Lon Dolber (left), Ralph DeVito, Amy Webber and David String; photo by Tom McKenzie

Looking more broadly at the industry, were you surprised at TD Ameritrade CEO Tim Hockey’s recent announcement that he will depart? 

Amy Webber, Cambridge: I was. At these [institutional] platforms, it’s a pretty consistent positioning statement that they have to take between serving the advisors and serving the investors, and … that’s unlike our industry.

As they come out with things that may appear to be competitive to some of their constituency, … it could be that he was being asked to do something he wasn’t fully comfortable with or vice-versa. It’s hard to tell. Did it come down to some sort of a difference of opinion between him and the board about who the actual client of the company was? Interesting.

We would like to get your “quick take” on a few issues, like ESG/SRI/impact investing. Thoughts?

David Stringer, Prospera: We just haven’t had a lot of demand for it.

Ralph DeVito, The Investment Center: Not much interest in it so far.

Webber: Huge demand. We are about to roll out our impact investing digital platform at our national conference, Ignite, in the fall.

The markets/market cycle?

Webber: Challenging, but isn’t that the time where advisors can show their value to investors?

DeVito: I’d be cautious at these levels, especially with the international political turmoil.

Stringer: These markets almost feel like a public utility to me, being driven more by interest rates, Federal Reserve policy than actual performance and stock buybacks.

How about Federal Reserve independence?

Stringer: Post-financial crisis, some moves that were made were unprecedented. We don’t know how we’re going to unpack [them], when it’s all said and done.

Lon Dolber, American Portfolios: The Fed must remain independent. They are getting pressured.

Webber: More independent.

DeVito: Is the Fed really independent?

Negative interest rate?

DeVito: Not good.

Stringer: The are trillions of dollars with negative interest rates over in Europe. That’s going to come home to roost someday.

Trade wars, tariffs?

Dolber: Tariffs are not on the Republican platform, so it’s disappointing.

Stringer: We’ve gone from a cooperative global market to a competitive global market, which is not good in the long run.

Who do you follow on Twitter or other media?

Dolber: Fareed Zakaria.

Webber: No not necessarily because they inspire me, but I find it interesting to follow President Trump and the Pope. I also follow Bezos, who is inspiring now and then, and I like Mark Tibergien.

Stringer: Epsilon Theory, which is from author Ben Hunt, very big picture.

What about your favorite conference speakers or authors?

Webber: Simon Sinek [see page 26]. He was a game changer for our company — not in terms of our mission statement but our purpose. Why does Cambridge exist?

Dolber: The why, not the what.

Stringer: We hired him to help us develop our why, before he became so popular.

Webber: Patrick Lencione has some great books, and you can read them a two- or three- hour flight.

Stringer: “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” is one of my favorites.

Dolber: We had Billy Beane [the Oakland A’s executive] speak. He is great. He talks financial and says we’re in the same business — arbitrage — and look for value that nobody else sees.

Stringer: I like Duncan MacPherson, co-founder and CEO Pareto Systems.

DeVito: Colin Powell.

Webber: Michele Poler, who tackled 100 fears in 100 days. As we try to inspire young people to take on our industry as a career, she helped us focus on the big reasons why they don’t, like the fear of taking someone’s financial future into your hands.

Dolber: Molly Fletcher. She was very good.

We also had Sen. Chris Dodd. Some advisors threatened to not come to our conference, but they did. He talked about what’s changed in government, and how there’s no civility anymore. When he was starting out, he asked his [political] party for advice. They said, “What are you asking us for? Go to the other side of the aisle, because that’s who you’re going to be dealing with. Ask them for advice.” He got a standing ovation.

DeVito: We had Oliver North. Other people at the hotel saw him walk in and then crashed our speech.