have to be far more targeted than the ‘traditional’ advisor conference. After all, when a new tax law comes out, every advisor needs to know about it to advise their clients properly, whether they’re a solo advisor, in a multi-advisor partnership, or scaling up a multi-billion-dollar enterprise. Whereas when it comes to how to grow and scale an advisory business, the needs and challenges of solo advisors are completely different than ‘mid-sized’ multi-advisor partnerships which in turn have utterly different needs than multi-billion-dollar enterprises.
The end result is that in recent years – and likely even more so in the years to come – financial advisor conferences are increasingly shifting from CE trade shows to practice management events built around a particular transformation (a business challenge to overcome to get to the next level), with the community and experience that’s appropriate for that type of advisors. Which in turn means the practice management conference landscape will expand into an increasingly wider range of smaller and more ‘niche’ events that cater to particular types of advisory firms at particular sizes and stages of growth (and the attendant business challenges that strike at those sizes).
Finding The “Best” Advisor Conference (For You)
Some financial advisor conferences are executed better than others. But what defines a “great” conference is only partially about the event execution itself. It’s also about the relevancy of the agenda. And the credibility of the speakers. And the connection that can be formed with other attendees (who are, hopefully, facing similar challenges to yours). Which means the “best” conference is actually relative to the advisor themselves, the stage of their career or business, and what’s meaningful to them in terms of agenda, speakers, and fellow attendees.
However, it’s frustrating to have to go to a conference just to have the experience and find out whether it’s a good fit, especially when so many conferences imply that they can be everything to everyone (even though we know they really can’t be). As a result, since 2012, we’ve published an annual list of the Best Financial Advisor conferences, based on my own experience speaking at nearly 1,000 conferences over the past 18 years, and having seen first-hand which events are particularly good and worth recommending (or not)… and which are the best fit (or not) for any particular type of advisor.
Accordingly, in this year’s list of Best Conferences, we focus on the “best” advisor conferences depending on the nature of the financial advisor’s own career or business stage, and what it is that they’re trying to “scale up” – their technology, their marketing, their advice, their team, their business, or themselves. Along with a few other conferences to explore for advisors who are just looking to go to “something” as a conference to have a new and different experience to rejuvenate and re-energize themselves!
The FPA NorCal conference is the longest running financial planning conference in the country, having just celebrated its 50th(!) anniversary last year, after it was first created by a coalition of the earliest International Association of Financial Planners (IAFP, one of the predecessor organizations to the FPA) chapters that were established in the early 1970s. Nominally, FPA NorCal is known as a “regional” conference – still hosted by about half a dozen of the FPA’s chapters in northern California. But in practice, FPA NorCal has consistently been one of the best national conferences in financial planning.
NorCal features a 6-track series of breakouts spanning 2 days, with a very rigorous conference committee process that vets all the sessions and doesn’t permit any ‘pay-to-play’ speaking slots, which typically includes a mixture of both more technical (CE-oriented) sessions and practice management sessions (though the sessions do skew towards more advanced/experienced practitioners, given the high concentration of experienced planners in the San Francisco area), most of which run 90 minutes (which really allows speakers the time to go deeper than the ‘traditional’ 50-minute CE session).
In addition, the NorCal agenda features a series of 3 national-caliber keynote speakers (prior keynotes have included Michael Lewis of Moneyball, Sal Khan of Khan Academy, Sallie Krawcheck of Ellevest, former US Treasurer Rosie Rios, and more), and registration to the conference includes a recording of all the conference sessions (not just the keynotes, but every breakout, for those who want to go back and listen!).
Beyond what is always a strong lineup, the FPA NorCal conference is also a good ‘destination’ conference, as it is annually hosted at the beautiful Palace Hotel in the heart of San Francisco (a Marriott property, for those looking to use their points!), and typically runs on the Tuesday and Wednesday immediately following Memorial Day (which makes it easy to take a personal/family vacation to spend Memorial Day weekend in San Francisco or visit the wineries in Napa and Sonoma valleys, and then get underway at the conference in the days that follow, while deducting the full cost of airfare as a business expense!).
Notably, though, because the FPA NorCal conference is ultimately constrained by the maximum capacity of the main ballroom at the Palace Hotel, the event has a hard-cap limit of about 600 registrants, and it does sell out most years (especially given its very-reasonable registration fee for a national-quality event). So those who are interested in attending should not wait to register!
