FPA NexGen Goes to Anaheim

Last weekend I took a quick trip down to Anaheim for FPA’s NexGen Community of Interest annual conference. Previous conferences had been stand alone, but this year the NexGen conference was lumped in with the FPA national conference (which started the following day at the Anaheim Convention Center). Here are some of my highlights:

Middle Market Session
Boulevard R participated in a panel discussion moderated by Michael Kitces on different models for serving the Middle Market. There were two advisors on the panel as well: JJ Sessions and Patrick Dougherty. It was interesting to hear how it’s still a big challenge to serve the Middle Market outside of an hourly model (which is very hard to do successfully).

The session had great audience participation, particularly from Mary Bell and Bonnie Hughes. We talked about how software alone won’t solve consumers’ problems and that having a person behind any technology is critical. It also is important to remember that people typically want to be told what to do (a lesson from behavioral economics which is reinforced by the experience of technology companies such as Financial Engines) and while cash flow sites like Mint.com are helpful, they’re a far cry from financial planning.

Another aspect that was touched on was the constant need for advisors to be out in the community marketing their services. Without steady engagement and a flow of new prospects, advisors can’t have anywhere near a profitable business serving the Middle Market (or any other type of practice for that matter). After the session was over I spent some time bringing one of our busier AMP advisors up to speed on the new email marketing service. The value proposition I laid out for her is really simple and she got it right away:

1. Current marketing efforts (brown bag small/medium company presentations, etc.)
2. Follow up with an email campaign offering the Starter Roadmap
3. Prospects who are interested click on the activation link the email (prospect qualifies themselves)
4. Advisor can view their information (advisor qualifies prospect)
5. Advisor finds new clients
6. Repeat

What the World Really Thinks of Your Profession
Ron Lieber, who one former colleague from Fi-Life described as the big kahuna of personal finance writers (Ron now writes for the NY Times) led an interesting session where he basically just flashed quotes from people he interviewed about the perceived value of financial planners. After a few minutes it became clear that planners have a major marketing/positioning problem.

The public doesn’t get “planning” and thinks that planners are more or less the same as investment advisors at wirehouses (not to be trusted). The quotes ranged from “they’ll steal you blind” to “the dartboard always wins (stockpicking is random at best)” to “I don’t need to pay someone to lose money for me.” The thrust of the comments highlighted the perception that for the general public, financial planners are synonymous with asset managers.

It made me think about something I heard at the NexGen Circle Gathering the night before where someone said that the financial planning community’s interests are diametrically opposed to those of financial services companies. If the financial planning community is going to get noticed, they need to position hard against financial services (right now they’re just getting lumped in with them). This is made more challenging for FPA, since a major source of revenue is based on sponsorships from these same financial services companies. Also, if FPA narrowly defines their membership (like NAPFA has), then they undercut their ability to grow and have an impact. Alienation vs. Irrelevance.

Under the Trees
I attended the lunchtime discussion on marketing and business development which included close to 2/3rds of all NexGeners (there were two other discussion groups, but this topic had by far the largest draw). Before we got started, I got to chat with Ron Lieber who had edited a story that Fi-Life had published on Boulevard R back in the early days. Ron is a really nice guy and very thoughtful about including other people in a conversation.

Some of the interesting take-aways from the discussion were:

* Niche yourself by working with a select group (anesthesiologists) and then become an expert on their issues and create a study group with other professionals who serve your niche.

* Build a non-client advisory team with individuals who have outside expertise and will help you think through business issues twice a year. This could grow into a great source of referrals after a couple of years and benefits your advisors as well, since they can network amongst themselves.

* Create a plan and work the plan. Marketing traction doesn’t happen overnight and many advisors give up if the initial results aren’t stellar. Wash, rinse, repeat.

I’m glad that I had the chance to attend this years NexGen conference. It’s the one chance I have during the year to connect with many of the planners who have been big contributors and supporters of Boulevard R’s efforts to bring independent educational content out into the world.

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