So that’s another FPA conference that your correspondent has managed to walk away from, more or less intact.

Workshops and plenary sessions attended? Tick.

Gala dinner navigated without recourse to dancing? Tick.

Casino successfully negotiated? Tick.

Foray to a … let’s just call it a “gentleman’s club” … avoided? Tick.

 As the red wine fog begins to lift, a clearer picture of last week’s events begins to emerge. And the overwhelming impression is that there is a gilt-edged opportunity for financial planning to cement a position as a respected, trusted and valued profession.

That’s not going to happen automatically, and there are a few skeletons in closets out there that will emerge in the next few months, if investment markets keep going the way they are.

If the muttering at the conference was anything to go by, there my be some strife looming to do with the heavy promotion of margin loans, for example. Not only the potential havoc this may reap on some clients’ portfolios (and on the reputations of the planning firms directly involved, but others by association, too) – but how the provision of advice is being handled in the current environment, too.

Overall, though, the business of financial planning seems to be in good hands and facing, broadly, in the right direction. The FPA is active on a number of fronts, lifting standards, improving professionalism, tackling the big issues and generally putting its best foot forward.

You get to see some of the industry’s best and brightest at these conferences, and so it was again this year. We had the three winners of the FPA’s Value Of Advice competition: Leanne Bull, Dacian Moses and Sharon Walker. Impressive individuals one and all, and sure to be exceptional ambassadors for the FPA and for financial planning generally.

And special mention to Dominic Alafaci, whose induction as a life member of the FPA is not only fully-deserved and could not have happened to a nicer bloke, but goes some way towards making up for the crushing disappointment of seeing his beloved Ferrari miss the Formula 1 Drivers World Championship this year BY ONE POINT. Alafaci also barracks for Collingwood. I don’t know quite why that’s relevant – I just thought I’d throw it out there.

And we met the FPA’s Blog Star, a fresh-faced, twenty-something who managed to make everyone else in the room feel terribly old. But if Kane Piper is truly representative of the future of financial planning, then that future is bright – even if casinos around the world will be rubbing their hands at the prospect of legions of Pipers coming to play black jack at their tables. Let’s just say that as a gambler, Piper probably makes a pretty good face of financial planning. But that’s good, right? Financial planners don’t gamble with clients’ funds: that’s the PR spin.

Good representation by sponsors and exhibitors, with some real thought put into stands. Hats off to the Tyndall folk, whose stand was built from Lego blocks – 36,000 of them, or thereabouts. And on completion of the conference, the stand was pulled down, and the blocks bagged to be distributed to deserving kids, just in time for Christmas.

Another aspect of the Tyndall effort worth noting was the attachment of little Lego people to the stems of wine glasses for the night of the gala dinner. They were all attached by, hand of course. After receiving a quote for the job from the conference centre which was deemed to be a little on the high side, the Tyndall people decided to do it themselves. They started at 10am.

By 4pm it was clear the job was a bit bigger than they’d anticipated, so a call went out to all hands to make for the conference centre, pronto, to help out. The job was finished late in the evening. One imagines that at some point it became apparent that the quote – however big – might have been worth it after all.

If Tyndall ranks highly on the maximum-bang-for-the-buck scale, there were a number of stands that were obviously no-expense-spared, full-tilt numbers, featuring large-screen televisions, full-time chefs, and decor that would not be out of place on Lifestyles Of The Rich And Famous – if only the rich and famous had a bit more class and taste.

Innovative approaches were not restricted to the fund managers and other exhibitors. Colleagues from a rival trade publication, for example, secreted themselves away in what appeared to be, from your correspondent’s perspective anyway, some sort of broom cupboard or storage room. Other media were a bit nonplussed by this approach. Were they trying to suggest they were above slumming it with the massed reptiles of the press? Or was there some other signal they were trying to convey?

Never mind.

That’s it for another year. By the time the next conference rolls round, with a bit of luck and a fair wind, the general financial environment will have improved somewhat, and the overall sense of restraint that permeated this conference might likewise lift.

Then financial planning can really celebrate its strengths. And its opportunities.

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