Schwab Cancels In-Person Events, Impact Conference Will Be Virtual

Thousands of financial advisors attend the annual conference. Will RIAs that custody with TD Ameritrade be able to attend, too?

(Andrew Burton/Bloomberg)

(Andrew Burton/Bloomberg)

Charles Schwab’s custody business that serves more than 7,500 RIAs has cancelled all in-person events in 2020. In their place, the company will be holding virtual events, an executive said during a press conference Tuesday afternoon.

RIAs that custody with Schwab also received a letter on Tuesday notifying them of the change.

“The reality is in 2020 we just face too many challenges bringing people together in large groups,” Bernard Clark, the head of Schwab Advisor Services, said during the call.

In some areas of the U.S., the number of daily new cases of Covid-19 has begun to fall. But the total number continues to rise. As of Tuesday afternoon, more than one million people had become sick with the novel coronavirus and at least 52,188 had died in the U.S., according to a New York Times database tracking global confirmed cases.

Schwab’s Impact conference, an annual gathering running 30 years and now attended by thousands of financial advisors, is by far the largest event subject to the dramatic change. The gathering was scheduled to take place this November in Boston. Now, it will be done virtually.

In early March, like most companies, Schwab was unsure what the future would hold for its employees and client events. But as the number of Covid-19 cases sharply rose, businesses were ordered to cease normal operations, and whole economies nearly halted. Schwab began imagining a calendar year of events via the internet.

What the circumstances will be during the coming summer — let alone the coming fall — are opaque. To allow itself enough time to plan a successful virtual event for thousands of attendees, Schwab decided to move forward and cancel the in-person one. It is in the process of deciding the agenda, Clark said.

Clark expects even more RIAs will attend since they will be able to from their office or couch (the conference typically alternates between cities near the east and west coasts). But the executive also admitted that much of Impact’s draw is the chance for Schwab’s clients to network with each other. Absent that, the virtual conference is hindered and not a long-term solution. “We’re looking forward to getting back to in-person events in 2021,” he said.

Schwab agreed to acquire TD Ameritrade for $26 billion in November, a deal expected to be approved by regulators (Morningstar gives it a 75% chance) in the second half of 2020. If the Department of Justice gives the deal its blessing, the more than 6,000 RIAs that custody with TD Ameritrade should also be able to attend the virtual Impact conference.

“I can’t imagine they wouldn’t, they would be clients,” Clark said about the prospect of thousands of additional RIAs taking part.

Other Schwab events that will be done virtually include the company’s Solutions conferences, full-day events in cities around the country specifically for middle and back office professionals to learn about new technology and network. Schwab’s Explore conference for its most valued client RIAs that custody with it will also be virtual.

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