lpl financial focus

Learn the Secret Behind Why 4,000 Advisors Attended the LPLFocus 2019 Conference

This was my first time attending the LPL Financial FOCUS advisor conference and it was a blast!  I was only able to make it to Day 3, but there was more than enough jam-packed into those eight hours to keep me busy writing an entire blog post about it.

There are so many conferences in our industry (and probably every industry) that you could go to one almost every day of the year.  So, you have to be selective and pick the ones that deliver the most value for the time expended.  This is time that you’re not servicing your existing clients, prospecting for new ones or otherwise growing your business.

Of course, Focus is only for LPL advisors and while it’s not on Michael Kitces’ List of Best Advisor Conferences, I would say that it’s easily the most important conference for them to attend. There was abroad range of content available including technology support and demos of the latest and upcoming LPL software, education, business services and plenty of practice management sessions as well.

Some advisors choose conferences based on their location and San Diego certainly makes for a desirable destination to spend a few days (or longer) for a work-related getaway.  Especially for those of us who don’t live in a location that has year round warm weather without shirt-drenching humidity.

It’s too bad this wan’t an open air conferences. Would have been nice to spend more time outside than I got during my morning run on Tuesday.  It certainly was relaxing to run along the marina before heading into the general session.

The general session room was BIG!  It had to be to hold the 7,000+ conference attendees that included over 4,000 advisors.  LPL was smart to select the San Diego Convention Center for their event, since their main floor has enough space to hold the general session room, vendor exhibit space and dining area all on the same floor. I’ve seen this before at other conferences, but this was a shotgun layout with all the areas in a line, which mean you had to go through the vendor space to go from the general sessions to the dining and vice versa. That’s exactly what you want for a vendor sponsored event.

New account opening is one of the most important, if not the most important, process in an advisor’s practice. It’s the first time the client is interacting with the firm’s technology and you only get one chance to make a good first impression. Reducing the amount of data that the client has to provide during the account opening process can only be seen as a positive feature that will push the experience that much closer to the high expectations that consumer have from the big online retailer and social media giants.

I was glad to see LPL come out with ClientWorks 2.0 since it was a complete refresh and built on their initial version which did receive more than a few complaints form advisors. But that’s to be expected from a 1.0 version and LPL seems to have take the lessons and feedback to heart in their design of 2.0.

Watch this short video until the end and you’ll have a good understanding of what it’s like to switch advisor technology platforms.

I’d like to see more advisors realize that they’re in the advice business more so than the investment business.  Asset management has become a commodity and advisors need to discover their value to clients is in almost everything they except picking investments.

“We’re looking at advisors’ practices from a holistic view, not an account view,” said Rob Pettman, EVP, Advisory Platforms and Products at LPL Financial.  (See Advisor-Managed Portfolios Knocked Out by Home Office Performance – Cerulli)


This actually received a round of applause from the audience when it was announced on stage. Talk about a hip crowd!  Well, besides being a very cool bunch of conference goers, it’s not surprising that a good portion of advisors were excited since Envestnet MoneyGuide (they dropped the Pro) is still the #1 most popular financial planning software. (See 4 Top Financial Planning Software Apps for Advisors)

According to a recent report by Deloitte, firms that are identified as frontrunners in their industry are 4X more likely to recognize the critical strategic importance of artificial intelligence than other firms.  These leading firms also invest 2X more than their peers in artificial intelligence and also accelerate their spending at a higher rate.  (See #ItzOnWealthTech Ep 21: Zen and the Art of Artificial Intelligence with Davyde Wachell from Responsive)

I don’t expect AI to make a big splash in the average advisor’s business processes. In fact, most advisors won’t even know when AI is being added to their core systems.  It will be behind-the-scenes and underneath the covers adding value in subtle ways and slowly automating mundane tasks that previously required a lot of human brainpower to accomplish.

LPL has always offered a variety of technology choices for their advisors in the major functional categories such as CRM, financial planning, risk profiling and performance reporting. But they have been careful to vet the options and only add those that they felt would offer the most value to their base.  This has manifested in the two categories of integrations; Curated and Affinity Program.

