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Learning the American way

Diversified Investments Group principal Alan Milton recently attended the IAFP Convention held Orlando, Florida. He filed this report.

Monday, November 17th 1997, 12:00AM

by Philip Macalister

Like many things in America, the Orange County Convention Centre in Orlando is on the grand scale. On three levels, it has meeting space of 350,000 square feet, 1.1 million square feet of exhibition space and a main auditorium larger than the Aotea Centre. I did not measure it, but the length of the single building which comprises the centre must have been close to one kilometre. So the 2500 delegates to our convention occupied only a small part of the available space and only half filled the main auditorium for the opening addresses.

Although most of the delegates were from the USA, 17 other countries were represented including 12 delegates from New Zealand, 40 from Australia plus others from diverse countries such as the United Kingdom, France, Japan, Argentina and Italy.
Americans I talked to seemed surprised but delighted that people from New Zealand should come to their conference.
At registration, delegates received a very useful nylon document bag which contained a number of things, most importantly the pre-printed papers for every session that was being presented over the three days of the conference. These were bound into three manuals, one for each day, which collectively were some 6 cm thick.
Sessions of between 60 and 90 minutes began at 8.30am and finished about 6pm. Various themes ran through the convention sessions, some of these eg. taxation, estate planning, aimed specifically at the US delegates. Other themes-sales and marketing, practice management, investment, technology - were of equal value to a wider audience and it was these sessions the overseas delegates largely attended.
The conference programme contained about 50 educational. As well, there were several keynote speakers including the opening address by Dr Tony Allessandra "How to get and keep clients" and the closing address by Jeff Soluri of the Disney organisation "Creative Service Delivery - Disney - style" ("you have to give everybody the show they expect": Walt Disney. Is it any different for financial planners?).
A general session given by Dr Bob Goodman also featured. It was titled "Economic & Investment Outlook: Get ready for Take off!" Whilst this may sound inapt, given the market turbulence which began three weeks later, it reflects the extraordinary optimism Americans seem to have about the future of America. (If you want a longer view, read ‘The Long Boom: A History of the Future 1980-2020 in the July 1997 edition of "Wired", A super article).
For the really keen, numerous exhibitors gave separate product/service presentations lasting roughly an hour and commencing at 7.15am (with breakfast) and 12.30pm, outside of the official programme.
There were some 600 exhibition stands from a wide variety of exhibitors, about 200 of these mutual fund companies, the largest grouping, and 50 offering computer and software services. Giveaways were many & varied: stress relievers, backpacks, puzzles in various shapes and sizes, mouse pads, CD Roms, car windscreen shields, torches, beach balls, plus the ubiquitous pens and "post it" pads.
I attended eight educational sessions, mostly related to business development & practice management.
  • Bill Bachrach on "How to earn more money and lead a simpler life"; probably the best attended educational session at the convention.
  • "What’s really important to the over 55 market place".
  • "Due diligence: the Planner’s Black Hole".
  • "Building your winning team;" a panel discussion on running your practice and including some very blunt comments on staff remuneration. (Don’t believe all American planners make a lot of money. Some do, many struggle).
  • "Get the word out: Media & Public Relations."
  • "42 Techniques for working with Aging Baby Boomers".
  • "Optimising Future Think" (this is where the "Wired" article came from).
  • "Marketing to Employees in a corporate down sizing"; two youngish planners from Silicon valley whom I can best describe as the Starsky and Hutch of financial planning - brash and pushy (but they make a lot of money).
Inevitably, there were one or two flat patches but overall I was not disappointed with my choices and came away with a good many ideas and reassurances that our business is going down the right track.
So I felt that the convention was well worth while and enjoyed it from both an educational and social perspective.
Mention must be made of the generosity of Paul Fyfe and Armstrong Jones who provided New Zealand delegates with a smart shirt and a straw hat and entertained us to a superb dinner at what is reputed to be the best Italian restaurant in the USA.
Next year’s Convention is in Salt Lake City, Utah and in 1999 it will be in Yuma, Arizona. Should you go? An unqualified "yes" because it exposes New Zealand advisers to a whole new environment, a highly developed profession which is much more deeply entrenched than we are here. It is an indication of where we could be in 5-10 years if we get it right.
It is also an opportunity to hear a range of speakers on subjects we usually cover more superficially here. Perhaps it is because they have a larger history of involvement than we have; perhaps because their compliance procedures are more onerous, perhaps because their markets are much larger and more complex.
What ever the reason, it is an opportunity to expand your horizons and get a vision of what the future could hold.
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