This article was corrected on October 8 at approximately 1:30pm ET. The original article stated than Ron Carson did not have the CFP designation. That was incorrect, and the article has been updated to reflect the fact that he does.
Am I the only one who is growing concerned about the current trajectory of the financial planning profession?
The trigger for this column came when I saw the enormous hoopla around the recent WealthStack conference in Scottsdale, AZ – billed on social media as the “must-attend meeting of the year.” Of course I was curious, so I checked out the agenda – and I saw a snapshot of a profession that I hardly recognized: Mergers and acquisitions. Building your brand on social media. Rapid growth. ETFs. Investing. What the smart money is betting on. Liquid alts. Reading the macro tea leaves. How to build an RIA giant.
The themes of the must-attend conference were centered on how very complex asset management could make a ton of money for your business. If you simply attended that conference, you might not realize that there is a financial planning component to the profession at all. It felt like a direct echo of the theme of the sales era in financial planning, the implicit message in every conference and product ad: If you aren't making millions, then baby, you aren't making it.
Of course, the must-attend conference is not the only offender here. The trade magazines that I cover and review – Financial Planning, Investment Advisor and Financial Advisor – have moved strongly in the same direction, defaulting their pages to asset management, as if that’s really what financial planning is all about.
If the pages aren’t telling you the latest investment fad, then you can read about broker-dealers of the year, and the constant game of musical chairs among sales teams moving among broker-dealer firms. Every magazine now has their “broker-dealer issue,” which shows that most of these firms earn more than 50% of their revenue from annuity and insurance sales.
Meanwhile, who are our new role models? The WealthStack conference also featured the cool firms that you constantly read about in the trade press: Joe Duran’s United Capital (now part of Goldman Sachs), Ric Edelman’s Edelman Financial Services, Shirl Penney’s Dynasty Financial Partners and Ron Carson’s Carson Wealth (affiliated with Cetera Advisor Networks, the BD assembled by non-traded REIT promoter Nick Schorsch, whose firm just paid $1 billion to settle its dispute with investors). The wisdom of these empire-builders is sought as a way to help readers and attendees go about making as much money as possible, building the biggest empire that you can, and maybe going public in the process.