Updated: Jul 13
I had the privilege of attending Future Proof, the world's first wealth festival this year held in Huntington Beach, California.
The festival was hosted by Advisor Circle, CNBC favorite Josh Brown and his firm, and featured some of the industry's most brilliant financial minds including Jeffrey Gundlach, Ric Edelman and Morgan Housel, among others.
On top of this murderers' row of financial pundits were thousands of financial advisors from across the country eagerly willing to share best practices and learn from one another. Add to that an elite group of fintech companies, fund providers and third-party vendors and you have what many referred to this past week as "the best financial conference in years."
I say this not to boast but rather to express my excitement for the future of financial advice and how eager I am to continue to enhance our firm and deliver exceptional value to our clients.
In-between guest speaker presentations and tech demos, I frantically jotted down notes on my iPhone that I felt compelled to share with our readers. Here are my biggest takeaways and lessons learned:
1. Technology Won't Replace Advisors, But Instead Allow Them to Better Serve Their Clients
Robo-advisors where once thought of as a threat to the advisory world. Now they're an ally.
The reason for this shift, I think, is in part due to an overly-crowded market that's too confusing for most to begin with.
Betterment and Wealthfront paved the way for other robo-advisors such as M1 Finance, SigFig and Ellevest to raise cheap capital and enter the marketplace. Then the Vanguards of the world followed suit and began developing their own take on digital advice.
So on top deciding which robo-advisor should manage your IRA given each invests differently than the next, investors have a fourth option to consider when hiring an advisor:
1. do it yourself,
2. hire an advisor,
3. hire a fiduciary, or
4. hire a robot.
There are simply too many options!
As fiduciaries, it's as important for us to closely monitor markets and the economy as it is to vet new and emerging fintech.
Similar to how CPAs now manage their clients' QuickBooks, software that once threatened accountants and the accounting industry, robo-technology is being adopted by advisory firms to help them more efficiently manage money and serve their clients.
What Caught My Attention
I watched a demo for a new product allowing advisors to extract data from an investment statement and analyze the TRUE risks of a portfolio within minutes.
I saw another platform that made alternative investment products once only available to the ultra-wealthy accessible to a broader client demographic.
Lastly, I did a deep-dive into direct indexing, an investment strategy that allows advisors to tailor a broad index like the S&P 500 specifically to their client's situation.
Assuming each pass our strict due diligence process, I can't wait to start implementing!
2. "It ain't what you don't know that gets you in trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so." - Mark Twain
I've been skeptical of cryptocurrency for years. Still am. But don't confuse my skepticism with blind dismissal.
The conference featured presentations on cryptocurrency, the metaverse and a whole host of other seemingly trendy investment fads. What surprised me the most was not only the volume of data validating each topic but with the integrity, professionalism and credibility of the presenters.
Ric Edelman is a best-selling author and owner of one of the largest advisory firms in the country. And at the ripe age of 64, Ric is incredibly bullish on crypto.
In fact, Ric noted in his presentation that he recommends an allocation to crypto of anywhere between 1-5% of one's investable assets, depending of course on risk tolerance and other factors.
Another presenter that stood out was a young man with long hair and a scruffy beard who looked like one of those human barstools you'd see slumming it at the local micro-brewery. He has a bachelor's in Reddit threads and a master's in YouTube videos. Yet despite his unassuming appearance and lack of formal education, this guy turned $100k or so into over $2 million in a matter of months due to his conviction for cryptocurrency.
Is crypto the real deal? Should investors consider allocating 1-5% of their money into Bitcoin, Ethereum and Cardano?
I can't say for certain and while I remain a skeptic on crypto and the metaverse, I'm reminded of one of my favorite Mark Twain quotes: "It ain't what you don't know that gets you in trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so."
I will NEVER let my opinion on something, whether that be the blockchain or small-caps, overshadow cold hard facts and expert commentary. I'm only concerned with the truth, as unconventional as it may be. That's what my clients deserve.
3. Commentary From a Bond King and The Big Shorts
DoubleLine founder Jeffrey Gundlach has replaced Bill Gross as the new "bond king" on Wall Street. He's one of the smartest minds in our industry and when he speaks, people listen.
Gundlach was interviewed by CNBC's Scott Wapner and painted a bleak picture of the economy over the next year citing a high probability of a recession in 2023.
He also boldly called out the Fed for raising rates too fast and questioned how they plan to tame inflation at 2%. To paraphrase, "If they overshot on the upside with CPI at 9% when the target was 2%, what's to say the fast pace of rate hikes won't cause deflation? Will it just drop from 9% to 2% and immediately stay at that level? Why couldn't inflation drop well below 2%?"
Another notable interview was the On The Tape podcast with Dan Nathan featuring Danny Moses, Vinny Daniel and Porter Collins from The Big Short and SoFi's head of investment strategy Liz Young.
The Big Shorts were unsurprisingly bearish on the markets, specifically tech which I was surprised to learn has seen the most inflows in 2022. Liz Young was refreshingly bullish, at least compared to the others and spoke eloquently about her stance on tech and financials.
Danny Moses, the gentlemen portrayed by actor Rafe Spall (guy sitting in the chair pointing at Ryan Gosling), continues to be short Tesla.
What fascinated me the most about this and the Gundlach interview was how each interviewee could interpret the same piece of data to mean something different.
While year-over-year consumer credit card growth may be a leading indicator to Vinny Daniel's investment thesis, it may not be as relevant to Liz Young's view on the financial sector. And even though Gundlach thinks rates are going higher/faster and has data to support, he still likes long duration bonds which tend to fall in price more precipitously when rates rise.
If nothing else, this taught me to pay close attention to a wider swath of economic data, and even closer intention to the ethos of the expert or institution interpreting said data.
Jeffrey Gundlach manages a $100 billion in bonds. Vinny Daniels is known for taking short positions in the market. Each of them might have a different perspective on the same data, both of which may be irrelevant to a 63-year old retiree with $1.4 million in an IRA and a moderately low risk tolerance.
4. I Can't Imagine People Going it Alone in Retirement
There is no question the internet has made it easier for people to invest on their own. You can now find the answer to pretty much any personal finance question simply by going to Google and typing in a query.
Be careful, though as this can be a double-edged sword.
Just because you can find the answer online doesn't necessarily mean it's the right answer for YOU.
Search on Google for "why a Roth IRA is a bad idea," then search for "why a Roth IRA is a good idea." What you'll find are thousands of articles and blogs supporting each side of the argument. Which one do you choose?
Remember, personal finance is just that: personal.
So Much To See And Not Enough Time
Look at the picture above. I'd guess there were 50 tents of fund providers, software vendors and tech companies marketing their product or service to advisors. I'd need at least 3 months to visit each one, view their demo, talk with their team and vet their offering.
I remember taking this picture and saying to myself, "I can't imagine someone going it alone in retirement."
The stakes of managing one's financial health are simply too high and the cost of time too expensive to do it on your own.
On top of managing investments, creating a financial plan, updating the financial plan, planning for taxes, preparing a tax return and reviewing an estate plan, you still have to find time for "future proofing" the tools required to successfully carry out each of these services.
As I've said before, the only other certainty in life other than death and taxes is change. There will be a new portfolio management service introduced before I finish typing this sentence. I'd better get back to work!
5. It's All About the Client
Sure, it was nice spending a few days with my wife in sunny California. But unlike her, I didn't have the luxury of laying by the pool until noon and sun bathing on the beach thereafter (she deserves it!).
My time was spent listening, learning and networking to "future proof" our firm and continue to enhance the value we deliver to our clients.
Cheers to the future!