The balance of life is, in the ripe and ruined

I was born in 1979, the same year that the Soviet Republic invaded Afghanistan, Michael Jackson released ‘Off the Wall’ and 63 Americans were taken hostage at their embassy in Tehran.

This made me a child of the 80s, a teenager of the 90s and a young adult of the noughties.

Each of those decades are distant history. I’ve obviously got no memory of the 70s and my memories of the 80s can be best described as ‘fuzzy’.

Even a time as recent as the 90s is starting to feel like a very, very long time ago. This was, after all, the decade that brought us grunge, rave and hip hop music. That same Soviet Union who boldly invaded Afghanistan during the year of my birth was dissolved following a thawing of a decades old Cold War.

It’s all history now, regardless. I’m a fan of history, electing to study it for one of my A Levels (in the 90s) and delving deep into the Age of Discovery. Even now I can spend hours happily reading about Dias, da Gama and Magellan.

But the past is the past. We can (and should) learn from it. There is little sense in dwelling on it or even living there. If I was a teenage girl I would probably be sharing a motivational poster on Pinterest at this point saying something like ‘yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift – that’s why it’s called the present’. But I’m not. So I won’t.

Instead, I wanted to contrast and compare the two big conferences I’ve been to this year.

Last month was the Institute of Financial Planning (IFP) Annual Conference in Newport. It was exceptional. Everything from the venue, speakers and delegates were top-notch. It was my first visit to the IFP Conference and the experience certainly lived up to the hype. I will be going back for more.

And then today I attended the Personal Finance Society (PFS) National Conference.

Now I’m entirely neutral when it comes to the IFP and PFS. I’m a CFP with the former and, following some recent exam passes, a Fellow with the latter. I elect to receive my Statement of Professional Standing from the PFS and I promote Chartered status just as proudly as my CFP certification, possibly even more so thinking about the various marketing activities where professional titles are presented.

But something about the PFS National Conference today didn’t sit comfortably with me.

I don’t know if it was the venue. Newport and Birmingham are probably comparable in terms of salubriousness, with Birmingham (where I was born all the way back in 1979) having the edge when it comes to convoluted road layouts.

There were many more delegates at the PFS Conference compared to the IFP Conference. At a rough estimate, it felt like at least four times as many. I guess that’s what happens when you make a conference ‘free’.

The exhibition hall was much larger at the PFS Conference, with many more product and fund providers there to sell their wares.

And the PFS Conference attracted some great names – starting the day by seeing Justin Urquhart Stewart, Paul Lewis and Stephanie Flanders in full flow is a good way to start a day, in my opinion.

But it all felt very ‘old school’.

Whereas the IFP Conference featured lots of thinking about the future and inspiration, in both personal and business terms, the PFS Conference felt focused on the past. Paul Lewis and his diatribe on pension misselling set the tone for the rest of the day, with an estimated 9 in 10 conversations I overheard consisting of grumbles on this keynote address.

The energy which was ever-present in Newport was harder to find in Birmingham. That energy was there, but you really had to go looking for it.

Clearly it’s a different audience.

It’s easy to forget that, until a decade ago, the PFS was two different professional bodies; the Life Insurance Association and the Society of Financial Advisers. The bulk of PFS members from that merger, to the best of my recollection, came from the LIA. Judging by appearances, conversations and atmosphere today, a fair few would quite like to still be members of that illustrious organisation.

Maybe there’s a place for the more sales oriented, product and technical, formal side of the retail financial services sector. It’s certainly done in a very professional way. I get the impression that the PFS is making great strides to progress and ease the profession into the 21st century, despite some resistance from an old guard who still quite like the old days.

As one of my favourite musicians, Alt-J, have to say, like all good fruit, the balance of life is, in the ripe and ruined. That’s not to suggest that many older PFS members are the ruined, but that balance is essential in all things. The IFP and PFS are very different animals, with different memberships (despite a large crossover who share membership of both, as I do) and very similar goals for the profession.

