For the first time, an individual RIA kicked off the annual Schwab IMPACT conference as an example of the growth, health, and evolution of the RIA industry.
Dale Yahnke, of Dowling and Yahnke was one of the first independent RIAs established in the industry and is a great example of the success of the independent RIA model over the last 25 years. The firm grew from a start up in the early ‘90’s to become a wealth management enterprise today.
Yahnke’s experience navigating the changes, growth, and industry evolution is very much a mirror experience for Schwab – a custodian for over 7,000 RIAs, representing $1.3 trillion in assets. Yanhke welcomed the 4,000 IMPACT attendees by bringing up to the stage the head of Advisor Services at Schwab, Bernie Clark.
Clark took the opportunity to highlight some of the initiatives Schwab invested in over the last year to support advisors. These programs included a category advertising campaign to raise awareness of independent advisors, free equity trades for new clients, consulting for cybersecurity, and enhancements for electronic approvals.
While Clark discussed Schwab-focused initiatives, Schwab CEO Walt Bettinger took a few swipes at industry competitors, including the early robo advisors who he predicted would be eventually acquired or “dissolve away,” as well as the “challenged models” of broker dealers in a post-DOL environment. Despite these developments, Bettinger encouraged RIAs to continue to differentiate themselves based on relationships and advanced planning services, “as traditional firms will now start to look a lot like you, post DOL,” he said.
In between high profile keynote speakers, IMPACT’s conference agenda was packed with breakout sessions. Educational topics included investment themes, new regulations, technology developments, practice management advice, and marketing sessions.
The exhibit hall buzzed with many topics, one being the recently announced acquisition of CRM provider, Salentica by SS&C Advent, to round out its Black Diamond Wealth Management platform. The firm’s integration of platform partners is setting the bar for technology integration going forward.
Two keynotes stood out as interesting barometers of our society today. New Yorker columnist and best-selling book author, Malcolm Gladwell and Sherry Turkle of MIT provided their perspective in well-received sessions. Gladwell told the story of how our world is evolving from “strong-linked, top down” organizational structures, to “weak-linked, dispersed” systems, and that the focus for management should be on the latter, due to societal and technology changes.
Gladwell provided many examples of the problem with a “strong-linked” approach, such as national security problems, cyber hacking, and more. Government and business has focused on protecting and enhancing the top players and managers. Yet what is happening is that the ultimate cause of breaches is the vast expanse of users that provide opportunities for penetration and problems. For example, almost all of the high profile cyber security breeches that have recently occurred are typically traced to a front-line employee or government worker.
Meanwhile, Turkle is a social scientist that has spent her time focused on the impacts technology – most notably computer screens, social media platforms and smart phones – have had on human interactions. Not surprisingly, her research has shown a dramatic decrease in 1-1 communications as a new generation is growing up with the notion that they would rather “text than talk.” This trend is problematic, according to Turkle, as a decrease in personal conversations leads to less intimacy, less empathy and thus a lack of productivity and engagement at home and in the workplace.
Other celebrity name speakers on the IMPACT agenda included political consultant Ian Bremmer, former Secetary of Labor, Robert Reich, former Senator Alan Simpson and popular NBA superstar Earvin “Magic” Johnson.
The final night gala event was truly memorable. Conference organizers brought popular rock stars Los Lobos and Jason Mraz onto the playing field of the San Diego Padres home stadium, Petco Park, complete with boardwalk games and a three-story ferris wheel.
To learn more about what went on at Schwab IMPACT, check out the many tweets on the #SchwabIMPACT hashtag on Twitter.
Timothy D. Welsh, CFP® is President and founder of Nexus Strategy, LLC, a leading consulting firm to the wealth management industry, and periodically blogs for Advent’s On Point blog. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter@NexusStrategy.