conference has become the premier event for networking among advisors, fund managers and executives and Schwab personnel.
The competition among fund companies for advisors' attendance is fierce. Prior to the start of the conference, this writer had been invited to nine -- count 'em, nine -- mutual fund dinner/cocktail parties for Sunday night.
Moreover, based on subsequent conversations with fund company personnel, had I made it to the opening night gala (airline delays prevented me, along with many other East Coast attendees, from arriving on time), I would have been invited to at least two additional dinner parties. Monday brought no relief, as I was invited through pre-conference communications to eight evening events, and invited to two additional dinners during my visits to exhibit hall booths during the day.
From this advisor's point of view, in a conference full of value-added components, the opportunity to meet with fund managers adds the most value of all. Fund companies have been very accommodating in bringing their managers to the conference to meet in one-on-ones or small group meetings with advisors.
Case in point: on Monday, I was able to schedule one small group meeting before breakfast and four additional one-on-ones in the afternoon. Tuesday brought two more one-on-ones. These were all in addition to the opportunities to speak with managers at the two Sunday night dinners that I managed to attend and the three Monday night dinners that I was able to cab around to.
Nevertheless, I could not attend all of the manager meetings that I would have liked. The Exhibit Hall would be ideal for meeting managers except that it is jammed between educational sessions, creating a sort of feeding frenzy at the booths where managers are appearing. I had three terrific meetings in the Exhibit Hall with fund managers that I had never met -- but I had to pass up educational sessions to meet them at a time when the Hall was not crowded.
At the same, almost every fund company at the conference is making some type of effort to meet off-site with groups of advisors. The difficulty is that, as mentioned above, the typical advisor is invited to numerous dinners and is spread too thin to attend more than two or perhaps three. And even then, it is questionable whether the advisor will be able to hear the manager speak at both events.
On the flip side, fund companies are dropping upwards of several thousands of dollars on dinner and transportation for a number of advisors. If the advisor is lucky, he/she gets to hear the manage speak early, and then can somewhat graciously excuse him/herself and hope to get to another restaurant in time too hear another manger speak, hopefully after dinner has been served. Otherwise, the advisor gets to hear the manager at the first meal and then either misses the manager at the second meal.
Moreover, after hearing the manager speak, the advisor is stuck sitting next to another advisor. Although there could be some value in networking with other advisors, the seating and attendance is too random to count on sitting next to the optimal person. Most advisors would rather leave for the next manager meeting. Nobody benefits from this arrangement. Perhaps Schwab and the fund companies can work together to create a centralized dining area at or near the convention site where the fund companies can cater in a dinner and have their managers available to talk to small groups on Monday (i.e., the non-gala) evening.
Alternatively, perhaps the fund companies and Schwab can work together to allow the fund companies to set up hospitality suites at the hotels or small conference rooms in the conference center to allow for more frequent and focused manager meetings. This would enable advisors to move among many more fund company meals and talk with many more fund company representatives and managers. It also would increase the attendance among the fund company events. And it might even increase the variety of food available to the attendees!
See you next year in Seattle!
Part 1: The Official Conference Agenda
Part 2: The Exhibit Hall and Other Stuff
Richard Bregman, CFA is a New York-based Registered Investment Advisor and president of MJB Asset Management, LLC., currently managing over $45 million in assets. Richard is a former member of the Schwab Institutional Advisory Council.
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