Thousands of industry professionals from all facets of the financial advisor industry descended on Chicago’s McCormick Place last week for an action-packed, highly produced Schwab IMPACT 2017, the 26th annual conference. The conference continues to grow in proportion to Schwab’s scale in the RIA space.
Bernie Clark Set the Tone
Opening remarks by Bernie Clark, executive vice president of the Charles Schwab Corp. and head of Schwab Advisor Services, were designed to show how all of that scale accrues to RIAs and how incumbents like Schwab have an advantage. “In the past, technology disruption was dependent on the small startups. Now, we are at an inflection point where new technology craves data, a scenario where incumbents have the advantage,” he said.
While Schwab and other firms of its size and scale have an advantage, the firm underscores that change is a given. Clark underscored the dystopian possibilities arising from rapid onset of the phenomenon of machines outthinking people. “Twenty-five million jobs will be lost due to automation over the next 10 years, a number that is three times the impact of the financial crisis,” he said. “We will be living in a robotic economy.”
Clark continued: “The enormity of change and the speed of change will increase the challenges. People are living longer, there will be social and financial impacts raising the question, will your children be able to afford their lifestyles?”
In a departure from previous years, no platform enhancements for the custody business were addressed, In another change, instead of the usual opening keynote Q&A with President and CEO Walt Bettinger run tightly by Clark, this year’s conference organizers let the audience take charge through a “social wall” of questions voted on by attendees. Popular questions focused on blockchain technology, HSA accounts, advertising campaigns, industry consolidation and Schwab’s robo.
Conference Speakers Tell Story of Industry Growth
Numerous sessions focused on industry growth themes and personal stories of success. For example, United Capital Financial Advisers’ Duran captivated a breakout session room with his story of coming to the United States with little means in his youth and going on to build, sell, and build again, million-dollar businesses.
“I went from $200 in my pocket to sell an asset management business to General Electric and from that grow United Capital to $20 billion AUM, 87 locations, 607 employees and $180 million in run rate revenue.” Duran provided his vision for the future of the advice industry, echoing Clark’s premise that the advantages in technology going forward would all accrue to the incumbents, in his session titled, “Competing in the age of Vanguard.”
FinTech as Big Theme
Financial services technology was of course another top theme at the conference. In this arena, it was very helpful to have Lex Sokolin, global director of fintech strategy for Autonomous Research, give a deep dive on the effect fintech was having on all aspects of wealth management.
Sokolin provided a commonsensical and jargon-free (as could be expected) explanation of blockchain, how human judgment was being digitized by machines and what that portends for advisors. His takeaway? Fintech change is underway, but due to the slow nature of a regulated and complex industry, it is still a ways away so advisors can still keep their jobs for now.
Lots to Do and See
In typical fashion, IMPACT brought with it high-profile keynote speakers including former United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron, Chicago Cubs president of operations Theo Epstein and best-selling author Michael Lewis. Cameron was a clear attendee favorite receiving multiple standing ovations for his thoughts on how western democracies can regain their leadership status in the world.
Despite the somewhat somber notes from the conference content, IMPACT still radiated with action in the vast exhibit hall where over 400 vendors vied for a piece of the RIA-industry success story. And of course the party scene at IMPACT was also in full force with everything from extravagant receptions to smaller networking events.
Review #SchwabIMPACT for any of the exciting recaps and phots from the action-packed week.