Who Should Attend: Experienced financial advisors who really want to attend the conference sessions and are looking for high-quality content and a well-run event (or those who simply want a nice destination conference to travel with a significant other!?).
Details: May 30-31 at The Palace Hotel in San Francisco, CA.
Cost: $1,099 for FPA members and $1,499 for non-members. Early bird price is $899 for FPA members and $1,299 for non-members and is valid between December 19, 2022, and January 31, 2023.
Conference Website: FPA NorCal 2023
While “FinTech” (financial technology) has become a hot segment of the technology sector in recent years, with the growth of companies like Stripe (payments), Plaid (financial connections and aggregation), Brex (corporate banking), SoFi (student loans and other lending products), and a wide range of blockchain platforms, technology for financial advisors – “AdvisorTech” – has been an essential part of advisory businesses since long before FinTech became popular. For which the leading and longest-running conference is the T3 Advisor Technology conference (founded nearly 20 years ago by Joel Bruckenstein and David Drucker, who were already publishing a “Technology Tools for Today” (T3) newsletter for advisors, and expanded their newsletter offering into a full-scale conference of the same name).
Unlike most other advisor conferences, though, the T3 Conference still functions more as a “trade show” instead, where the primary focus is not a series of educational speakers on technical-CE topics nor practice management, but instead is squarely focused on the conference exhibitors themselves, who attend to showcase their solutions and demo their latest features… which isn’t seen as ‘selling out’ the conference agenda to the sponsors, as the whole point of a trade show is to see the solutions in the first place!
As a result, the primary benefit of attending the T3 Advisor Technology conference is the opportunity to simply see ‘everything’ that the advisor technology landscape has to offer, in one efficient trip. Which makes the T3 conference especially appealing to independent advisors who are ‘shopping’ for new technology solutions in a particular category (e.g., see all the CRM systems, or all the financial planning software providers, in one place, to vet them against each other on the spot), or simply those that want to come every year (or every 2-3 years) see what the latest-and-greatest is, in seeking ideas for new technology they might try out and implement (as it is common for new vendors to debut at T3).
Notably for tech vendors themselves, though, the T3 conference is still not a “huge” buying audience for companies looking for new users (as almost half of the 800+ attendance is typically fellow software vendors, media, and industry consultants). Though a parallel “T3 Enterprise” track that runs concurrently (specifically targeting the largest broker-dealer and RIA enterprise decision-makers) provides more substantive Enterprise sales opportunities. But in practice, the primary “ROI” for software vendors that exhibit at T3 is not measured in new users, but a chance to gain better visibility amongst industry ‘influencers’ (as T3 has historically been very well covered by industry media and independent consultants), and the potential to establish relationships with other tech vendors that might be future integration partners (or even future strategic acquirers!).
Who Should Attend: Advisory firm owners who are either independent or making the transition to independence, or technology decision-makers in larger advisor enterprises, who want an efficient way to see the full breadth of advisor technology solutions all in one place. Companies that offer AdvisorTech solutions for advisors should aim to attend both to showcase their solutions, and also for networking opportunities.
Details: March 13-16 at the JW Marriott Tampa Water Street in Tampa, FL.
Cost: $899. Early bird pricing of $799 is available until November 30th. Nerd's Eye View readers can receive $100 off with the Kitces 2023 discount code!
Conference Website: T3 Advisor Technology Conference 2023
As advisory firms approach the “capacity crossroads” – that point where there are more clients than one advisor can handle on their own, and the firm has to make a decision about how it’s going to scale up from there – most advisors choose from one of two paths: they either look to scale the firm up by bringing on additional senior advisors (often as partners) and begin the path of growing into a multi-advisor ‘ensemble’-style firm; or they look to scale themselves up, by building a team around them (typically, an administrative/operations support person, and an associate advisor) that allows them to maximize their take-home pay (and often in the process, reduce the number of hours they’re spending in the firm to maximize their ‘personal freedom’ as well). Which is quite feasible, given that the top solo advisory firms are netting more than $500,000/year in advisor income serving mass affluent clients.