  • Affinity Program – apps that are not tightly integrated, maybe they just have single sign on so that they advisor doesn’t have to enter her login credential numerous times, but not much more than that.
  • Curated – these apps are more tightly integrated and have one way or two way sharing of data (sometimes called single and bi-directional data sharing).

The photo below shows an interactive board setup at the conference where advisors could mix and match their application choices and receive advice from an LPL integration expert.  They could combine current options or choices that they would like to make at some point in the future.  Advisors like this kind of tactile, interactive tool that allows them a better view of their current technology environment and pose more detailed questions to the experts.

Another example of the expanding ClientWorks Connected universe, Pettman announced that AdvisoryWorld, which LPL acquired last year, is integrating their portfolio analytics with the MWP Model Hub and Multi-Strategy Advisor Sleeve functionality. 

As I mentioned earlier, client onboarding is not only the first point at which clients interact with a good portion of the advisor’s technology stack, but it’s also an excellent time to set the client’s expectations that the infrastructure is designed with their ease of use in mind.  Forcing a client to re-enter the same data multiple times is a sure way to ensure a miserable experience.

Clients have come to expect a digital first experience and any rekeying of data shows that your firm’s technology is lacking and is not focused on making the clients’ lives easier.  What can be equally important is the firm’s productivity, which can take a huge hit if there are glitches in the account opening process. NIGO rates of 30% or higher can take a toll on operational efficiency.  44% of firms polled by InvestmentNews in the 2019 Advisor Technology Survey said that productivity gains were the top benefit of a fully-digital account opening/onboarding process.

3,500 accounts taking 9 minutes each to open is 31,500 minutes or 525 hours of advisor time spent every day! If LPL can reduce that by 60% that is a tremendous time savings for advisors and their staff as well, who usually bear the brunt of manual processes, buggy technology and duplicate data entry.

I’ve checked with a number of other broker-dealers and they have no idea about the average time it takes to open a new account.  How can they measure improvements in efficiency if they don’t keep track of their metrics?  This puts LPL ahead of the curve, at least in terms of advisor process efficiency.

There is a mistake in this tweet since the technology that LPL is rolling out is not a true unified managed account (UMA) it actually is a multi-strategy account.  In any case, ClientWorks now has a new Model Hub that advisors can use to access strategies from third party asset managers or build models of their own.  

Advisors are currently limited to 10 active sleeve models that can mix with external models in their clients’ account. But this should be more than enough for those advisors that believe they have viable investment strategies that they want to run side-by-side with the pros.

The Advisor Sleeve feature had a soft launch in April, and as of earlier this month, 350 advisors are actively using it with at least one model, according to Gary Carrai, SVP Platform Strategy at LPL.  These new multi-strategy portfolios have gathered over $700 million in AUM, most coming from the Rep-as-PM program, which makes perfect sense. (See 7 Model Hubs Battle for SMA Managers & Sponsors)

Well-designed client on boarding workflow has been developed for ClientWorks that has been optimized to reduce the amount of scrolling as well as the number of clicks required to open most account types and registrations. I like the floating box on the right that shows the advisor which forms are required for the current process.  The screens are clean with an updated look and feel without being busy or overly complex.  (See The Secret Sauce in the Top 6 Client Onboarding Vendors)

This was one of my favorite parts of the day. Getting a sneak peak at some of the new user interface design and user experience elements that have been created in LPL’s Fort Mills, SC development center. They engaged an external design firm to completed revamp how advisors interact with the software and added lots of widgets with interactive tools and charts.

Here’s a closeup image, which is an asset allocation breakdown in the form of a colorful bar chart instead of the usual pie version. It is easier to read and compare current versus proposed allocations.

lpl financial focus

Some nice touches on their presentation includes investment sources that detail where the funds will be coming from for the specific account as well as soon-to-be artificial intelligence powered insights (see right below the bar chart) that the advisor can use as guides for their conversation witht he client as the walk them through the reports.

This is another highly-integrated, yet not in-your-face feature that AI will bring to the advisor’s everyday processes. I was recently asked on Twitter about what it will take for enterprise firms to adopt AI and how much “digital transformation” will be required. This is a nonsense term that Big 5 consulting firms like to throw around to justify their ridiculous hourly rates. Every firm is already digital. Transformation isn’t required to start leveraging AI. It will be integrated slowly, piece by piece, without anyone realizing it. The software will slowly evolve into a more useful, highly customized, yet scalable solution that enables advisors to add value to conversations and relationships with minimal effort.

