The first major continuing education conference for financial planners in 2013 registered a significant rise in attendance over last year, and the organizers attributed the large turnout to both the timing and the quality of the program. The AICPA’s Advanced Personal Financial Planning Conference, held last week in Las Vegas, drew a record 1,100 attendees this year, a big jump from 820 in 2012.

One speaker, Michael Kitces, a partner and director of research at Pinnacle Advisory Group, believes the conference benefited greatly from being the first major event of the year. “It really has given the conference a unique edge for being able to kick off the year with themes, planning issues and developments that no one else can,” he says.

This year, the conference covered tax and estate laws that were literally only a couple of weeks old. Kitces and another speaker, Robert Keebler of Keebler & Associates, built their presentations at the last minute, since the information they were covering was not finalized until Jan. 3. “It's the only conference that will cover this information for months to come,” Kitces says.

But timeliness isn’t the only explanation offered for this year’s greater response. The chairman of the 2013 conference, Scott Sprinkle, co-founder of Sprinkle & Associates in Littleton, Colo., notes that the event’s goal is to deliver highly advanced technical continuing education.

Mitch Freedman, the principal at MFAC Financial Advisors, a wealth management firm in Westlake Village, Calif., believes the conference has significantly upgraded the content of the sessions in recent years. Five years ago, Freedman, who was one of the first 100 CPAs to earn the Personal Financial Specialist credential, was asked to join the conference planning committee. At that time, he says, he noticed that many of his friends and colleagues with very established practices were not attending the conference. When he asked why, they responded that the sessions were too basic for their level of expertise. According to Freedman, he and other members of the planning committee fought to respond to this complaint.

The effort has paid off, apparently . Now, he says, “you have some of the best minds in the personal financial planning field passing on information.” Freedman says the advanced content and top speakers attract AICPA members with very successful financial planning practices to the conference – and that they are bringing some of their younger colleagues to the conference.

In addition, non-CPA advisors have started to attend in significant numbers. In part, this is attributed to the impact of industry influencers like Bob Veres, editor of Inside Information (and also a Financial Planning columnist), and Kitces, who have recommended this conference as one of the best in the industry. The AICPA has also been partnering with other organizations like IMCA and the CFA Institute, and this has helped in lining up high-quality speakers and attracting a broader audience.

“The people who come to this conference are intense,” Sprinkle declared in his conference-opening speech. “We go from 7 in the morning to 7 at night. People who attend this conference come to learn.” In fact, even sessions held at 7 a.m. were heavily attended.

Deborah Fox, founder of San Diego-based Fox Financial Planning Network, has been a planner for more than 25 years.

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