Recap of CFA Wealth Management

I spent two days earlier this week in Ft. Lauderdale with more than 300 advisors for the CFA Wealth Management conference.  Last year, I stepped in at the last minute as the moderator of the conference in Los Angeles. I was honored to receive the call to return as co-moderator this year, sharing the responsibility with Tom Bozcar who was instrumental in the creation of this conference more than a decade ago.

The agenda was action packed, but one theme reverberated through every presentation and discussion. Our clients need high quality, human advisors today more than ever. While technology is making it easier and cheaper to provide the basics – asset allocation and financial planning  – humans are emotional and social creatures with brains hardwired to work against making good long-term decisions with money. Biggie was right – Mo money mo problems. Here are some of my highlights from the conference.

Greg Valliere, the legendary voice on US policy and politics in our industry, kicked things off with his no nonsense run down of the political landscape. He expects the US and China to reach a deal in trade negotiations ‘in a few months’. He said the Chinese will not come to US soil until the deal is done. Valliere strongly disagrees with those who think the US is heading towards socialist policies. He thinks the tax cuts are safe for years, even if a Democrat wins the White House in 2020 because 60 votes are needed in the Senate. He also said that if the Presidential election were held today, Trump would win by a large margin. He sees zero chance of a Republican challenging Trump in the primary because the President enjoys something like a 90% approval rating among Republican voters.

Brian Portnoy blew our minds with his discussion on to connection between money and happiness. Each conference attendee received a signed copy of his latest book The Geometry of Wealth. According to Brian, wealth = funded contentment or the ability to underwrite a meaningful life. We must figure out what a meaningful life means to us. Discovery of purpose, the circle in Portnoy’s geometry is an endless life pursuit and the foundation for funding this life. He summed up happiness with a quote from Mad Men:

But what is happiness, it’s a moment before you need more happiness . -Don Draper

Tom Bozcar moderated a panel of advisors who work with ultra high net worth families including Jean Brunel, former CIO of JPMorgan Private Bank and multi-family office GenSpring, Tom McCullough of Northwood Family Office in Toronto, and Rebecca Meyer, a consultant at Relative Solutions. These are three leading advisors to some of the wealthiest families in North America. Tom McCullough had the most quotable comment of the conference:

The term goals-based planning is almost akin to saying ‘oxygen based breathing’.

Tom’s point is – how does one do financial planning that is NOT based on the client’s goals? He has a new book out that dives in to the 50 most common questions wealthy families ask. He asked the top expert on each of the 50 questions to give the answer, and he is creating a podcast series with interviews of all 50 experts. I look forward to reading the copy of Wealth of Wisdom Tom graciously signed and gave to me.

Julie Littlechild, founder of Absolute Engagement, spoke about the need to map a client’s journey and consider their experience. She turned the process for onboarding and servicing our clients completely on its head. Are we considering what our clients are thinking or feeling as they prepare for a meeting? My main takeaway from Julie’s incredible presentation is that the client experience begins before they even speak to you.

Daniel Crosby, the newly minted Chief Behavioral Officer at Brinker Capital, brought the house down at the end of Day 1. He explained to us how our human brains are wired to work against making good long-term decisions with money. From clinical studies that show the brain ‘goes to sleep’ when watching cable news to a survey of 700 men in which 94% of them believe they are more attractive than average, Dr. Crosby had everyone in the audience laughing and learning. He latest book, The Behavioral Investor, includes all the fascinating research he shared in his presentation.

J.P. Morgan Funds Chief Global Strategist, David Kelly, kicked off the second day with his uncanny ability to describe the US economy with memorable and elegant colloquialisms. Dr. Kelly labelled the post Financial Crisis recovery a “healthy tortoise rather than a sickly hare”. He said last year’s tax cut was akin to feeding sugar to the tortoise, causing it to sprint for a while. But the slowdown was not unexpected after the tax cut effects ended. Dr. Kelly does NOT expect an economic recession in 2019 or 2020 unless ‘something else goes wrong’. He’s in the ‘this time its different’ camp regarding the yield curve inversion because central banks are the buyers today.

Nikolee Turner, head of Business Consulting for Charles Schwab, shared Schwab’s research on the fastest growing RIA firms. While the entire RIA space is growing, the top performing firms are claiming the majority of the gains. Turner explained that the top performers have adopted a ‘mindset of innovation and change.’ They understand their reputation is their brand and that attracting and retaining top talent is the key to their success.

To close out the conference, I moderated a panel with Adrian Cronje of Balentine, Marg Franklin of BNY Mellon Wealth Management, and Isaac Presley of Cordant Wealth Partners. I fired off a lightning round of trends or topics in wealth management (AUM fee model, hedge funds, decline of active management) and each panelist declared it a Paradigm (good) or Peeve (bad). It was a lively discussion, and a fun way to end the event. I enjoyed meeting Adrian and Marg for the first time and spending time with Isaac who was on a panel with me a the CFA Annual Conference in Philadelphia a few years ago.

Conferences sometimes feel like a waste of time and energy, but I’ve never felt that way about a CFA conference. The content is superb, the execution is flawless, and the use of a moderator ensures that questions from the audience never turn in to soapboxes. Kudos to Charlie Henneman, Amy Radford, and team for another fantastic event. Plus, it is always nice to be in the company of fellow CFA charterholders. As an added bonus, I met a few fantastic women in wealth management – Emilie Dayan Hill, Nancy Doyle, Avita Sukhram, Monica Jalife, and others. The future of our profession is bright if these are the people to lead it.

Advisors – Save the date for CFA Wealth Management 2020: March 25-26 in Seattle, WA.

 

 

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