I am not a conference person. I always feel like I am most productive when in my office or meeting with advisors on their turf. But I have to say that I was proven wrong during the first week in Denver when I attended the mega-custodian’s big event of the year, where more than 5,000 people, 1,600 of them RIAs, converged upon the Mile High City.

Here’s a list of my top takeaways:

  1. Advisors in the BD World Lack Control Over Their Businesses (and It Bothers Them)
    I had the opportunity to talk with many newly minted independents who came from wirehouses or IBD’s and all of them reported embracing a sense of freedom and autonomy that had been previously lacking. These folks are using these freedoms to customize their service models, report on assets held away, acquire other practices and plan for succession.
     
  2. RIAs Expect More (and Rightly So) From Their Custodians
    To be sure, safe asset custody, cutting edge technology and operational support are the basic expected deliverables, but it is “thought partnership” and practice management support that these advisors value most.
     
  3. Scale and Size Matter
    Some 54% of industry assets are held by firms managing in excess of $1 billion. These firms, whether they be wirehouses or midsize independents, are the ones that invest in their businesses and innovate in meaningful ways. This proves that scale and size matter.
     
  4. Independence Is Valued by Reps
    Schwab reports that their average deal size is up 31% in 2014 and that their recruiting from wirehouses has doubled year over year. While the specific stats are new information to me, the facts don’t surprise me at all. We are seeing an ever increasing number of mega teams and individual practitioners choosing independence because they value control over their destiny more than anything else.
     
  5. Acquisitions Are the Key to Growth
    In order to build a $1 billion-plus enterprise, nothing moves the needle more than acquisition.
     
  6. It’s Not Just About the Owners 
    Independent firms where business development is solely dependent upon the principal(s) and which don’t have viable succession plans have little to no enterprise value.
     
  7. It’s Not for Everyone
    Despite growth in the RIA and other independent channels, not everyone is cut out to be independent.

While time in my office and in the field is well spent, it’s good to listen and absorb every once in a while. I learned a lot at IMPACT and felt glad that I pushed myself to step outside my comfort zone.

For more on the Schwab conference, please see Schwab Impact 2014 in Pictures and the complete Schwab Impact 2014 home page.