BOSTON - Optimism about the economy and the brave new world of robo advice abounded at the LPL Focus general session.

"Make no doubt about it, we are not near a recession," LPL chief investment officer Burt White told a packed closing general session at the cavernous Boston convention center.

Fears that the bull market had run too long and that impeding Federal Reserve Board action would end the current market upswing were misplaced, White argued as he made an exuberant, theatrical presentation on a circular stage surrounded by giant screens. "The economic cycle causes the end of bull markets," he maintained, "not age or the Fed."

Key indicators in the cycle are spending, borrowing and confidence, White said, and if one or more becomes excessive, the economy will falter. But all three were far from historic highs, he declared, leaving the economy "nowhere close" to a recession.

There were "cracks" LPL was watching, White noted, such as global growth and monetary policies. But cracks are to be expected, and "cracked doesn't mean broken."


In an earlier round-robin panel, one of LPL's top advisors enthusiastically endorsed the firm's newly-announced robo initiative.

"We should rush into, not away from, robo advice," said Robert Fragasso, chairman and chief executive of Pittsburgh-based Fragasso Financial Advisors. "Advisors are in the center of the way it was created…and we're going to see everything that's going on."

Robo features would result in increased productivity for advisory firms, Fragasso maintained, citing the impact of TurboTax on accounting firms and Legal Zoom on legal practices.

Automated online advice should also open up new markets for do-it-yourselfers and grown children of clients, Fragasso said, as well as participants in retirement plans that advisory firms handle for companies.


The session did include one dark note, however, that ran throughout the conference: fear of the Department of Labor's proposed fiduciary rule.

If the rule passes, it will change how advisors deliver advice for the worse, according to David Bergers, LPL's general counsel. As written, the rule "limits choice," Bergers argued, and "prevents our advisors from giving advice the way clients need it."

Echoing LPL chairman Mark Casady's exhortations earlier in the conference, the firm's executive vice president of government relations, Peggy Ho, urged advisors to get involved in the fight to revise the DoL rule.

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