However, the unfortunate reality is that most solo advisors struggle to scale themselves up. Instead, they end up doing – in the words of Bill Bachrach – too much work, for too many clients, for too little money, and get ‘stuck’. Suddenly, the advisor no longer controls their firm; instead, the advisory firm controls you, and your time, all of which is consumed by serving a wide range of accumulated clients that were gathered over the years, with such a wide range of needs, 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.
To help advisors stuck in this "trap" - where the revenue is adding up, but the time isn't - Stephanie Bogan (a practice management guru who built and sold her first practice management consulting business, and has spent the past 5 years building a second) developed a coaching program dubbed "Limitless Adviser". The idea of the Limitless Adviser program is to pursue what Bogan 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... and instead build “a $1M practice… and life that you love”.
Notably, though, the Limitless Adviser program isn't simply a "conference" – the “Limitless Lifestyle” is actually a full-year coaching program, that includes two in-person 2-day retreats (in the spring and the fall), weekly ‘Office Hours’ and bi-monthly Coaching calls with Limitless coaches, and a “Learning Library” of resources, scripts, and tools, intended to cover everything an advisor-owner needs to scale themselves up, including how to position the business, marketing and a (more efficient) sales process, 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. (Though there is a ‘virtual’ option for those who really don’t feel they can take the time to travel in person.)
Who Should Attend: Advisors with $200,000 to $1M of revenue who feel "stuck" in their practice, with too much to do for too many clients to the point that it's no longer "fun", and want to streamline and simplify to regain control of their practice... and are ready to make the personal commitment to change.
Details: In-person retreats (for those participating in the Lifestyle Live program) are from March 6th to 9th at the Sheraton New Orleans Hotel in New Orleans, LA, and from August 21st to 24th in Denver, CO; remaining calls and other participation is virtual on your own time.
Cost: $18,000 for the full-year Lifestyle Live program or $10,500 for the Lifestyle Virtual program. Nerd's Eye View readers can get $3,000 off the Lifestyle Live program or $1,500 off the Lifestyle Virtual program with the KIT23 discount code!
Conference Website: Limitless Advisor
Every year seems to feature a new array of “Top Advisor” awards that celebrate the largest and fastest-growing advisory firms… even though the reality is that most financial advisors don’t have, won’t create, and don’t even want to actually build, a multi-billion-dollar advisory firm. Most advisors simply want to serve their clients well, earn a good living that pays them for their value, and perhaps grow their capacity so they can keep serving more clients over time. Except ultimately, an individual financial advisor can only ever serve ‘so many’ clients before they hit their own personal capacity. And at that point, they reach a capacity crossroads and have to make a decision about whether they’ll try to scale themselves up (to serve a limited number of higher-paying clients over time) or to begin to grow the business ‘beyond themselves’ by adding other advisors… with all the new complexities that entails.
As LPL’s former top producer for nearly 20 years, Ron Carson lived a similar pathway of struggling for many years in his advisory firm in its early years before eventually figuring out how to grow the business beyond himself. Along the way, Carson also built out a Coaching program to teach other advisors to implement for themselves the kind of systems that he used to grow himself to the next level, which in turn spawned the “Excell” conference to bring Carson’s Coaching clients together for practice management advice about how to make the transition from a solo product-centric practice into a multi-advisor scaling advisory business.
In recent years, Carson’s offerings have expanded further, as Carson Wealth transitioned to the RIA channel, Carson Coaching has continued to grow and expand, and Carson Partners provides an outsourcing solution for small-to-mid-sized advisory firms to leverage the back office and technology capabilities of Carson Wealth while growing their own advisory businesses. And accompanying this growth has been an expansion of the Excell conference, which is now no longer ‘just’ for advisors using Carson Coaching, but any advisors that want to explore the content (which obviously is still a good branding and marketing opportunity for Carson’s Coaching and Partners solutions).
In practice, the Carson Excell conference is a blend of sessions about how to scale an advisory firm beyond yourself as the founder/owner (the transition from practice to business), along with a lot of content on marketing and growth strategies to get to that next level, and sessions for operations team members (who are also invited to attend) on the practical operations and human resources challenges that arise as advisory firms grows. In addition to inspirationally-oriented keynote sessions to fire up attendees to go home and try it all out (because let’s face it: this is a hard transition, and sometimes we need a little help to get fired up for making the change!).
