Registrations for TD Ameritrade Institutional’s 2012 National Conference are up from last year, says Tom Bradley, the firm’s institutional president, helped by the presence of some high-profile speakers like Vice President Dick Cheney, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, former head of the FDIC Sheila Bair and the recently added Jeremy Siegel of Wharton. 

The theme of the conference, planned for Feb. 1-4 in Orlando, Fla., is “focusing on the future,” Bradley (left) said in an interview Jan. 13, emphasizing as well the opportunities for advisors among Generations X and Y and women. Bradley argues that “it’s a great time for advisors,” despite “more uncertainty than ever” stemming from political gridlock in the U.S., from concerns over debt and “over-regulation,” not to mention geopolitical concerns over European debt, Iranian saber-rattling and regime change in North Korea. However, Bradley said “difficult times spell opportunity to advisors.”

Warming to his theme, he turned to the issue of women as clients. Bradley said “it’s an opportunity there for the taking. Women want an advisor but feel underserved,” calling a focus on women clients–another focus of the conference–a “classic blue ocean strategy” for advisors. “Women want a broader conversation, women want more collaboration,” which independent advisors can provide. When asked why there aren’t more women advisors, Bradley said “I definitely see more women” advisors when he speaks, particularly as principals of advisory firms.

Speaking of the fiduciary issue, Bradley further argued that during times of uncertainty, consumer will “turn to advisors and specifically to RIAs, because when you lay out in front of them their choice–fiduciary or sales–they’ll take the obvious.” But he acknowledged that the industry has to “do more to educate consumers” about the fiduciary issue, while he reiterated the importance of “separating sales from advice; I don’t see how you can harmonize the two, I don’t see how you jam fiduciary into a sales environment.”

As for what advisors are looking for these days from their partners, Bradley noted an increased interest in alternative investing strategies, and in particular in options. Bradley declined to comment on a published report that some retail users of thinkorswim could not get through to execute trades and have filed an arbitration claim against the firm, the options trading firm that TD Ameritrade bought in 2009 and on which it completed an 18-month integration in August 2011. Bradley did speak about the strategy desk for advisors that TD Ameritrade has built in Chicago. “It’s staffed [by] former CBOE traders,” Bradley said, and allows advisors to “talk to a person to get education on portfolios” and to vet specific options strategies.

Chastened by the troubled markets of 2008-2009, Bradley said the financial crisis “made advisors better and stronger, made them manage client portfolios better, and made them manage their businesses better.”

Advisors have “come to embrace practice management,” he concluded, pointing out that TD Ameritrade Institutional advisors who take advantage of the custodian’s Roadmap program grew their practices by 18%, while those who didn’t grew by only 10%.