The Schwab IMPACT 2012 Conference opened Tuesday in Chicago. The annual gathering of independent investment advisors, now in its 21st year, will go on through Friday bringing together the industry’s best and brightest advisors.

Advantage, Schwab's conference for independent retirement plan providers, is also being run concurrently with IMPACT. The conference provides connectivity to more than 1,500 advisors, 300 exhibits, 100 peers and Schwab’s leadership team.

This year, Schwab has also introduced the Trailblazer IMPACT Award, which will recognize RIAs who “help advance the industry through visionary leadership and action.” The winner of the award will receive a $15,000 donation to a charity of his choice and firm representatives will be honored at the conference.

The conference presents advisors an opportunity to network, learn and take advantage of Schwab’s services, like its marketing and advertising campaign, RIAStandsForYou.

The sessions, spread over three days, will cover complex topics addressing optimism, risk-taking and teamwork.

IMPACT boasts of an impressive line-up of keynote speakers including actor, producer, director and writer, Alan Alda; former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles; former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates; president of Council of Foreign Exchange, Richard Haass; former U.S. Senator Alan Simpson; chairman, president and CEO of the Harley Davidson group, Keith Wandell; and Charles Schwab, chairman of the board of the Charles Schwab Foundation.

Other speakers are Peter Diamandis, co-founder of Singularity University and founder and CEO, X-Prize Foundation; Scott Nutall, head of global capital and asset management group, KKR & Co.; George Roberts, co-chairman and co-CEO, KKR & Co.; Liz Ann Sonders, Chief Investment Strategist, Charles Schwab & Co.; and Greg Valliere, chief political strategist, Potomac Research Group.

“This year’s keynotes were chosen to speak at IMPACT not only because of their great achievements, but also because of the characteristics they share with advisors, one of them being a sense of unstoppable drive and optimism,” said Bernie Clark, executive vice president and head of Schwab Advisor Services, in a statement. “Their focus on customers, innovative thinking, and their willingness to take on risk and face challenges are all essential components to the success of an independent advisor.”

The conference is also offering a women-only networking session for women advisors. Schwab has also sponsored university students so that they could attend the event.