Who Should Attend: Advisors with $250k to $750k of gross revenue, whether in the RIA or broker-dealer channel, who have “hit the wall” and are feeling stuck at their personal capacity, want to begin making the transition from practice to business and get to the next level, and are looking for more ideas of what to do to actually get there. (Notably, Carson’s Excell conference has also traditionally included a parallel track for Operations staff, so advisors should consider bringing their administrative assistant/client service manager/operations manager along with them as well!)
Details: September 12-14 at the Music City Center in Nashville, TN
Cost: $1,999. Nerd's Eye View readers can receive 20% off with the NERDSEYE20 discount code!
Conference Website: Carson Excell 2023
Most financial advisors launch their advisory businesses to serve clients, and remain forever primarily in the role of client service, over time either building a team around them to support and leverage themselves, or perhaps bringing in a partner or two to further expand their capacity to serve clients. But a small number of advisors have a more… entrepreneurial bent, where their vision isn’t simply to grow a larger advisory business over time, but to build a lasting advisor Enterprise.
The distinction between growing an advisory business and growing an advisor Enterprise is important, because the latter face fundamentally different challenges in the pursuit of scale, because of the sheer size to which they aim to grow. A ‘boutique’ multi-advisor firm may add a new advisor every year or few; an enterprise may reach the point where it needs to hire several advisors per year, and eventually several advisors per month to keep pace. A boutique advisory firm may eventually form departments with directors as the headcount grows and the advisor’s time to manage it all becomes constrained; an enterprise needs to build an entire executive team whose roles are to lead and be fully accountable for functional areas of the business. A boutique advisory firm needs to attract and retain talent; an enterprise must create entire recruiting, training and development, and cradle-to-grave career tracks, along with the appropriate compensation (and usually, path-to-partnership) system.
To fill this void, investment banker and practice management consultant Dave DeVoe established the Elevate conference, with a very specific focus on how advisor enterprises can navigate the unique human-capital challenges that the largest enterprises face. Though notably, the bulk of the conference is not industry consultants providing recommendations on how to navigate challenges; instead, the Elevate agenda is largely populated by executives in leadership positions at some of the largest advisor enterprises, sharing how they’re navigating the key challenges that arise, from recruiting to advisor compensation, career tracks to partnership, and building more (non-advisor-dependent) scalable growth strategies.
In practice, DeVoe’s Elevate conference is not really an “advisor” conference, per se, but for advisory firm founders (and other key executives) who have largely transitioned out of actual advisor roles, and instead are fully focused on 10X-ing their enterprise in the next 5-10 years… and figuring out how to navigate the uniquely complex growth and human capital challenges that arise when doing so.
Who Should Attend: C-level executives from advisory firms that have at least $5M (and up to $10s of millions) of revenue, who are tackling the human capital challenges of how to scale up from dozens to hundreds of employees in their enterprise.
Details: May 10-12 at the Grand Hyatt in Nashville, TN
Cost: Early bird pricing of $795 is available for RIAs. Nerd’s Eye View readers can receive $100 off with the Kitces2023 discount code!
Conference Website: DeVoe Elevate 2023
As technology increasingly commoditizes investment management, more and more advisory firms are offering financial planning and wealth management services, either as “value-adds” to enrich their service offering and justify their AUM fees, or as an outright fee-for-service offering where the firm charges an ongoing financial planning subscription fee to provide ongoing financial planning advice.
The caveat, though, is that what it takes to scale an advice-centric business is fundamentally different than scaling an investment-centric advisory firm. As while the latter entails creating and systematizing a range of model portfolios for clients, with a centralized investment management team, and then implementing technology to manage and rebalancing client portfolios on an ongoing basis, scaling an advice business is far more difficult, given the historically-more-time-consuming process of actually doing financial planning, which Kitces Research has shown averages nearly 35 hours(!) in just the first year of a new client relationship.
In 2014, the XY Planning Network was established as a turnkey financial planning platform specifically to support monthly subscription and other fee-for-service advice businesses, that are launching, growing, and scaling advice (not investment management) businesses. And with more than 1,600 advisors, it has become the largest concentration of financial advisors all focusing on how to efficiently scale the time-consuming process of advice itself.
