The Financial Planning Association expects attendance at its annual conference to decline this year but its non-member attendance may be an encouraging sign.

The FPA kicked off its Major Firms Symposium yesterday and the executives attending were from companies including: Raymond James, Ameriprise, LPL Financial, CitiGroup, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney and Waddell & Reed.

In all there are about 100 of these executives in Anaheim right now who represent 50 companies and about 100,000 financial advisers either as employees or affiliates of their companies. For the complete list CLICK HERE

“All the big brokerages are here,” says Timothy Welsh, principal of Nexus Strategy in Larkspur, Calif. who helped found the symposium at the FPA’s conference in San Diego five years ago. It had only 12 attendees that year. He remains a member of the FPA’s task force and helps speahead the symposium.

The type of executive coming to the FPA pre-conference event is not a national director but many of them oversee 5,000 or more financial advisors, Welsh adds.

The FPA is generally more likely to be seen as the ally of the fee-only financial advisor. The association spearheaded a legal battle with the Securities and Exchange Commission to shoot down the Merrill Lynch rule. The exemption the securities laws allowed brokers to hold themselves out as financial planners. Many of the firms in its Major Firms Symposium would have favored the SEC in that battle.

Though old battle lines may have kept the FPA and the brokerage realm in their own corners in the past, this symposium is starting to bridge the gap.

“It’s the unknown corner of the FPA,” Welsh says. “If you can’t come to the FPA, you can come to the symposium.”

Welsh credits the strong attendance at the FPA’s symposium to its “content” and its ability to create a place for community among like-minded competitors.

Timothy Welsh: “It’s the unknown corner of the FPA."
Timothy Welsh: “It’s the unknown corner
of the FPA."

The symposium’s keynote speaker yesterday was W. Hardy Callcott, former chief counsel for Charles Schwab & Co. of San Francisco and a partner with Bingham McCutchen who gave an overview [see Callcott’s full Power Point presentation at end of this article] of the legal and regulatory landscape including what impact proposed standards could have on large firms. It also covered examined changes in state level regulations compared to national changes.

The FPA also created an AT&T-sponsored forum made up of top technology providers like Allbridge, Sungard and Naviplan. Attendees were looking for answers about how to use these technologies across multiple offices, Welsh says. For the symposium’s full agenda, CLICK HERE

Today from 1:30 to 3 p.m., the symposium will get back to basics with a session called: “What is financial planning?” [Editor: I couldn’t make that up.]

The FPA is fostering relations with these brokers and other firms for good reason, he adds. “Guess what: the FPA wants members,” Welsh says. “This is a nice outreach to them. We’d love to have them as members.”

Editor’s note: The FPA’s Major Firm Symposium appears to be part of a gathering trend of cats sleeping with dogs. At the Investment Management Consultants Association meeting in San Diego in May, it held two sessions about what it’s like to be an RIA and both of them were well-attended. At Schwab’s IMPACT 2009 conference in San Diego last month, it hosted 45 wirehouse brokers considering independence. Now the FPA is hosting 100 executives primarily from legacy brokers. Is this a case of reality getting ahead of legislation?