October 30, 2007

Schwab Announces 2007 Impact Award Winners at Conference

Townhall meeting offers advisors unscripted access to top execs

The winners of Schwab Institutional's second annual Impact Awards were announced at the firm's advisor conference in Las Vegas (October 28-31). Dr. Lewis J. Altfest received the Charles R. Schwab Impact Award from firm founder and chairman Chuck Schwab. Altfest is president of L.J. Altfest & Co., New York, a professor at Pace University and author, among other works, of the textbook, Personal Financial Planning.

Also recognized were Abacus Planning Group, Columbia, South Carolina--Pacesetter Award; Moneta Group, St. Louis, Missouri--Best-in-Business Award; and Friedman & Associates, Novato, California--Best-in-Tech Award.

One of the highlights of past Impact shows has been a townhall meeting where top Schwab Institutional executives took unscripted and often tough questions from advisor attendees. That session didn't happen at Impact 2006, but this year it came back with a twist: in addition to the head of SI, Charles Goldman, this sitdown featured the president and COO of Charles Schwab Corp.--Walt Bettinger.

In prepared remarks, Bettinger highlighted the "incredibly important role" advisors play in Schwab's overall strategy, and that there's been particular "validation within the past year of the relatively simple business model" of SI. In response to a question, Bettinger said "Schwab is an incredibly health company," spurred by "almost completely organic" growth. Speaking to the subprime mortgage issue and the credit crunch that followed, Bettinger pledged that "Protecting the value of money funds is paramount to us."

Transitions of several kinds were clearly on the mind of the advisors who custody with Schwab. When one advisor speculated over how long Chuck Schwab would remain at the helm of his company, Bettinger joked that "Chuck's rate of aging is slower than mine." In response to a question from an advisor who asked whether Schwab would itself consider buying up advisor firms, Goldman said "we've looked at that over the past six years," but concluded that doing so would be "uneconomic and non-strategic"

When it comes to financing advisors, Goldman admitted that Schwab is helping provide financing to wirehouse brokers going independent, and that "we're considering providing financing" to advisors who are looking to acquire other firms, but noted that the economics of such lending could be "difficult," giving the example of an advisory firm with $200 million in AUM that wanted to acquire a $400 million firm.

Finally, in response to an advisor's observation that there seems to be a significant change--a very positive one--in the way that Schwab's top management is speaking to its advisor clients, Goldman said that "over the last three years, we realized we had a responsibility to drive growth in the industry."

This year's Impact Conference, which celebrate Schwab's 20 years of serving the advisor marketplace, drew some 3,800 attendees, the largest turnout in the event's 17-year history.

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