Accordingly, #XYPNLIVE – the network’s annual conference – has become the go-to event for advisory firms trying to figure out how to more efficiently scale the delivery of advice itself, with sessions on topics from implementing surge meetings to incorporating life planning to your client offering, adding annual tax reviews or even ongoing tax preparation to increase client ‘stickiness’, improving employee engagement to better retain team members as the firm grows, and the best practices and caveats in adding a new business partner to expand capacity and scale up further.
In addition, #XYPNLIVE also includes an “AdvisorTech Expo”, which typically showcases 6-12 new up-and-coming technology solutions specifically focused on scaling advice – not ‘just’ scaling portfolio management for AUM clients – to catch a glimpse of the latest emerging technology to make it even more efficient to scale the delivery of advice to an ever-growing number of clients.
Who Should Attend: Financial advisors looking to transition into, or figure out how to better market, run, and scale, an advisory business that’s looking to deliver financial planning profitably to a full (and growing) base of clients.
Details: September 19-21 at the Hilton Atlanta in Atlanta, GA.
Cost: $449 for XYPN members and students and $649 for non-members. Early bird pricing of $299 for XYPN members and students and $499 for non-members is available through December 31.
Conference Website: #XYPNLIVE 2023
For most of its history, the financial advisor business has been an “eat-what-you-kill” business, where advisors are paid for – and only paid for – the clients that they themselves find and bring in to the firm. From the firm’s perspective, that means its financial advisors are the firm’s marketing team, with a portion of financial advisor compensation effectively earmarked as a marketing expense.
This approach worked well in the days of commission-based sales, where advisors had the constant pressure of their income dropping to $0 if they didn’t keep going out and getting more new clients. But it has begun to ‘break’ in a world where financial advisors accumulate recurring revenue (e.g., AUM) clients, and at some point don’t want or need any new clients… which means their primary role is to be a service-oriented caretaker for existing clients, even as they are still getting paid as though they’re in a business development role. Which, a recent Kitces Research study showed, is leading to a costly escalation of rising marketing expenses as advisory firms grow (and their advisors’ time gets more expensive)… which is the exact opposite of marketing that scales.
The challenge, however, is that most advisory firms don’t know any other way to market, in an industry where historically “growth” strategies were really all about advisor prospecting (how to personally ‘get out there’ and establish new relationships that can turn into clients) or sales (how to convince one of those prospects, now sitting across from you, to engage your services and become a client)… but there was little on how to actually market, where the firm creates an ongoing marketing presence that attracts ideal clients to the firm (rather than sending advisors out to find them one at a time).
Until, in 2022, Robert Sofia (formerly of marketing consulting firm Platinum Advisor Strategies, and now CEO of marketing technology solution Snappy Kraken) launched the “Jolt” conference, specifically focused not on advisor prospecting and sales, but truly on Advisor Marketing, with an agenda that covers a wide range of marketing topics from building an audience/following to market to, what kind of content to create that actually attracts and connects with (ideal) prospects, how to expand reach and impact, and how to start scaling your marketing systems (beyond yourself) as the firm grows.
Notably, the Jolt agenda does have a fairly heavy focus on digital marketing in particular – which isn’t entirely surprising, given that Sofia’s Snappy Kraken is a digital marketing solution for advisors. Still, though, the agenda itself features a wide range of advisors with experience and expertise in advisor marketing – it’s not just the Snappy Kraken team selling their wares – and in the end, scalable marketing necessitates building systems and leveraging technology to implement it. For which Snappy Kraken is already one of the more popular solutions on the Kitces AdvisorTech Map. So if advisors are going to look for advisor marketing content, why not get it from an event that has the solutions to actually help implement those ideas?
Who Should Attend: Financial advisors who are trying to figure out “how to make the phone ring” with a marketing process that attracts prospects to them (rather than going out to market), and are ready to try something different than traditional referral-based and networking tactics for business development.
Details: May 3-5 at the Aria Resort in Las Vegas, NV
Cost: $689. Early bird pricing of $489 is available until January 31. Nerd's Eye View readers can receive 20% off with the 20KITCES discount code!
Conference Website: Jolt 2023
The term “mid-life crisis” was coined in 1957 by a psychologist named Elliott Jacques, who observed that people in their mid-30s to 40s tend to experience a multi-year depressive period as they reach a crest in life after years of early challenges… only to see their own mortality on the horizon, and realize they may be getting closer to the end than the beginning. Which in turn can spark a number of major life changes, from religious awakenings to attempts to retain our youth, or simply a questioning and yearning to figure out “is this all?” and “if not, what’s next?”
