After all the hype leading up to last week’s Future Proof conference, the “world’s largest wealth festival,” did it deliver? As an attendee at the inaugural conference, my answer is yes!
Having an all-outdoor conference was brave—even for Huntington Beach in Southern California. A week earlier, the area experienced record-breaking heat and, days earlier, torrential rainfall. Yet, the event, although quite warm at times, offered plenty of shade, water stations, and such a variety of sessions that the sun didn’t have an impact on the experience. Just being on the beach, seeing the sand and the waves, transported participants into a relaxed and cheerful vibe.
The sponsors were hoping for an “ecosystem” where attendees would find it easier to bond, talk, and make meaningful connections. Guess what? It worked! Without suits, ties, heels, and confined walls, plentiful conversations took place and participation in the various offerings was constant. The environment was more like that of a music festival than a financial conference. Various stages provided concurrent options on topics and speakers. Thus, the event was very customized based on each participant’s individual preferences. Mixed in between stages were pods of sponsor booths representing software vendors, investment solutions (including Morningstar), professional organizations, and industry support services. Even the giveaways leaned more toward beach-themed, from painted skateboard decks and sunglasses to koozies and insulated cups.
The food consisted of several food trucks in a semicircle around picnic tables and four-seaters. There were even several hosted bars stationed on the grounds in the evenings. For those who wanted something different for dinner, Huntington Beach has a huge variety of outstanding restaurants.
I have to admit that I was surprised at the quality and diversity of the speakers. The speakers were hard-hitting, impactful, and educational. Future Proof also featured several live podcasts of popular financial shows. Here are a few sessions that I particularly enjoyed:
Building for Billions: The New Inclusive Future of Tech
Keynote speaker Annie Jean-Baptiste, head of product inclusion at Google as well as founder of Equity Army and author of Building for Everyone, spoke on how technology can be more inclusive, noting that “one size fits all” is not the answer.
Financial Planning for the Next Decade
This panel featured Morningstar’s own Christine Benz, director of personal finance and retirement planning; Colleen Jaconetti, senior manager in Vanguard’s Investment Advisory Research Center; Anders Jones, CEO and co-founder of Facet Wealth; and Jeanne Sahadi, senior writer at CNN Business. The panel addressed the challenges faced by advisors dealing with clients who are living longer and want nontraditional retirement options within a rocky economy. One cool suggestion for how an advisor can illustrate their value: Ask the client to “remember when?”—What situation was the client in before working with the advisor? This emphasizes the long-term value of advice.
Get Out and Vote: The Future of Proxy Voting
The panel consisted of Yasmin Dahya Bilger, head of Engine No. 1′s ETF business; Georgia Stewart, CEO and co-founder of Tumelo; and Anna Wolf, founder of SuperScript Marketing. Most advisors and investors do not vote proxies. That power is typically delegated to fund managers or asset-management companies. Yet proxy voting is the best way for shareholders of any size to have an impact on companies they invest in. This session explained how shareholders can take back their power. (I will be writing about Stewart in the future.)
The Humans of Fintech
This live podcast hosted by Nicole Casperson, journalist and founder of the WTFintech? newsletter, featured Laura Moreno Lucas, founder and CEO of Pandocap. This session explained the hurdles experienced by Latino (and other minority) startup businesses and ways to help these companies gain access to capital markets, implement strategies, and accelerate toward an initial public offering. (More on Nicole Casper in a future article.)
The Future of Work: It’s Not What You Think
This panel included Kate Healy, managing director for CFP Board’s Center for Financial Planning; Kelsey Morey, head of Motley Fool Asset Management; and Marwa Zakharia, CEO of AssetBook. There’s more to reimagine in the future work environment than a reluctance to go back to a physical office full time. Issues to consider include work/life balance, flexible job roles, and the use of technology. An interesting idea: When gathering for a company event is not realistic in person (especially for multistate and international businesses), rather than an awkward Zoom event, hold the event using virtual reality. It can be a team-building experience in the metaverse, from building avatars to actually interacting with others virtually.
The New Kid on the Block ... or Are They? A Direct Indexing Conversation
This knowledgeable panel featured Jonathan Hudacko, principal of Personalized Indexing at Vanguard; Gavin Romm, CFA, senior vice president and head of fixed-income SMA Solutions for AllianceBernstein; and Blair duQuesnay, CFA, CFP, investment advisor at Ritholtz Wealth Management. This engaging discussion covered the ins and outs of direct indexing while also providing examples of use cases and best practices. (Look for my upcoming article discussing direct indexing.)
Building the Advisory Practice You Want
This panel included Marci Bair, CFP, president and founder of Bair Financial Planning; Stephanie Bogan, founder of Limitless Advisor Coaching; Brittain Prigge, CFA, president of Balentine; and Ryan Shanks, co-founder and CEO of FA Match. This session focused on how an advisor can create their ideal type of practice and work/life balance. Although clear that it can’t be perfect all the time, prioritization was key. One panelist stated that her rule was work ends at 5:30 p.m. no matter what. Another noted that the key was to be fully present while at work and fully present at home. (Look for my future article on Marcie Bair.)
The opinions expressed here are the author’s. Morningstar values diversity of thought and publishes a broad range of viewpoints.
The author or authors do not own shares in any securities mentioned in this article. Find out about Morningstar’s editorial policies.