One of the biggest wastes of time and talent that I see in the financial services industry is something you probably take for granted: the conference exhibit hall. 

Consider: we have a whole class of well-trained representatives of mutual funds, software providers, insurance companies, and they travel from city to city like modern nomads, lugging their booths along, for the privilege of standing in the exhibit hall and watch advisors pass by without making eye contact.  Their most important function seems to be to give away fluffy toy bulls or bears, nice pens or golf balls.

I think the modern exhibit hall is an anachronism from the old sales days of the profession.  Back then, it made sense to stock your shelves with investment products, and I remember professional advisors ignoring the sessions because they were poring over limited partnership prospectuses, discussing payouts (and "due diligence" trips and "sales awards") and the more conscientious ones would even ask about deal terms and track records.  

Today's investment companies have invested in ancillary services for advisors, and in intellectual capital--looking at how to improve diversification, how best to gain exposure to asset classes, macroeconomic thinking that you can provide to your clients--and then they invest more in the booth space, which reduces the cost of attendance for advisors.  But when you actually walk through the exhibit hall, you see that virtually all of this expenditure seems to be wasted--except, perhaps, for the toy bulls and bears, which make nice gifts for the grandkids.

If you have a moment, here's what I'd like to talk about: is there a better way for advisors and investment company vendors to interact?  Should we scrap the exhibit hall altogether, or could we improve it somehow?  I'd also like to hear from the vendor representatives who actually stand in the booth environment; what do you have to offer that we're not getting, and how can we improve the delivery process?

If you have suggestions about other topics that the profession ought to be exploring, or great ideas for a group discussion, please send me a message at:

Bob Veres is one of the leading journalists in the financial services world.  In addition to his monthly Financial Planning magazine column, he publishes the Inside Information service for financial planners.  For 20 years, Inside Information has been a primary resource helping advisors make progress in how they manage their practices, how they market themselves, and to help them improve their value and client services by tapping into the best ideas and practices of other successful advisors.  For more information, go to: