I am a huge proponent of continuous professional development but am increasingly inundated with information about low-quality, lengthy events being promoted by media, product providers and professional bodies.
The formats are diverse, from webinars to forums and workshops to conferences.
Autumn is fashionably the conference season but while the political parties’ annual events finished just over a month ago, financial services’ events are in full flow. The Institute of Financial Planning conference was held in October and we are just weeks from the Personal Finance Society conference.
I am an advocate of the IFP’s philosophy in respect of financial planning but its conference agenda left me cold. Individual sessions in some cases looked interesting but the commitment of nearly three days of potentially billable client time meant I had no wish to attend.
At the time of writing, there is no PFS agenda listed on its website. This is also a multi-day event with heavy provider sponsorship.
It seems to me that much of this CPD is product promotion by providers, which may not be best placed to provide objective training to advisers.
Many of the professional bodies offer more compact sessions. The IFP has a monthly session where value content is provided in two hours. In the context of CPD at least, it seems to me that less is more.
We are all required to complete a minimum of 35 hours’ CPD a year, 21 hours of which must be structured. The C in CPD stands for continuous and I think it is more valuable to top up my knowledge over the course of a year rather than in an intensive two- or three-day conference.
The worst of conference sessions and workshops come in three types: the happy-clappy motivational type, which is bereft of content and leaves me with a feel-good emotion for a matter of minutes; the old-school sales pitch, where you are told you are making fundamental, high-risk mistakes that can only be fixed with the solutions provided by the speaker; and the “celebrity” event, where another business owner or consultant or industry guru massages their hubris.
Providers and sponsors of conferences want to promote their products to as many eyeballs as possible but I question the actual value of their marketing spend, particularly in an RDR-compliant world.
Most advisory firms have switched to committee-led decisions and it is unlikely that any adviser would be lured into recommending products based on a fancy lunch or nice hotel. Indeed, the type of person who serially visits conferences and other sponsored events may be exactly the type that a provider does not want to attract.
For those who doubt this happens, there is a body of evidence from other professions showing a strong correlation between recommendations and “free lunches”.
Where there’s muck there’s often brass, but I’d rather not go digging.
It is the social element of these events that I miss most but with an expanding network of likeminded professionals, I try to find time to catch up with them outside the conference arena wherever possible.
I heartily recommend the regular sessions organised by local branches of the IFP and while much of the content of the London “chartered” connections is not relevant to my role, it would suit a more general practitioner.
Alistair Cunningham is financial planning director at Wingate Financial Planning