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Financial Planning > Behavioral Finance

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With the broker-dealer conference season safely in the rear-view mirror, I have now had sufficient time to digest some of what I’ve seen and heard over the past few months. I understand that there may be children reading this column, so I will do my best to keep it at PG-13 or better.

Most BDs have at least one major conference during the year. There are generally three categories of people at these events. There are, of course, the advisors themselves. In addition, you’ll find the BD’s home-office staff and a whole gaggle of sponsor company representatives (i.e., wholesalers). Throw these three ingredients together in a resort atmosphere, mix in a good dose of alcohol, a touch of sunshine, and — voila! — the absolute best people-watching money can buy!

The majority of my career has involved carefully observing the financial advisor in his or her natural habitat. This year has been no exception. And one thing that made an impression on me after this most recent round of conferences was the attire. More specifically, it was the wide variety of attire I encountered that really intrigued me.

Oh sure, you see a fair amount of suits at these meetings. There are also quite a few golf shirts and slacks. Occasionally you see some flip-flops or my favorite — a pair of shorts with sandals and socks (white or black). I even saw a man wearing a pair of white leather shoes. The fact that he was under 60 years of age was most puzzling to me.

Outside of these conferences, my dealings with financial advisors occur mainly in a business setting — usually in the rep’s office, and occasionally on the golf course. The sheer repetition of these encounters has hard-wired my brain to expect a certain type of wardrobe that is, in my eyes, rep-like.

But the big national conference is a different animal. For all intents and purposes, you get the privilege of living with hundreds of financial advisors for a few precious days. Now, please, don’t get me wrong — I enjoy myself at these events. It’s just that, sometimes, my brain has a hard time making the financial-advisor connection if the person I’m talking to is not wearing one of the preapproved outfits.

The most obvious place for an awkward meeting is at the pool or the beach. During one of those rare conference lulls, it’s common for attendees to hit the pool for a little relaxation and a case of beer before the next big compliance talk. It is here that I sometimes find myself in trouble.

Let me just start by saying that I’m the first to admit that not everyone can pull off a leopard-print Speedo like me. That said, most advisors can and do look fairly normal around a pool.

Inevitably, though, the lines get crossed. Please, tell me, what am I supposed to do when the person in the lounge chair next to me says, “Hey, would you mind putting some of this sunscreen lotion on my back? While you’re doing that, you can tell me about your firm’s intangible drilling costs and typical depletion allowances”?

What would you do in a situation like that? I know what I did. After a little stammering, I wiped the cocoa butter off the face of my watch and said, “Damn, I’m late. I’m supposed to be putting the trinkets out at my booth! I gotta run.”

For those of you who may have picked up a cute little stuffed oil well that reeked of cocoa butter… my sincerest apologies.


BILL MILLER, once a mildly amusing comedian, now works as an industry wholesaler and is a former recruiter for a leading independent broker-dealer. He can be reached at [email protected].


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