- The Future Proof “wealth festival” took over the Huntington Beach boardwalk for four days.
- Skeptics forecast a Fyre Fest of financial advisory, but the beach fest had few hiccups.
- Insider went to the event, where advisors talked shop while surfing and bopping to Big Boi.
On a balmy Tuesday night, the rapper Big Boi played to a crowd of financial advisors on a beach boardwalk.
“This is my first time in Huntington Beach,” the rapper of Outkast fame said. “I heard this is ya’ll’s first time having a conference outdoors.”
This week marked Future Proof, billed as the world’s first “wealth festival” by its organizers, Ritholtz Wealth Management and Advisor Circle. It ran from September 11 to 14. There were 2,200 attendees, including about 900 advisors, according to Advisor Circle, a content and event firm. Future Proof had the hallmarks of a financial-advisory conference, with panels on tax planning and vendor booths shilling exchange-traded funds, but took them outdoors in sunny Southern California, rather than to a stuffy hotel conference room.
Barry Ritholtz, who cofounded Ritholtz with Josh Brown, said the goal of Future Proof was to shed pre-COVID-19 conventions.
“My team at Ritholtz and Advisor Circle, we were talking about whether we would ever travel for business again. Are we ever going to go to another financial conference,” he said in his opening remarks. “And the takeaway was, ‘I don’t ever want to be in a hotel ballroom or, heaven forbid, the Javits Center, ever again.'”
The Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City hosted the annual SALT Conference, put on by the investor and ex-Trump aide Anthony Scaramucci this past week.
Future Proof had music-festival touches like food trucks and yard games. Sponsors had fun with the beach vibe, giving out unconventional swag such as Bluetooth speakers that double as bottle openers, hangover remedies, and free surfing lessons.
One sponsor, US Commodity Funds, turned its booth into a silent disco. On Monday morning, a jet flew overhead with a banner reading, “Watch your tail!” to advertise Cambria’s Tail Risk ETF like a local nightclub would seek to lure beachgoers on a holiday weekend. Goldman Sachs Asset Management and a handful of other sponsors had their own cabanas at the Hyatt Regency pool overlooking the ocean.
Most panel topics were the bread and butter of financial-advisory conversations — mergers and acquisitions, robo-advising, and environmental, social, and corporate governance — but others tackled investing in cannabis, the metaverse, and digital assets.
Morningstar held a cooking demonstration while analysts talked about investing opportunities in the global food chain. Days began with yoga classes, meditation sessions, and high-intensity interval training alongside the Pacific Ocean. The last evening of the festival had six musical acts, including Big Boi and the headliner indie-pop band Fitz and the Tantrums.
The business-casual dress code was loosely followed in the 80-degree weather. Ritholtz himself wore a light-blue untucked polo with grey cargo shorts and sneakers on the first day. Few suits were spotted, ties were verboten, and some guests even wore T-shirts and flip flops, though most opted for polos and shorts.
“Truth be told, it’s nice to wear shorts,” a vice president of an asset manager and festival sponsor said.
When Future Proof was announced with bright pink-and-orange Coachella-esque posters that billed registered investment advisor chief executives like pop stars, some were skeptical that it would live up to its hip ambitions. But other than a two-hour delay in registration and some technical difficulties during a startup showcase, the four-day festival appeared to go off without a hitch.
“I think some people in the industry were concerned about how this would turn out because it’s so different. We had some hesitation about whether we should go, but it turned out fabulously,” said Suroor Raziuddin, the advisor-sales manager at the fintech Betterment, another sponsor. “I think coupling podcasts and folks that are popular brought in diversity that isn’t usually seen in the wealth-management space.”
The financial-advisor industry is infamous for being dominated by white middle-age men, with the average person in the space being 57 years old, a J.D. Power survey found. The industry’s struggle to attract women, minorities, and younger talent was a hot topic at the festival. Many attendees agreed that the crowd was younger and more diverse than at other industry conferences.
“We’re making inroads largely as old white men are aging out, but they are aging out far too slowly because it’s too easy for them to stay in business, keep their clients, continue managing assets, and go play golf two days a week,” said Ric Edelman, the founder of RIA giant Edelman Financial Services who spoke at Future Proof about digital assets. “A big problem with too many of these conferences is that you see a lot of gray hair, so it’s really great to see engagement by the next generation.”
That said, one of the most popular events was with the billionaire “bond king” Jeffrey Gundlach, who told CNBC’s Scott Wapner that board diversity came second to having the “best possible board” and that he didn’t believe in “tokenism.”
Vrishin Subramaniam, a 30-year-old financial planner who started his own RIA last year in Arlington, Virginia, went to learn more about the industry and what vendors had to offer. He was drawn by the nonconventional advertising for Future Proof, though he wasn’t sure it would live up to the hype.
“I had mixed feelings going in, but everybody was super nice, super welcoming,” Subramaniam, the founder of CapitalWe who previously worked in tech, said. “It’s one of the more diverse wealth conferences I’ve ever been to. I think it offered me quite a lot, especially since I went in without any expectations.”
Podcast recordings and street artists designing custom skateboard decks weren’t quite enough to make Future Proof into the South by Southwest of wealth management. But it defied skeptics who worried it would be a Fyre Fest of financial advisory, and Future Proof’s joie de vivre felt like a breath of fresh ocean air.
“Someone was saying that normal conferences are ruined now,” said a product specialist at an alternative asset marketplace and event sponsor. “We don’t want to go back to a hotel conference room.”