A group of conference organizers, including some who were previously behind Inside ETFs and Wealth/Stack, have created a competing conference for financial advisors they say will be unlike others and capitalize on a reset of in-person events after the pandemic.
The new conference focused on exchange-traded funds, called Exchange, was announced Tuesday and will take place Feb. 13 through 16 next year at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach hotel. It expects to sell out and have over 2,000 attendees, including more than 1,000 financial advisors.
Exchange is a joint venture between ETF Flows, the parent company of ETF Trends and ETF Database, and Advisor Circle, a venture-backed, advisor-focused events and media startup founded by John Swolfs, Matt Middleton, and Matt Hougan — all who have significant experience creating and growing similar events.
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Until last fall, Swolfs was the chief executive of Informa’s popular Inside ETFs conference, and Middleton was the Growth Strategy Director at Informa. Hougan was previously the chief executive of ETF.com and chairman of Inside ETFs. He is now the chief investment officer at Bitwise Asset Management, a San Francisco-based cryptocurrency index and beta funds company.
“The financial advisor conference model, being honest, pre-Covid, it was broken,” Middleton told RIA Intel. “We’re making the financial advisors the consumer, not the product.”
Exchange has already attracted high-profile partners and sponsors including Cathie Wood’s ARK Invest, Citadel Securities, Goldman Sachs Asset Management, and many others. Now, organizers are focused on leveraging technology to connect with wealth managers before the event and develop new meeting and panel formats.
Hougan said Exchange is a “rare opportunity to start with a clean slate.” It plans to use the social networking app Clubhouse and develop other ways to interact with advisors and create an agenda that will engage them. “That advisor-centered piece is really the biggest part of what we’re doing,” he said.
Sponsors won’t have the influence over the content of the new conference like they do at others. Exchange is aiming to cover timely topics and look toward the future. Making the content of the conference the focus will give it an edge over others, according to organizers. “We have a track record and real deep love of what is new and coming next,” Hougan added.
Exchange also plans to use technology to better connect attendees with others. Advisors rarely look back on conferences and remember specific panel discussions. What they often recall are meeting peers and the business or relationships that stem from those encounters. Those interactions are too serendipitous at other conferences and Exchange will increase the likelihood of them occurring, organizers say. For example, imagine if attendees didn’t have to comb a cocktail hour for an expert to help them but instead, there were designated areas for those interested in specific topics.
The new conference hopes to maximize advisors’ time between panels, too.
“The exhibit hall experience has been sad,” Middleton said. But helping exhibitors schedule one-on-one or small-group meetings with qualified advisors who are interested would be a far better use of time for all parties.
No agenda has been set yet for Exchange but even if one was, it could evolve as necessary all the way up to right before the conference next year to make it as timely as possible for attendees.
Earlier this month, Inside ETFs and the renamed Inside WealthStack announced that the two conferences will be held concurrently this September in Hollywood, Fla. The Informa conferences said in a statement the decision was “a reflection of how the wealth industry is changing and adapting.” The move could help it retain or attract attendees.
Middleton said organizers of Exchange haven’t spent much time thinking about competing conferences. They believe what Exchange will offer advisors, especially for its relatively low cost ($95 currently and no higher than $145 to attend), will make the conference a sell-out.
“It’s a crowded market, especially in the advisor space. But there aren’t a lot of conferences or events that are doing things differently."
Michael Thrasher (@Mike_Thrasher) is a reporter at RIA Intel based in New York City.