William H. McRaven

William Harry McRaven is a retired United States Navy admiral who last served as the ninth commander of the United States Special Operations Command from 2011 to 2014.  McRaven was the longest serving Navy SEAL with 37 years on active duty.  His 2014 Commencement Address at University of Texas has been viewed more than 9 million times.

“Don’t be afraid of the circus,” was his advice about not giving up after a failure. It was based on a story he told about SEAL training where a trainee who fails a test is given additional physical training at the end of the day. This is called “the circus”. Some trainees give up after this since they often fall behind on the next day’s training due to physical and mental exhaustion. But successful trainees are the ones who can over come the circus and get stronger and learn from the experience. Those are the trainees who complete the course and become Navy SEALs, McRaven explained.

We’re all bombarded by information every day of our lives. So, it’s rare when someone can cut through the noise and deliver a lesson that you can take with you and remember.  Here are a few of the words of wisdom shared by Admiral McRaven:

  • “You can’t make it through life trying to paddle the boat by yourself”
  • “You will have the opportunity to inspire people. Step up and do it.” 
  • “Making your bed correctly demonstrates you take the little things seriously. If you can’t take the little things seriously, how can people trust you with the big things?”

I thought this photo turned out great. Just a fantastic view of McRaven in front of the rain-soaked bell.  “Just don’t ring the bell.” Not giving up is the first step towards success. But it is a step you have to take every day.


Integration has become one of the most important aspects of a broker-dealer’s and/or custodian’s technology platform. With more and more standalone applications and cloud-based software offerings coming to market to tempt advisors, there’s an ever-increasing universe of applications that are clamoring for access to central systems, resources and data.

This requires some hard choices to be made. Which vendors should be approved and which denied? Which ones should get onto the preferred list and which ones can gain access but without the corporate backing?  We have worked with a lot of technology providers, broker-dealers, banks, custodians and asset managers who have to make these decisions very day.  It’s not easy!  And it requires a methodology to evaluate each opportunity and decide whether to accept, deny or delay.

I liked someone’s sense of humor here. I’m guessing if a marketing person or higher up noticed this they would have made them change it. I’m glad they didn’t. Sometimes you got to see if you can sneak something past the corporate censors and legions of PR people.  The number of options available in all of the major advisor software categories can be overwhelming at times. Just when I think there are too many products, that’s when a new company will decide the time is right to launch their product, which is always “the most powerful” or “easiest to use” or “designed by advisors for advisors”.

I would always recommend choosing the less annoying CRM.

Business Support

Business support services were a big part of the exhibit space in the LPL area. Lots of options for advisors to outsource more and more of their operations and common business tasks to their broker-dealer. All in one solutions are becoming more popular for a number of reasons. This is true both in technology and business outsourcing.

“One throat to choke,” is my new favorite way to describe having just one vendor handling most of the lift.  Avoiding finger pointing is another analogy.  Plus it saves time.  My clients often forget to include the time and effort involved in a search for a new product or service.  Time to scope the market, search the internet, read the websites, schedule and watch multiple demos, internal meetings to make decisions, money to spend on advice from consultants, time spent on contract negotiations and then planning, conversion, implementation and training, not to mention lost productivity while your staff gets up to speed on the new tool and you can see why it’s so much easier and more efficient to pay your existing vendor (who could be your broker-dealer) to handle one more service of product one more piece of software for your firm.

A few of the sales pitches from LPL Business Services booths that I heard while walking the exhibit hall:

  • “Let us do the marketing, so you can focus on being a financial advisor.”
  • “We want take working on your business off your plate, so you can work inside your business.”

Diversity & Inclusion

While I was delighted to discover that the number of female advisors with CFP certification is up to 23% there are still only about 17% of affiliated producing representatives of independent broker-dealers who are women.

Change cannot be delivered overnight. It requires dedicated resources who are determined to put in the work over a long period of time to change perceptions and recruit the next generation of female advisors.

