Peter Chadborn: Time to rethink the adviser conference model


Why do I not go to many conferences? Is it because I am busy or lazy? Among the daily spam littering my inbox is a constant stream of offers for a variety of conferences and the opportunity to hear some big cheese telling me how to do my job.

The invitations reassure me of a chunk of continuing professional development but, quite frankly, any IFA or broker who takes the job seriously should not struggle to fill their annual CPD quota. Having to do so at random conferences baffles me.

The first consideration on receiving a conference invitation is: what will I learn from this? Will it make me more informed and help me do a better job for my clients? Of course, the subject matter is important but so are the speakers. Many organisers think getting a line-up of chief executives from life offices is going to entice us, like awe-inspired teenagers given a chance to meet their pop star idols.

The reality is such people, as clever and interesting as they may be in private or small groups, have generally never done my job and rarely speak to anyone who does my job. With this in mind, I will need a lot of convincing they are worth going to hear.

I want to see people I can learn from – entrepreneurs, peer group thought leaders and, importantly, someone who has a decent working knowledge of my world – not a compliance diluted presentation.

Assuming a relevant and stimulating subject matter and an engaging speaker line-up, the next consideration is: do I really need to be there at the venue or is there a webcast equivalent? The travel cost is not the issue; it is the time. We can spend as much time travelling to an event as we spend at the event itself and so one answer to why I do not go to many conferences is, generally, time-management.

MM Wired is a great example of something I can engage with: a focused topic and diverse panel, all in 30 minutes, available at a time of my choosing from the comfort of my desk. I do not watch a huge amount of television but when I do it is generally via catch-up or Netflix: at my convenience, not the schedulers!

Another issue is that of independence. If the event is hosted by a single life office then we should not be surprised to get the product-bash.

That does not mean I am not interested but getting someone to come to our office for an hour is a far more cost-effective use of our time than half a dozen of us traipsing off to some generic hotel and losing a day (along with the will to live). It also means the session is kept relevant to us.

I get the networking argument. After all, in the words of the wonderful author John Le Carre, “A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.” But the quality of the networking is as important as the quality of the event and I find the two are usually mutually exclusive.

Peter Chadborn is director and adviser at Plan Money