It will be interesting to see how their respective annual conferences evolve in the future to take account of changing needs and attitudes of their members.


14 thoughts on “The balance of life is, in the ripe and ruined

  • Like you I was at both Martin ( how come we didn’t bump into each other ? )

    There are clear differences in my opinion also and you’ve summed them up rather well.

    I recognised and knew far fewer yesterday than I did in Newport, yet there was a larger audience in Brum. Perhaps, the relevance being there were fewer of a like mind ?

    For me, a simple and quick measure of value and worthwhileness is the amount of notes made.

    I have pages of notes from Celtic Manor.
    I have four lines from the ICC.

    Like you I was born in Brum, Come on, it knocks spots off Newport ?

    • Thanks for your comment, Paul. Sorry I didn’t spot you at either! I was struggling yesterday to recognise faces in the crowd.

      The note taking measure is a good one and something another friend has pointed out. I think I made it to five lines of notes from yesterday, compared to many pages from Newport.

  • Martin many years ago when your Dad was involved with SOFA both Jean and I were heavily involved in putting on LIA annual conferences.

    Our meeting usually SOLD tickets to between 1000 and 1500 people who not only parted with money for tickets but also in many instances paid for hotel rooms as well.

    Our aim was to provide motivation and sales ideas to people earning their living in what was a SALES industry. Of course we had the usual scoundrels who sought to represent themselves as other than salesmen with ingenious commission offset based fee models and of course many are still with us today.

    Most people get up and go to work to earn money to provide for their families and in the main do their best with whatever tools are at their disposal.

    Whatever you would like them to be Cash Flow Modelling and Life Styling etc.are just selling tools brought to the industry by extremely good salesmen such as George KInder.and my good friend Paul Etheridge -incidentally working closely with Paul throughout the LIA was a priviledge I am proud to have enjoyed..

    The pompous assumption that selling software from Paul Etheridge or Life Styling programmes from George Kinder somehow makes you a superior adviser is just as facetious as the technician approach which failed dismally at SOFA.

    Our industry has been forced to change its remuneration process in a way that few others have managed and for many the change represents a bigger challenge than simply wielding a dictionary in front of a mirror.

    It is so wearying to see this level of pomposity raising its head again in an attempt to demean others.

    • Thank you for your comments, Phil. I’m very sorry to that you read pomposity into what I said when none was intended. I consider myself to be a professional salesman too, as you’ve described in your comment, so the purpose of this article was not to attack sales or any chosen approach, simply to highlight some very clear differences between two national conferences. Different doesn’t mean worse, by the way.

  • I was at the PFS Conference too. I have not attended for a few years for various reasons, but I have paid to attend in the past. I was surprised that this one was free, but grateful for the sponsorship that provided that benefit.

    I have not been to an IFP conference, so I can’t compare.

    I am proud to be Chartered, which is the most important point (for me) of being a PFS member.

    I didn’t make many notes either, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Most sessions were only 30 minutes long- it’s very difficult to go into any depth or technical detail in that timeframe. Maybe the sessions should be longer as they used to be.

    We all have different training requirements and specialties- I know full well that I am not going to gain anything I need from a technical perspective from a PFS conference, but it’s partly about brand awareness, meeting new people & catching up with old friends.

    The average age of attendees was definitely much younger. There was (I thought) a noticeable amount of enthusiastic new blood, which is what our profession has needed for a long time.

    Almary Green also entered the Chartered Firm of the Year award..the judging process was extremely rigorous, challenging and technical- not “lightweight” at all.

    The PFS probably has a much broader membership than the IFP, and it is impossible to please everyone.

    These things cannot change overnight, and as you say, the PFS has made great strides in professional regeneration. Let’s hope it continues.

    • Thanks, Fiona. I agree entirely with your sentiments about Chartered status, which is also one of the main benefits I get from my PFS membership. Perhaps I was wrong to attend the PFS Conference with the belief the actual conference sessions would deliver much new learning, and should have treated it more like a ‘taster’ event to whet my appetite for more detailed learning in the future. Catching up with other delegates was definitely a valuable part of the day for me. Congratulations on winning Chartered Firm of the Year, by the way. Very well deserved.

