At the FPA Convention ("Experience") in San Diego last week, I mostly sat in on the investment and portfolio drawdown sessions since those were the closest to the nouveau-investment agenda at the national conference that we're creating in October. (Oct. 13-15; you can find the details here: 

My experience confirmed two things. First, there seems to be a lot of new thinking about investing these days; even the speakers who were buy-and-hold advocates recommended that you tweak the policy portfolio based on current economic conditions, and some -- like Bryce James of Smart Portfolios in Seattle -- touched on investment technologies that I suspect few advisors have ever heard of.

But the second thing the experience confirmed was that the FPA staff appears to have sent mixed messages to the presenters. Over and over again, I was told things like: diversification is really important in an investment portfolio -- and then the speaker would explain diversification. Or: annuities are a way to create certainty in retirement distributions -- and then the speaker would explain annuitization. 

In other words, the speakers appear to have believed (were they told?) that the professional advisors in the audience might be unfamiliar with even the most rudimentary aspects of their craft. Somewhere along the way, they got the idea that this was a very VERY unsophisticated audience they were presenting to.

I don't know about you, but every time a presenter has to stop himself and interrupt the really good stuff to provide an explanation of basic concepts like diversification, annuitization and the fact that drawdowns can deplete client portfolios before they die, I find myself gritting my teeth.  And, from the look of it, the speakers were also aggravated by what they perceived as the necessity of “dumbing down” their presentations.

At every conference, you hear from advisors who tell you airily that all the sessions were "too basic," and what they are really doing is boasting about their own intelligence and sophistication.  But here, I think, we have an ongoing situation where somebody (FPA staff?  Conference committee?) seems to believe that every presentation has to be dumbed down to a lowest common denominator that I don't think exists in the profession. 

I can envision the speakers running their presentations by somebody on staff, who is not an advisor, and if the non-advisor staff person is confused by such terms as "annuitization" and "diversification," the speaker might be told that it would be a good idea to explain those complicated concepts.

As it turns out, I got some good content from several of the breakout speakers -- which I'll be covering in detail in my newsletter -- including a nice presentation from Russell Investments on how to use valuation and economic data to tweak your policy portfolio (average boost to returns: an amazing 50 basis points a year) and a discussion of currency issues by Axel Merk that suggested (as I've written elsewhere) that there is no longer a risk-free rate of return that you can plug into your formulas.

Merk also talked about the "conversations" between policymakers in Europe and the U.S. and their respective bond markets, which are dictating policy decisions in a way I'd never thought about before.

This good material reflects well on the FPA, but I think they could greatly enhance the attendee experience with one little tweak in their preparations.

They should trust their professional audience, which understands these basic issues even if the staff does not.

Does that make sense?  Please tell me what you think.


Contact Bob Veres at  For more information about the Business & Wealth Management Conference (October 13-15), and what may be the best lineup of investment speakers in the profession, go to




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