It’s not uncommon for financial advisors with 15+ years of experience to have a similar ‘mid-career’ crisis, where the firm is past the challenging early years of just trying to get enough clients to survive, and reaches the point where it is financially successful and stable, may only need to add a handful of new clients each year to sustain (to replace the few who attrition or pass away), and can operate largely in ‘maintenance mode’ for the time being… which means few (if any) new clients to bring new opportunities and new intellectual challenges, and can lead to a similar wondering of “is this all?” and “if not, what’s next?”
Enter the FPA Retreat conference. FPA Retreat has long been known as one of the leading “advanced planning” conferences, focused on the intersection of the art and science of financial planning. But in reality, Retreat is more of a conference for advanced plannERS than advancing plannING, where experienced advisors can spend time with other veteran practitioners who are looking for fresh ideas, a new spark, and are thinking beyond their advisory firms towards how to leave a more lasting legacy and impact for consumers.
For an ‘advanced practitioners’ conference, the FPA Retreat agenda in general tends to be focused more on the ‘softer side’ of financial planning than the advanced technical sessions. But in the end, despite typically having a strong agenda of content for advanced practitioners, FPA Retreat is the conference I’ve long found myself most likely to realize that other attendees are walking out of the session that I had intended to walk into an hour prior, before getting caught up in (an even more interesting) conversation with other experienced practitioners in the hallway.
In other words, attending FPA Retreat is really first and foremost about the connections that come when talking with other very experienced practitioners who may be facing a similar mid-career crisis, who have all reached a healthy stage of the business, but may no longer feel challenged the way they once were, and are all trying to figure out “What’s Next?”
Who Should Attend: Experienced financial planners who are looking for new ideas and new challenges to expand their minds around financial planning or refresh and re-energize themselves… and who want to connect with others looking for the same thing.
Details: May 1-4 at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort and Spa in Bonita Springs, FL.
Cost: Early bird pricing is $1,299 for FPA members and $1,499 for non-members. Nerd’s Eye View readers can receive an additional $50 off with the RET23Kitces discount code!
Conference Website: FPA Retreat 2023
While the pandemic seems to have catalyzed a shift in the traditional financial advisor conference, away from the trade-show-plus-CE approach into a greater focus on the (more finely sliced) practice management needs of advisors, the conference experience itself is still largely the same. While different events and different event organizers may put a slightly different spin on the style and tone of the conference, virtually all of them have the same agenda structure (a handful of higher-profile keynotes, along with a series of breakout sessions), with the same layout (in a hotel ballroom or a convention center, with an exhibit hall to visit with the sponsors), and the same activities (hors d’oeuvres and coffee breaks at the back of the exhibit hall, an opening night reception with 2 hours of open bar, closing night party that may feature a moderately-well-known musical act).
But with the pandemic and its nearly-2-year conference hiatus creating a ‘clean slate’ opportunity to reimagine what conferences can be, 2022 witnessed an exciting new event launch: the Future Proof Festival. Organized by advisors Josh Brown and Barry Ritholtz (of Ritholtz Wealth, and also co-founders of the WealthStack advisor technology conference), along with Matt Middleton and John Swolfs (formerly of Informa, who organized the Inside ETFs and WealthStack conferences), and Matt Hougan (original co-founder of Inside ETFs), the Future Proof Festival was quite deliberately not a conference, but a “festival”, more akin to events like the popular South By Southwest (SXSW) music festival than a traditional financial advisor conference.
Accordingly, Future Proof blocked off a whopping half-mile stretch of beachfront in Huntington Beach (in the suburbs on the south side of Los Angeles) for four whole days, organizing sessions in outdoor space (not in auditoriums), and bringing in local food trucks (not ‘conference food’). Similarly, the agenda itself had little in the way of traditional CE-oriented content, or even typical practice management content, with Powerpoint slides delivered by industry consultants sharing their expertise, and there were no pay-to-play exhibit slots; instead, Future Proof featured a wide range of panels, across four tracks of Wealth (wealth management), Tech (advisor technology and FinTech more broadly), Culture (building a more diverse advisory industry), and Impact (ESG and Impact investing). Most of which got into not the nitty gritty of particular planning strategies and business management techniques, but a higher level future-oriented look at what’s coming down the road… so that advisors can think about how to “Future Proof” their businesses (thus the event name).
