Schwab Impact correspondent Jody Lowe

Schwab Impact, the annual conference for registered investment advisors, just completed its 3-day run in Philadelphia. Schwab estimated more than 5,000 attended, including 2,500 advisors. I’ve attended Schwab Impact on and off for many years. The event seemed bigger than I’ve ever seen it. The necessary walk through the massive exhibit hall to get to the keynote sessions seemed to go on forever. The space felt vibrant and full…if not a little overwhelmed by the crowds standing in long lines at food and beverage stations. I heard some grumbling when the Philly cheesesteaks offered on the second day ran out early! 

Advisors showed up with upbeat attitudes on the first day to a standing room-only talk about leadership from Admiral William McRaven. The title of this post alludes to a Navy Seal motto McRaven shared, suggesting that hard work is always before you, and that leaders are entitled to nothing but more hard work. 

Over the next two days, a few themes emerged: 

  • Growth and consolidation in the industry continues to be a recurring topic. While RIA M&A is down 40% this year, the number of “joins” or lift-outs of advisors is up 45%. The topic remains salient for many, given the statistic that four out of 10 advisors today plan to retire in the next few years.   
  • ETFs of all stripes were everywhere. Many of the reporters we talked to at the conference were interested in writing about ETFs. And a lot of exhibitors and sessions focused on the latest tickers. 
  • The proliferation of new advisor technology to make work easier and help better serve clients was the subject of several sessions and the focus of an entire subset of the exhibit hall.   
  • Newer themes like AI and digital assets/currencies continue to capture some advisors’ attention. 
  • New ways to customize investments for tax and other purposes were the focus of educational sessions and several booths.   

Not as prominent this year were sustainable investment firms or sessions, a reminder that many advisors continue to lack interest in this topic despite research showing that the next generation of clients is very interested.

It was good to see CNBC, Bloomberg Radio and Schwab Network all live at the conference—making it feel relevant and important. 

Conferences like Schwab Impact are a good opportunity for us to connect with reporters in person, and this year was no exception. We set up one-on-one interviews and gathered a few reporters for cocktails one evening. Previously, Schwab had provided a separate “media room” for reporters and sources to congregate, and both media attendees and PR professionals like me missed it this year. At such a huge conference, it was hard to seek out and find the media we hoped to see at the event.  

I asked a few asset management firms exhibiting at the conference about their experience at Schwab, and most felt they were getting good traffic. They welcomed the opportunity to network with RIAs. One leader at a mutual fund firm said he appreciated that many advisors still value active management and weren’t abandoning their strategies for passive products.  

After a few days away, some great conversations and a lot of enlightening sessions, it is clear that the hard work is indeed ahead. Grateful for tomorrow. 

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You know it’s a major conference when exhibitors start to grab your attention as soon as you land at the airport. 

Media interviews, such as this one with Schwab Network’s Oliver Renick and Baird’s Mary Ellen Stanek, add energy when they take place on the Exhibit Hall floor. And maybe encourage a little FOMO among those watching from home?