Elizabeth’s note: Marie Swift, the chief executive of Impact Communications Inc., spoke at a premier client division meeting produced by Financial Network, a Cetera Company. More broker-dealers and custodians have been holding these gatherings for elite advisors. She sent us this report on the happenings at the three-day conference in Washington, D.C., including details about one of her sessions, which highlights a little-discussed danger to advisors: DIY clients.

I go to a lot of industry conferences every year. At this meeting, the mood was decidedly “up” as advisors roamed the hallways, gathered in pairs and small groups, dialoged after presentations, met over meals and enjoyed the in-person idea exchange.

Based in El Segundo, Calif., Cetera provides comprehensive broker-dealer services, about 5,000 independent financial professionals and more than 700 financial institutions affiliated with its three independently managed broker-dealers: Financial Network Investment Corp., Multi-Financial Securities Corp., and PRIMEVEST Financial Services Inc. For RIABiz’s previous coverage of Cetera, see: Cetera Financial shores up its technology as it prepares to take on LPL for big hybrid RIAs and Barnaby Grist is leaving Schwab and Jon Beatty is stepping up.

Jack R. Handy Jr., president and CEO of Financial Network, started the Premier Client Division after moving to Financial Network in 1988.

“When I started the Premier Client Division,” he told me, “my charge was to figure out how to retain our top advisors. It’s a challenge for the industry. As producers acquire more clients, they become more skilled in asset allocation and which funds to recommend and they have their own staff. How does a broker/dealer bring value to that? I got a list of the top 50 advisors and called every one of them. I learned they wanted access to high-end planning strategies and networking opportunities with their peers. We created Premier Client Division meetings, which we have held in the spring and fall for the last 14 years. They’ve been very successful, and we have great retention as a result.”

“Every leader is trying to differentiate his company from other broker/dealers. All firms think they have great customer service, technology and competitive payouts. We’ve been working on practice management. The fastest way to grow is to help most productive advisors become even better.”

About 150 advisors attended the Premier Client Meeting held Oct. 20-22 at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, DC. Veteran ABC News correspondent Sam Donaldson was the keynote speaker. Breakout sessions included “Understanding Structured Products and their Usage in Modern Portfolio Allocation” and an “Advanced Market Update” (both sessions were led by Cetera directors). One-on-one technology sessions centered on proprietary solutions such as SmartWorks and Advisory Online 2.0 as well as industry financial planning software standard MoneyGuidePro.

Are your clients thinking of change?

Gregory J. Troccoli, director, DWS Investments, gave “A Review and Forecast of the World’s Largest Financial Sectors” during his general session presentation. William M. Kahane, president and COO, American Realty Capital, gave “The Historic Opportunity in Real Estate Today” during his general session. Staff members gave compliance, operations and technology updates.

During my general session, “What Have You Done for Me Lately: Redefining Your Value Proposition in Today’s Market,” I spoke about how, in the wake of the great recession, public perceptions have changed – and provided insights on how smart advisors should be redefining their value propositions to position themselves in the best light. More than two years have passed since the financial markets cratered in 2008. Advisors were shaken, but the strong survived. The current risk is – now that clients have regained at least part of their losses – some may be quietly thinking of making a change, leaving their current advisor behind and opting to either “do it themselves” or move to another advisor who has a better, more compelling and well articulated value proposition.

Clients who have been thinking of changing advisors may be tempted to do so, now that there’s less doom and gloom than the dark days in late 2008 and early 2009. Some may decide the only person they can trust is themselves. The biggest threat to RIAs and independent b/d reps may therefore be purveyors of online advice and portfolio models designed to attract do-it-yourself investors.

Tiburon Strategic Advisors says there are 2 trends:

1. A trend toward independent advisors (people moving away from the wirehouse and big bank model)

2. A trend toward discount brokerage services (people using online or “as-needed” advice providers and discount execution services)

I say all advisors – no matter what their business model is – are at risk if they do not:

1. SHOW their clients how much they care about them.

2. DEMONSTRATE that they are competent and “on the job” watching out for their clients’ best interests.

3. NICHE MARKET to a couple carefully selected groups.

4. CLEARLY ARTICULATE their value to those circles.

5. EMBRACE WEB 2.0 to build a robust online presence.

6. BE SEEN as an expert in their field by being quoted and/or published in respected publications.

After exploring the ever-more-important question “what makes you unique?” the audience worked on polishing their positioning statements. You can download a copy of the presentation slides from my website.

Later in the day, I spoke about “Using Public Relations and Social Media to Turbo Charge Your Marketing Plan.” Now, more than ever, prospective clients want to invest and protect their hard-earned money with financial professionals who are viewed as respected experts in their local areas. I shared how a good public relations and networking strategy – including Web 2.0 and Social Media tactics – would help the advisors generate buzz and build share of mind.

Notable names

Advisors attend conferences like this to get one-on-one time with top executives and other industry thinkers. Along with Handy, Cetera executives Barnaby Grist, executive vice president, Wealth Management, Cetera, and Mark Palmer, JD, national sales manager, Cetera, were there. They led a 75-minute session on “Wealth Management Best Practices” with a panel of peers. David Hubbard, one of the top Regional Directors with Financial Network, offered “The Seven Reasons Highly Successful Advisors Should Consider Using Variable Annuities.”

Hubbard, with offices in and around Chicago, manages oversight of processes and programs to 250 investment representatives and 76 financial institutions through Exemplar Financial Network; John Brackett, with offices in California, New Mexico, Florida and Pennsylvania, manages 450 financial professionals and a support team of approximately 25 individuals who through BAR Financial Network.

Financial Network has been building and supporting high-performance teams through their regional structure since 1983, according to Linda Stimac, CFP, head of practice management.

As for non-Cetera faces, they included Joel Bruckenstein, CFP®, co-producer of the T3 Technology Tools for Today Conference and Newsletter service, who spoke about “Outsourcing: The Ultimate Business Optimizer.”

Mary Dunlap, CFP, president of Mary Dunlap Consulting, discussed “Driving Human Capital Development and Results.” Click here for more.

Marie Swift is president and CEO of Impact Communications, Inc., a full-service marketing communications and PR firm exclusively serving the financial services industry. Follow @marieswift on Twitter. Read her Best Practices in the Financial Services Industry blog at www.marieswift.com.