Perhaps the office-based world many of us inhabit these days encourages people to do more to get out and about and meet some real people. Conferences and events are booming.
With this in mind I find it always a good idea to get to Financial Planning conferences as much as possible and I enjoyed the PFS ‘Futureproof’ Conference at Birmingham’s ICC yesterday, perhaps one of the largest Financial Planning events to ever take place in the UK.
It was an early start for a spoilt Londoner used to events in London but the trip was worthwhile. Birmingham’s rebuilt New Street Station is hugely impressive and the city centre was full of Christmas markets and lively pedestrianised streets. Brum is a city on the move, a bit like the PFS and the Financial Planning profession.
The attendance, at around the 2,000 mark, showed the hard planning work paid off for the PFS and the event is now clearly the major get-together for the profession.
I’ve been covering the profession for long enough to recall conferences of 20 years ago. The annual events of the Life Insurance Association (one of the PFS’s predecessors) were largely sales shindigs where selling at all costs was the mantra. Charging fees for advice was a non-starter for most advisers.
What a contrast to today. I’ve been to few industry conferences so focused on Financial Planning. Many of the sessions were led by leading Chartered Financial Planners and were often standing-room only. One break-out session attracted more than 500 people - that would have been the size of the biggest Financial Planning Conference even 10 years ago.
This year there were lots of tips and knowledge sharing by leading practitioners on everything from the first client meeting to cashflow modelling and inter-generational wealth transfer.
There was a positive buzz and the mood was one of a profession on the rise and looking forward to, not fearing, the future. The exhibitions stands were busy and attendees were making lots of notes at sessions, I noticed. The learning aspect of these events cannot be over-stated.
I met up briefly with PFS chief exec Keith Richards and he was elated with both the attendance and the feedback. He was slightly less than delighted that the screen due to show him which of his slides was showing on the big screen had failed just before he started his keynote. Despite this he handled his keynote with aplomb and took it in his stride. He was even amused that the wags in the PFS events teams had swapped his pic on the giant screen for one of his fellow-named Rolling Stones guitarist who looked like he’d had a very good night out.
The event was professional, well run and the quality of sessions was high. It was good to see that Financial Planning themes dominated and there was space for new subjects such as mental health wellbeing, working with vulnerable clients and ESG.
It was a buoyant and positive mood, in marked contrast to other sectors of the UK economy and something that should not be taken for granted.
No-one can 'futureproof' themselves from every change but there are 2,000 professionals better prepared now than they were a week ago.
Kevin O’Donnell is editor of Financial Planning Today and a financial journalist with 30 years experience. This topical comment on the Financial Planning news appears most weeks.