Kicking off the 15th annual TD Ameritrade Institutional 2011 National Conference in San Diego on Thursday, Tom Bradley, the long-tenured president of the advisor custodian, said “the RIA industry is thriving,” helped by the resurgence in the markets—Bradley noted that the S&P is up 93% from its trough in March 2009—referenced a chart showing that since 2005, RIAs have gained 39% in total assets, while the wirehouses only showed a 4% increase.

The 15th annual conference attracted 1,400 advisors, 2,600 total attendees and 160 exhibitors, the company said, despite travel difficulties caused by a wintry storm that hit much of the country in the days before the conference began.

A storm of a different kind led to the speaking cancellation of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was scheduled to give the opening day keynote speech but who, in a video that was played for attendees, said that instead of flying to San Diego to give his speech he was flying to Jerusalem instead in his role as head of the “quartet” of nations that has been working for years for a broad-based Middle East peace agreement. “After spending 10 years as British Prime Minister,” Blair said with tongue in cheek, “I thought I’d try something easier: finding peace in the Middle East.”

Ably filling in was a man characterized by Blair as his “old friend,” Gen. Colin Powell, the former Secretary of State and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who returned compliments to Blair, noting in a very well-received speech that he was one of the founders of the quartet.

As for TD Ameritrade itself, CEO Fred Tomczyk (left) said the firm “recognizes the independent RIA channel as the fastest growing channel in the wealth management industry,” noting that the client-centered approach resonates with the investor.Speaking of which, Tomczyk proclaimed that “the retail investor is coming back,” and while joblessness remains stubbornly high, “unemployment and long term interest rates are lagging indicators to an economy that’s back.”

Other firms, he said, “don’t run a multi-channel model like we do” that includes trading, investing and advice, and that TD Ameritrade is “indifferent as to how clients do that—if somebody is wealthy and wants advice, we send them to you.”

Since TD Ameritrade belives that tablet computers and smartphones “will take off,” TD will help take advantage of that boom by introducing a native iPad application. He also said the company will be “putting in a whole new cash management system in the

fall,” that will allow clients to “get all the banking services you need through your [trading] account,” and that it will begin a cross-referral program between TD Bank’s 1,300 branches in the U.S. and TD Ameritrade’s retail branches.

On Fiduciary, 'Thought We Were Through With All This'

Bradley took up the iPad app lead from Tomczyk, saying an initial mobile version of TDA’s Veo technology platform will be available “around April.” He also cited TD’s Roadmap program for its affiliated RIAs, saying that those advisors who completed the program found average organic growth of 19%, compared to growth of 9% by advisors who were not in the program. He also unveiled a new advisor education center, a Web-based educational program for its affiliated advisors that he said will launch within the “next three to four weeks.” He also showed off a new templated letter that advisors could use to write to their congressional representatives, urging that the SEC be retained as the regulator of RIAs, rather than an SRO such as FINRA.

Speaking of the fiduciary standard, Bradley said that he “thought we were done with this stuff when we fought to strike down the broker exemption,” but that instead, “we’re at the beginning of this.” He wondered how brokerage firms would be able to assume a fiduciary standard: “How are they going to do this? How do you take a salesperson and drive them into a fiduciary model?”

He promised that TD Ameritrade would “stay close” to the process of the SEC’s rulemaking on a fiduciary standard for all advice givers: “We will have feet on the ground with lawmakers and legislators; we’re proud to advocate on behalf of you.”

While Bradley reiterated that TD would “stand behind the SEC continuing to regulate advisors,” he warned that “FINRA is going to be involved somehow.” He received spontaneous applause from the 1,400 advisors in attendance when he said “We don’t need more regulation, we need better regulation.”