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Thursday, November 04, 1999

So Happy Together

Reported by Sean Hanna, Editor in Chief

The departure of more than 2000 financial advisors and fund marketers from San Francisco's Moscone Center and the Schwab !MPACT 1999 Conference to the sound of the Turtles marked the end of the conference season for many of the worker bees at the booths.

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So what were the highlights of Schwab's Ninth Advisor lovefest that will stick with attendees for months to come? (We hope the Turtles "So Happy Together" song won't be one of them).

Heads up. Advisors couldn't stop talking about one session which explained how to use exchange traded options such as S&P SPDRs and Dow Diamonds to track the major indices. One advisor who sat in on the session used lunch to prosylitize the pros of these vehicles over funds -- no taxes on uncontrollable distributions. It looks like Barclay's may have a winner in the index-based products it is rolling out. A jackpot may lie in wait for the company that comes up with an actively managed version of these products.

Overheard... Schwab's David Pottruck taking a rest during his Monday night picture-taking walk around and explaining Schwab's business to a woman. "It's wonderful. All of these companies have built businesses around Schwab". ... Morningstar SVP Jim Wironen asking Schwab's John McGonigle if he wanted to see a "demo". We wonder if that is a demo of Morningstar's new online asset allocation advisory service.

Alliance Capital, Artisan Funds, and Firsthand Funds held the prime real estate facing the entrance -- directly in front of the hall hosting breakfast and lunches, these booths were seen by the largest numbers of advisors. Firsthand also boasted one of the top tsotchkes -- the flashiest and probably most expensive pen. Other hot giveaways included ProFunds Swiss Army knife as well as an Impressionist coffee mug from Wasatch, the favorite of the Financial Times' Elizabeth Wine and many others at the conference.

Wine joined the paper last week from Thomson's American Banker to head the esteemed paper's newly expanded US Fund coverage out of New York (for those who don't know, it is the salmon colored newspaper that ranks higher than the WSJ among the European crowd).

Janus Funds held a location nearly as good... if it had an exhibit. Janus missed the opening night kick-off reception hosted by Liberty Funds Distributors. It seems that the exhibit was temporarily delayed in transit. Meanwhile, T. Rowe Price salespeople found themselves in a back aisle located among five firms whose combined assets likely fell short of T. Rowe's.

Missing in action was Fidelity. It seems that the Schwab rival is no longer welcome. The Boston Behemoth pulled its funds from the OneSource lineup and now offers them only through its own supermarket.

What was it with the dancers at American Century's psychedelic bash on Tuesday? We failed to notice anyone managing to keep pace with the hotly dressed pair of dancers. Perhaps the answer was at the Martini bar ...

Schwab used the conference to roll out many of the new technologies that underpin its advisor services, including its SchwabInstitutional.com Web tools and new SchwabLink software.

The new services were set off in the middle of the hall (on extra thick carpeting to rest sore feet). Scores of blue shirted Techie Schwabies were ready to explain the technology.

More on the lips of advisors, though, was AdvisorSource or more specifically how to get in it. More than one small firm complained that advisors with less than $25 million were not getting referrals. Larger firms were scheming on how to get included in the best locations.

Advisors did let out a round of applause when Schwab CEO David Pottruck offered free attendance to next year's gathering in Denver for those who have schlepped to all nine Impacts. From the look on John Coghlan's face we suspect that he was speaking in jest, but if you have made it to nine Impact's we suggest you ask for the freebie anyway.

Next year will be the tenth and may be the last Impact held in the current format. A Schwab spokesperson confirmed rumors circulating among attendees that Schwab may shake up the format of the event. Not known is what form the changes will come in. Possibilities include multiple conferences held for advisors segemented by size, location, or perhaps something totally different.

The spokesperson confirmed that Schwab honchos are looking at issues in light of the meeting's success -- it has grown too big both to find new locations yearly and to serve the differing needs of such a diverse group of advisors. 

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