Conference sponsorship under scrutiny

Published in the Money Management Magazine, October 2010 by Lucinda Beaman

Concerns have been raised about the nature of the professional development being delivered to advisers at dealer group conferences.

Dealer groups and industry associations have long offered speakers' rights to product and service providers willing to pay conference sponsorship fees.

Associations such as the Financial Planning Association (FPA), the Association of Financial Advisers (AFA) and the Association of Independently Owned Financial Planners offer annual and/or whole-of-conference sponsorship rights, with prices ranging from $40,000 to well above $100,000 in return for various levels of access to advisers.

A number of dealer groups, meanwhile, demand between $20,000-$40,000 per hour for the right to present at an adviser conference.

Wealth Within chief analyst and share market educator Dale Gillham questioned whether the model was appropriate in light of the industry's push for professionalism. Gillham said while product providers did teach advisers how to use investment products, "essentially it's education wrapped around a big marketing spiel".

When the product providers are writing the majority of the education, to me, it's still biased, and it doesn't help public perceptions of financial planners being independent."

AFA chief executive Richard Klipin acknowledged fund manager sponsorship of conferences "is a grey area and there is a degree of complexity". He said while it could be a balancing act for conference organisers to meet the needs of both delegates and sponsors, content must always come first.

The fact that [economist and AFA presenter] Chris Caton comes from BT, and the fact that BT happen to be a Platinum partner of the AFA, is obviously no coincidence. But I went looking for someone who could carry that session, and that was my dominant and main objective."

While platinum and gold sponsors of the AFA buy the right to run conference sessions, Klipin said they must fit within certain parameters.

"I don't think it's true to say anyone with a cheque book can turn up and flog their product. It's probably fairer to say anyone with a cheque book can turn up and get access. But in our world, if the content is crap, then the content won't run."

Klipin said for the AFA, that meant strictly no product flogging. But while that might be the standard at Klipin's conference, he admitted the "issue around licensees is a little greyer".

MLC-owned Godfrey Pembroke Limited (GPL) has been praised for breaking the mould at its recent dealer group conference in Tasmania. The conference agenda was created by GPL’s adviser committee, and GPL general manager Tom Reddacliff said there was no special commercial relationship between conference speakers and the dealer group. While some product providers did present, they did so via invitation only.

The group also shunned the tradition of selling conference stands to suppliers, instead encouraging suppliers to attend as delegates. Reddacliff said the conference was funded via the ticket price paid by advisers and suppliers.

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