One of the most popular sessions at the annual Schwab Impact show is the “townhall” meeting at which advisors can ask questions of the executives who run Schwab Institutional. I’ve been to a number of those sessions over the years, and they’re always entertaining and informative. Sometimes, there are even fireworks. The Schwab folks sit in chairs in the front of the room, facing a hundred or so advisors who pepper them with questions about products or policies or pricing, and Deborah McWhinney or Edie Heilman or Myra Rothfeld field those questions personally or defer to another executive to answer the query. It’s a great tradition for the advisors and for those of us in the press who are given entree but can only listen, not speak, though I imagine it can be a bit nerve-wracking for the execs.
This year, there were a number of questions asked about Schwab’s position on the SEC’s Merrill Lynch rule, under which broker/dealers get an exemption from regulation as an RIA despite the fact that they provide advice for a fee to investors. In response, the Financial Planning Association has sued the SEC, and TD Waterhouse, among others, has voiced its opposition to the rule, but the number one custodian of independent advisors has been noticeably quiet on the issue. To learn how Deb McWhinney reacted and for a report on the other doings at Impact, please turn to the lead news story on page 21. I would like to report in this space, however, on another interesting aspect of that meeting: the noted presence of women–such as McWhinney and Heilman and Rothfeld–with heavy responsibility at Schwab Institutional, and how not one person I spoke to felt it important enough to mention the gaggle of gals at the top of the advisor house that Chuck Schwab built.
It’s refreshing, really, to see not just a token female on a financial services industry dais but a whole passel. Perhaps the independent advisor channel is more enlightened than the rest of American society and the industry in general. Maybe there’s no need for this discussion.