LPL had an Advisor Diversity and Inclusion booth, which was a new addition to the expo floor this year. The team there was avidly assisting advisors with getting connected to resources designed to help them reach new markets and learn about LPL’s advisor communities.

The first day of the conference kicked off with a session titled, Focus on Women and Focus on Inclusion as well as a half-day Focus on Women symposium that included roundtable discussions and best practices from top-producing LPL advisors.

More advisors are realizing that the LGBT community can be a source of referrals and new clients who need sound financial advice. According to InvestmentNews, the U.S. LBGT population is between 16 and 20 million people, and there are 1.4 million LBGT-owned businesses. Two-thirds of same-sex couples own a home, and about a third of LGBT individuals have annual incomes upward of $100,000.

Social Media Influencers

No industry conference would be complete without a few social media influencers in attendance.


While I was furiously searching for related ideas and articles for this post, I found an RIABiz article from 2012 where Winnie Sun spoke about how her firm has doubled in size and how she is expanding her social media presence. What incredible progress she has made in the intervening years!

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend Michael’s presentation, but I heard it was killer as is every one of Michael’s speaking gigs. A got a recap from Victor Orozco (Twitter: @V_I_C_T_O_R___) that explain how Michael advised attendees to identify their practices as a lifestyle practice, small giant or enterprise. They should also understand if they’re more financial planning focused or do they see themselves as offering investment management strategies? How many households do they support and how can they increase their scale? ⁦

Focus on what you do best and outsource the rest. LPL Business Solutions can help!

I just wanted to squeeze in a mention of one of LPL’s top advisors and social media maven, Alex Chalekian, founder and CEO of Lake Avenue Financial.


According to Forbes, the term ESG was first coined in 2005 in a landmark study entitled “Who Cares Wins.” Today, ESG investing is estimated at over $20 trillion in AUM or around a quarter of all professionally managed assets around the world, and its rapid growth builds on the Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) movement.  But unlike SRI, which is based on ethical and moral criteria and uses mostly negative screens, such as not investing in alcohol, tobacco or firearms, ESG investing is based on the assumption that ESG factors have financial relevance.


These are a couple of tweets that I could fit under any other heading, but wanted to include in my coverage.

I expect to see this technology at more conferences in the future. It’s quite revolutionary! Instead of a dozen or more separate breakout rooms equipped with loudspeakers to blast the audience, just hand out wireless headphones to everyone. That allows all the breakouts to be in the same room and all run simultaneously.  No speaker voices can be heard beyond a few feet away since they miked and speaking at conversational volume.

There were four breakouts running at the same time in a huge room upstairs at the convention center. Yet, it was almost as quiet as a library as a few hundred advisors picked up knowledge on lead generation, marketing, growth tips and team building.

Kirby was a wealth of information about new LPL technology on their roadmap and how it would be benefiting advisors. I was especially interested in how artificial intelligence would enhance ClientWorks and improve the daily lives of advisors. (See #ItzOnWealthTech Bonus Episode: A Maniacal Focus on Advisor Convenience at LPL Focus 2019)

Why not encourage attendees to contribute to social media coverage of the event with a gigantic screen displaying the latest tweets about the conference? It worked for me!

I didn’t get to play, but it looked like fun.

The LPL Live TV Studio was a big hit with attendees as well as members of the press who were able to stream the content over the Internet.  Hopefully, they enjoyed my being interviewed by Jennifer outside the LPL Pavillion where we discussed some of the new technology that LPL announced including Advisor Sleeves and some of the ways that LPL is bringing their advisors into the development process by asking for their votes on features to be included in the next software release. The advisors I spoke to felt that it gave them a voice in the process as well as another reason to attend Focus since you had to be there to vote!

What better way to close out this event than with a concert from one of my favorite bands from the 90’s, Hootie & the Blowfish! They’re currently on a 44 cities tour with Barenaked Ladies to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the release of their 21x platinum album, Cracked Rear View.  Check them out, if they’re playing near you.



The Wealth Tech Today blog is published by Craig Iskowitz, founder and CEO of Ezra Group, a boutique consulting firm that caters to banks, broker-dealers, RIA’s, asset managers and the leading vendors in the surrounding #fintech space. He can be reached at