Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013
research manager summit

Later this week, Financial Advisor and Private Wealth magazines will host the third Fiduciary Gatekeeper Research Manager Summit.  As the agendaFinancial Advisors | There are links to much more information about the conference in the left-hand column of this site. indicates, almost all of the day-and-a-half affair is made up of “Concurrent Individual Portfolio Manager Sessions.”

In addition, although the schedule doesn’t indicate how or when, those named to Financial Advisor‘s 2013 All-Star Research Managers team will be honored during the event.  I’m sure that the honorees are all worthy — and I am a regular reader of Financial Advisor — but it’s time to look at conferences and awards like these with a critical eye.

Like other subscribers, I got an email from the editor of FA earlier this year, inviting me to nominate people for the all-star team.  Unfortunately, there was no description of the criteria on which potential nominees should be judged, so I sent a note back asking for clarification but did not receive a reply.

The articleFinancial Advisor | FYI, the Center for Financial Planning and Commonwealth had also been chosen the year before. that announced the members of the team includes descriptions of each (in some cases, individuals are profiled and in others, teams).  That summary of the criteria for inclusion that I was looking for?  The magazine said it had asked its readers “to nominate the research managers they think are doing the best job.”  None of those who provided the nominations were quoted and no specifics were given to indicate the reasons for the honorees’ nomination or selection; the reader is left to infer them from amongst the comments by the winners about their firms and themselves.

As someone who consults and writes about the due diligence process, I would have hoped for more.  A team of research all-stars should be chosen primarily on the attributes of their processes and on the methods that are different from what can be seen elsewhere, yet there is little of that to be found in the article.  It was much ado about positive outcomes and favored investments, and not much ado about research process, due diligence strategies, or fiduciary considerations.

As with other conferences these days, the one at which the all-stars will be recognized is a venue designed to optimize marketing rather than learning.  As its website indicates, “This conference is structured to focus purely on the sponsoring firms specific investment capabilities or other timely investment insights.”  It is not alone in that regard; most conferences for institutional investors, advisors, and individuals alike use the same model.  Those paying the bills, at least the big bills — the sponsors — deliver the vast majority of the content.

Those attending this conference are probably hoping to get exposure to some interesting managers in a convenient setting and perhaps to network with others in the business.  I dare say that they will find the latter more productive than the former, although both will be dominated by talk about what to buy rather than the more boring but more important business of shoring up the framework of decision making.  If this conference is typical, the asset manager presentations will tend to be more predictable than revelatory, unless those “concurrent manager sessions” include the opportunity for one-on-ones with in-depth interviews about the stuff that’s not in the PowerPoint.

If ever there was a group of attendees that should welcome education about due diligence processes and related issues — rather than the same old fund marketing — it is those at a conference whose title strings together the words “fiduciary gatekeeper research manager.”  But that does not look to be on the agenda.

Nor is it to be found at the many other conferences I could have picked on.  This is not a Financial Advisor issue; it’s an industry issue.  Too many conferences serve as marketing platforms for the managers of products rather than forums for improvement and discovery.  It would be nice to take home some of that once in a while.