One of the big questions at this odd moment in the advisory profession’s history is this: After COVID imposed a 16-month lockdown on travel, when will advisors get back to in-person conferences? And when they do, which conferences are they most likely to attend?

I just released a white paper that offers the results of a survey of 560 advisors from around the country, in partnership with Joel Bruckenstein of T3 (sponsored by Concenter Services, AssetBook and the AdviceTech.LIVE virtual showcase). We asked advisors when things might return to normal, the most important considerations for them when deciding which conferences to attend, which aspects of the conference experience they valued most in the conferences they’ve attended, and whether they prefer in-person or virtual conference experiences.

Most importantly, we asked them to rate the conferences they have attended on a scale of 1-10, which allowed us to calculate an overall ”user satisfaction” rating of 19 conferences (and similar data on eight more) – giving us the first empirical evidence of the “best” conferences in the advisor space. There have been several “best conference” reports in the past (including a number that I authored, and more recently by Michael Kitces). But this is the first report that offers a guide to the conference scene using survey data from advisors who have attended those meetings.

What did we find?

Advisors find in-person conferences to be far more valuable than virtual attendance of the same meeting. Among our respondents, 82.18% said they get more value from an in-person than a virtual conference; just 8.44% said they prefer virtual conference experiences. (Just over 9% didn’t seem to care one way or the other.)

The reason advisors prefer the in-person experience is shown clearly in one of our charts. We asked about the most important things advisors are looking for when they plan which conference to attend, and “Wanted to network with my peers” was the second-highest ranking value, with a rating of 7.86 out of 10. This is not available to advisors who attend a conference virtually. And the number four consideration – “Attractive conference location/venue” (7.32 out of 10) – is also not a part of the virtual experience.

There were several surprises in this part of the survey, but we were not at all surprised that advisors listed, as their number-one consideration: “Topics and content relevant to my business,” with a near-unanimous 8.96 rating. In the conference space, advisors told us that they want to experience great session content, and this is far more important than any other factor.