I just finished sending to my subscribers a report on the recent TD Ameritrade Conference -- Colin Powell on today's political and geopolitical environment, Jeremy Siegel on the current state of the stock market, some upbeat economic forecasts, and a truly remarkable presentation at the end by a National Geographic photographer, who basically said his philosophy of life is to look for what's right in any situation, fall in love with the world, and look for not one right answer to your challenges, but a first one, then a second one, a third and so on. It was one of the most transformative talks I've seen in a long time -- and the photographs were pretty remarkable too.
Looking back on the subjects that I've broached so fa in this spacer, the most popular, by far, was whether there should be a fiduciary standard for some advisors, and a suitability standard for others, and where we should draw that line. Second place: who are the real financial planners, which, based on the comments in the discussion forum, seems to be a related topic in the minds of many advisors. (You can join the "one standard or two" discussion here and the "real planner" conversation here.)
There's a lot of passion among advisors who, I think, suspect that there will eventually be standards that don't include them. Will a fiduciary standard eliminate sales activities? Will commissions be eliminated in favor of fees? Will I have to add financial planning services to my asset management activities? Is my way of life coming to an end?
But I think maybe we can take a page from the National Geographic photographer (DeWitt Jones is his name) and turn the passion -- and anger -- around and celebrate what's right with the situation, and look for some right answers.
If you look back 15 or 20 years, you realize the financial planning profession has been evolving pretty rapidly -- change takes place in real time in our world. Yes, you can resent the fact that we had to give up the investment pyramid and limited partnership commissions and textbook-thick boilerplate financial plans and 8.5% commissions on mutual fund recommendations, and I know a lot of advisors who bitterly opposed every moment of the transformation.
But at the same time, financial planners have achieved a measure of respect in the press, and recognition among regulators. The core planning service has been refined away from purely an adjunct to sales ("needs-oriented selling," is what most people were calling it back in the day), to a service in its own right. Years ago, advisors complained that nobody would pay for financial planning. Today, roughly 65% of the profession is fee-based or fee-only.
Twenty years ago, the product was more important than the advisor. Today, that has completely reversed itself.
The next right answer, I think, is for all advisors to take a deep breath and embrace the idea that their advice is "the product" now. The right answer that follows from that is that your advice is (and always has been) free to move beyond merely investments. You can harness the life wisdom that you've achieved to your technical expertise and understanding of the complicated financial landscape, and give clients what they really want: a more efficient, productive and satisfied life experience, a way to overcome their own blind spots.
The National Geographic presenter talked about the "river of life," and how you can ride the currents and get to your life destination faster and in a more satisfying way. You can see, in some of the comments and postings, that some advisors are fighting the future with some degree of passion and anger. A longer perspective suggests that the future, for our profession, keeps getting brighter, and will only get more so if only we would allow it.
The next conversation topic is a simple one: paint a picture of what the profession will look like in the next five or ten years. Are the changes beneficial to us, and to the consumer? If so, what can we do now to embrace, rather than fight, the better world that awaits us?
To get a copy of the TD Ameritrade writeup, contact Bob Veres at firstname.lastname@example.org.