  • Martin, it was great to see you at the Personal Finance Society (PFS) annual conference and many thanks for attending.

    I also am a member of the IFP and currently a board member of the PFS and I appreciate you taking time to report on your attendance at conference.

    As already mentioned the PFS has a very large and diverse membership base of over 35,000 and we were delighted to welcome an attendance of around 1500 at conference.

    We always strive to provide quality events that cater for our large membership base and I will ensure your feedback is reviewed as we plan our future events.

    We look forward to your attendance at future events including our specific Chartered events which are currently being reviewed at present and we would welcome any suggestions you may have.

    • Thanks, Garry. It was great to finally get to meet you too! I’ll definitely be attending events in the future and did get value from the PFS Conference, it was just an interesting contrast after attending the IFP Conference so recently.

  • Both the PFS Conference and IFP are riddled with product provider money and influence. And it stops Advisers understanding and focusing on what true financial planning is about. (It has nothing to do with products or investments. So why are they there? At the PFS, perhaps yes. But at the IFP, surely NO!)

    The Good News is there is a new Conference on the Financial Planning block: BACK2Y – The Alternative Financial Planning Conference. No sponsors. No product provider pitches. No exhibitors. No free golf balls or free umbrellas. No free booze.

    Pure financial planning. No product talk. Focus is on clients and delivering great client outcomes. Period.

    No free tickets.

    If you believe in PROPER financial planning we’d love to see you there – please put it your diary. 6th March 2015. (You can check out a few testimonials on this years event by going here: (new website for next years event coming soon)).

    If you DON’T believe in PROPER financial planning, please stay away.

    • Thanks, Paul. Commercial influence from the providers certainly plays a role in all this, although I remain convinced a professional body can run an impartial conference with provider sponsorship, they just need to set clear parameters and involve the membership in designing the event, rather than sponsors.

      I’ll check out BACK2Y and see what my calendar looks like for early March!

  • I was wondering when Paul Armson would turn up!

    Thanks Paul you’ve just saved me writing half my post.

    Full marks to the PFS for trying an alternative conference model.

    It is good to see how different conference models are being tried post-RDR.

    It’ll be interesting to see how it shakes out.

    Personally every-so-often I get tempted by a “free” event then I learn my lesson and go back to events I pay for.

    However what is worse if when you pay for an event thinking you are buying freedom from the provider marketing people and then have to listen to a pitch.

    • Thanks, Tim. The PFS definitely deserve recognition for trying a different model and the sheer number of delegates there was testament to how successful this approach turned out to be. Always good to get the occasional reminder in life that you get what you pay for though.

  • thanks Martin, good post, and it was great to see you there. As you said its difficult to comparing a 2.5 day conference that attracted 375 members to a one day with 1500 members; bit like comparing apples and pears!

    It is often said the Personal Finance Society is a ‘broad church’ and yes it is. But it is through opportunities like this to network with like-minded professionals we discover what good looks like. I consider it a privilege to sit in on sessions with presenters like Rory Percival (FCA), Jane Gow, Ruth Sturkey, Dennis Hall, Robin Melley, Sheriar Bradbury & Lee Robertson – the openness and willingness to share – help others – is inspiring.
    Btw, I include in that all the excellent blogs Informed Choice share, and previous conferences where your firm has been well represented.

    Like Garry, I’m an IFP member and also a PFS board member. I have been to Back2Y – thoroughly enjoyed and will most likely go again. At the PFS, yes it was an experiment and it will be interesting to see ‘where do we go from here’.

    All feedback gratefully received and thanks all for the positive comments on here and elsewhere.

    • Thanks, Sharon. I’m glad that came across in my post, as I was possibly a little grumpy from my sore ankle and a very slow drive home when I was writing it!


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