In practice, though, the biggest buzz of the Future Proof conference was how ‘futuristic’ its audience was, with attendees that were significantly younger and far more gender- and racially-diverse than the typical financial advisor conference, creating a unique festival-style energy to the event. Which coupled with the outdoor experience (the whole event was outdoors in the friendly southern-California weather), and vendors that stepped up to match (all exhibitors were in outdoor tents, and vied for advisor attention with experiences that included smoothie stations, viewing decks, and a New York-inspired bodega!), created what can only be described as a “festival experience”. Which in turn created a remarkably casual atmosphere for attendees to connect with one another, in what for many attendees turned out to be less about the conference content at all, and more about the true networking opportunities that come with a conference that is built to facilitate diverse interactions with a wide range of attendees.
When it was first announced, Future Proof was being marketed to a very wide range of all people across financial services, from financial advisors to institutional investors, asset managers to fintech firms, “financial creators” to activists to artists, and more, such that no one was really sure quite how it would all come together, or what to really expect. And to a large extent, most advisors may still struggle to understand what to expect from the wealth “festival” that Future Proof has created. In the end, it seems most likely that Future Proof is simply on track to be “the place to be”, with a chance to interact with other advisors and get close to ‘industry influencers’ in a refreshing ‘un-conference’ experience.
Who Should Attend: Financial advisors who are tired of the traditional conference, and are willing to take a shot at something that is aiming to be a completely new and different advisor experience. (Or perhaps simply wouldn’t mind an excuse for a tax-deductible ‘business trip’ to southern California by tagging the Future Proof Festival experience onto a vacation!?)
Details: September 10-13, in Huntington Beach, California.
Cost: Registration will begin in November. Interested advisors can register their interest here.
Conference Website: Future Proof Festival 2023
Going ‘Home’ To Your Advisor Community
While CE-fulfilling content is increasingly being obtained online and virtually, and in-person conferences are taking a more practice-management tilt, the reality is that for many industry conferences, the reason to attend is simply because it’s “your people” – your community of advisors that you belong to, and may want to (re-)connect with.
In practice, an advisor’s “home” conference is most commonly the annual conference of their RIA custodian or broker-dealer, and in fact events like Schwab IMPACT and LPL Focus are some of the largest conferences in the industry, providing an opportunity for the advisors on their respective platforms to see the latest services and capabilities their platforms are rolling out, hear from senior leadership what they’re focused on (or have a chance to ask questions and express concerns), meet home office staff, and simply connect with other advisors who tend to be reasonably similar, if only by virtue of being on a similar advisor platform in the first place.
For other advisors, their “home” conference to find community is via the various membership associations and networks that tend to aggregate commonly-situated advisors based on what the organization stands for or is focused on, from the FPA National conference for CFP professionals to the NAPFA National conferences for fee-only RIAs, or more niche communities like the FPA NexGen Gathering (for younger advisors), Kingdom Advisors (for Christian faith-based advisors), the Alliance of Comprehensive Planners (for tax-centric advisors working on retainer), Garrett Planning Network (for hourly financial advisors), or XY Planning Network (for advisors offering financial planning under a subscription or other fee-for-service model). And the AICPA Engage conference, and its associated AICPA Personal Financial Planning (PFP) section, provides a unique home for CPA financial planners in particular.
In recent years, a new kind of “home” community conference has emerged: built around some of the major technology vendors around which advisors are building their businesses, who similarly are increasingly offering national-scale conferences to bring their users together to both network with each other (as again, advisors using similar systems tend to share other commonalities that make for good networking), and again to hear the latest from their technology platforms and share their feedback with the leadership. Notable standouts in recent years have included the Envestnet Advisor Summit, the Orion Ascent conference, eMoney’s Advisor Summit, and the Riskalyze Fearless Investing Summit.
And so for advisors who otherwise aren’t certain what conference to attend in 2023, there’s no place like Home as the conference of choice. Or alternatively, multi-advisor firms may wish to divide and conquer, with one advisor going to their Home conference, and another going to something new for 2023!
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.
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