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Into the (Unknown) Future

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A Danish proverb holds that “it is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future,” and yet day in and day out advisors must plan for an unknowable future, using the historical data they have about whatever they need to predict (the stock market, say).

Software tools like Monte Carlo simulations may provide you with probability numbers, and understanding how the markets or economy fared immediately following a Federal Reserve rate hike in the past will, for instance, yield some insight into what is likely to happen. As I write this, the FOMC’s September meeting is two days away — and the entire financial services world is on tenterhooks to see if the Fed will raise rates.

This is our 35th anniversary edition, and in its pages we thought it would be beneficial to look 35 years into the future, focusing on three areas of great interest to advisors: how to invest for the long term; how the demographics of the United States will change; and how regulation will shape the way advisors serve clients.

Ten years ago, one of my advisor mentors, Gene Balliett, convinced me to do some research on an idea already of interest to him: that there soon would be a big jump in the life expectancy of Americans. If so, there would be multiple ramifications for advisors and their clients, he pointed out. After about five seconds, I was hooked. So I gave a speech on what I found at the NAPFA Southeast annual conference and then used my findings as the basis for a cover story on the occasion of Investment Advisor‘s 25th anniversary issue.

In that story published in December 2005 I wrote: “Within the next 10 or 15 years, there will be a big leap in human longevity that will radically change our society, will greatly affect international relations and the business world, and will also transform the way that advisors conduct their practices and service their clients.”

While I gave myself a little cushion in my prediction about the future, and that “big leap” may actually occur in the next five years, it’s fair to say it’s unlikely in that amount of time. But delayed is not denied — it likely will still happen, I believe.

The independent advisor profession has grown up with this magazine, and in the next two pages we present a timeline of some of the key events of the past 35 years in the advisory profession. Without knowing our past, as I recall the historian and author David McCullough saying at an advisor conference eight years ago, how can we know where we’re going? “You can’t be a full participant in our democracy if you don’t know our history.”

It doesn’t take a crystal ball to suggest that advisors will still be around 35 years from now, and that you or your successors will be struggling with some of the same issues that Investment Advisor has covered over the past 35 years: how to build and run your business; how to invest for clients; how to stay compliant; how to use technology to be more efficient and serve clients better.

Investment Advisor began under a different name and with a different focus 35 years ago, but over the intervening years, editors past and present, contributors then and now, have adjusted to changes we didn’t cause and made some changes that we can, and do, control.

It’s been an honor to serve you, and I hope we can continue to do so for another 35 years, when your jobs will be different but the same, when your clients will need the same advice and different advice, when this country will be what it has been and what it has yet to be.

Click here to view a PDF of the IA Timeline.


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