I doubt any advisers failed to notice all the buzz in September and October as the conference season came to a close. While advisers often walk away with a myriad of new ideas and insights to apply to their firms, I'd like to point out some of the intangible themes I've gleaned from attending dozens of events over the past 60 days.
These themes, which permeate our profession, are the undercurrents shaping our space right now and they've unveiled clues for what may come in 2020 and beyond.
Sense of community
From major industry conferences to my visits with advisers and prospective partners around the country, a deep sense of community, camaraderie and abundance was in the air — more so than I can recall in recent years.
The feeling this fall has been palpable, whether you're attending in person or following along on social media. The complexities of our business have never been more demanding. The expectations of the clients we serve have never been higher. All of this compounding at once is waking a lot of advisers up and forcing them to take a close look at how they'll navigate 2020 and beyond.
With the never-ending commotion and complexity, it's an ideal opportunity to surround yourself with bright, capable and thoughtful people. Running your firm from an island of isolation will no longer suffice and, based on the participation I've seen at industry conferences this year, advisers are embracing the value that comes from their fellow adviser community.
Tech keeps turning it up
Technology providers have saturated the conference season to the point where they now attract the attention of thousands of users and prospects to each event. A perfect example, outside of eMoney's Summit and Riskalyze's Fearless Investing Summit, is the Wealth/Stack conference selling out in its first year of existence.
But it's not the same tech conversation happening of years past. The conversation has turned from, "How can you use technology to grow your business?" to "How do I provide an integrated experience?"
My colleague and co-president at Carson, Teri Shepherd, said it best when she was quoted at Wealth/Stack 2019 as saying, "You have to automate the ordinary in order to achieve the extraordinary."
This message was echoed by keynotes and panelists all year and has been a universal theme to so many questions advisers have about leveraging their tech stack.
Mixed bag on fees
One of the things that was top of mind, understandably, following announcements from TD Ameritrade, Interactive Brokers, ETrade and Charles Schwab, was fee compression. Throughout my conversations and meetings, my takeaway from the initial shock waves of eliminating transaction fees is that reactions are very mixed — it's about 50-50 whether advisers think this is good thing or a bad thing for their own businesses. This will be a sentiment to keep a close eye on in 2020.
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Giving and gratitude
The sudden, distressing passing of Envestnet CEO Jud Bergman in early October caused many in our industry to take a pause and reflect on the legacy of a true visionary and the impact we can have on those around us. I knew Jud when he first started Envestnet in 1999, and, while many at the time — including me — thought he was crazy, he showed us what being a visionary really meant. He was a man ahead of his time.
One of the things that stood out over the past few weeks, in talking with friends at various conferences and reading the moving tributes to his life, were the overwhelming comments about his kindness and his aptitude for listening.
It was these two qualities, more so than being one of the smartest guys in the room, that made him successful and so important to financial services. Going into the season of giving and reflection, I know I'll be doing a lot of reflecting on Jud's legacy, on what it means to have humility, and the extensive reach of a simple act of kindness.
As we head into business planning for 2020, take stock in the strength of the community around you — your family, friends, colleagues and co-workers, your mentors, your partners and your prospects. Consider the ways you plan to innovate and grow. Take inventory of your strengths and weaknesses — your technology, your people, your services, your clients.
And do something with that knowledge so few of us actually accomplish. Put it into action. Use it to make change happen. You'll see a better firm as a result — and a more evolved profession behind you.