When two advisor industry newsletter publishers collaborate, good things happen. Case in point: the 2nd annual Business and Wealth Management Conference presented by Bob Veres, publisher of Inside Information magazine, T3’s Joel Bruckenstein and Dave Drucker. The meet-up was held over three days in Denver at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Sept. 13-15. See: What Messrs. Bruckenstein, Drucker and Veres cooked up in a Chicago airport hotel. Jean Sinclair of Avenue Advisors was also an organizer.
The BWM conference featured a plethora of educational sessions and networking opportunities led by some of the RIA industry’s best and brightest and drew more than 200 advisors, vendors and consultants to the Mile-High city.
“We designed the BWM conference for the high-end advisor who traditionally is not satisfied with the large, national events,” noted Veres in his welcoming remarks. “This conference is all about the big themes such as transitioning your practice into a systematized business, succession planning and how to find alpha in your investing for clients.”
The speakers’ roster had a definite Moss Adams tinge, featuring the three Moss Adams consulting alums: Mark Tibergien, Rebecca Pomering and Philip Palaveev. In a half-dozen sessions they provided their perspectives based on how they were translating their vast consulting knowledge in their newer roles as CEOs of a large RIA, a leading custodian and a newly formed consulting practice, respectively.
Rise of the mega-firm?
Rebecca Pomering, now CEO of Moss Adams Wealth Advisors, joined RIA legend Tim Kochis, the former CEO of Aspiriant, in an engaging lunchtime keynote session on the evolution of the industry and the pros and cons of the trend toward building large, fast-growing RIA firms. See: 5 recent acts of courage in the RIA business.
When asked by session moderator, Bob Veres, if the industry was destined toward massive consolidation, both Pomering and Kochis emphatically said no. “Clients have different preferences. As an example, we have lost clients both because some thought that we were too big, while others felt that we were too small,” said Kochis. Added Pomering: “The service experience you want to provide will drive what size you need to be and there is plenty of room for all types and sizes of advisory firms.” See: Advisor Spotlight: Moss Adams looks to branding for its next $2 billion of growth in RIA assets.
However, both agreed that there were definitely strong advantages for having size and scale. “Because of our size, we are able to get better pricing for our clients and exert pricing power over the custodians,” explained Kochis. “We go to them, demand better pricing and we get it.”
One of the more interesting aspects of the session was on the topic of growth. “You have no choice but to grow, because time is inexorable. If you don’t grow, you wither and die,” Kochis says. When asked about how to facilitate that growth, Pomering advised that you have to establish systems, processes and formalized management — the practice-management mantras that she and her former Moss Adams colleagues have been preaching for decades. See: Ex-RIA chief: 'How I learned more in a month as a client than in 20 years as CEO’.
As co-producers of the conference, Joel Bruckenstein and David Drucker Technology Tools for Today publishers, created over 20 technology-focused sessions that featured CRM, financial planning, portfolio rebalancing, document management and other innovative investment management technology. Key speakers included the CEO of Junxure, Greg Friedman; Total Rebalance Expert, Sheryl Rowling; Finance Logix, Oleg Tishkevich; and an exhibit hall jammed with “invitation only” leading technology providers.
Bruckenstein and Drucker led a presentation on the latest trends and applications in advisor technology. “Advisors have a hard time understanding the return on investment of their technology purchases,” noted Drucker. “However, there are documented cost reductions that result from technology, including creating increased income today and in the future value of your business tomorrow.”
Bruckenstein went on to fill the audience in on emerging trends. “Financial planning has fundamentally changed,” he offered. “It no longer is about reporting by the pound, with paper reports.” Bruckenstein said that technology is reducing the cost of entry into the advisory business. “These new online advice providers won’t steal a current client from you, but they will start to attack your future pipeline of clients.”
Security was another key area of focus. “You are never safe, you need to be vigilant a all time times, including understanding threats from your operating system, your network and of course your own people,” Bruckenstein warned. See: Why the LinkedIn password theft is a big deal and how advisors can avoid falling victim.
But perhaps the biggest eye-opener for advisors, according to Bruckenstein is where technology and estate planning intersect. “Your clients have digital assets, such as online bank accounts, music libraries, valuable URL addresses, and the like, yet these are never addressed in estate plans.”
Reflecting the diversity of the industry, the BWM conference had a wide variety of firms in attendance, from the sole practitioner to the multi-billion-dollar enterprise.
“I’ve had my eye on this conference since it was announced,” noted Dede Jones, managing director of Innovative Financial in Lakewood, Colo. She was here with several members of her staff. “We’re active readers of Joel and Bob’s newsletters and to translate that content into an event is something that we were very interested in.”
Jones and her team were here to learn about how to transition their technology to the cloud and the best ways to accomplish that. “I don’t want to have to train people twice on different systems, so we are going to try and accomplish this all at once,” Jones explained.
Reflecting the “no frills” approach of the T3 conference franchise, the BWM had only an opening night reception in the exhibit hall for a couple of hours. The attendees and exhibitors were left to their own devices after that. With downtown Denver as a backdrop, tales of pub crawls through old-town Denver and visits to late-night dance clubs circulated.
'When no one is watching’
Wrapping up the conference was the debut of The Ensemble Practice, the new consulting firm established by former Moss Adams and Fusion Advisor Network consultant Philip Palaveev.
Providing an advance view of his new book on the practical aspects of creating a thriving partnership to drive advisor growth, Palaveev dazzled the crowd with examples and stories of how leading advisors are enjoying higher incomes, larger valuations, and a better quality of life by expanding firm ownership. See: How a swath of billion-dollar-plus RIAs are posing a threat to indie advisors.
“The key to success for any ensemble practice is to create a unique and special culture,” explained Palaveev. “And that culture can best be described as, what happens in the firm when no one is watching.”
Timothy D. Welsh, CFP® is President and founder of Nexus Strategy, LLC, a leading consulting firm to the wealth management industry, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NexusStrategy.