The GAIA Annual Conference in 2023, held in Stockholm, was a resounding success following the previous year’s triumph in Montreal. The central theme of the conference was the future and how member firms could position themselves to effectively manage client expectations while adapting to key challenges such as demographic changes, wealth transfer, the rise of artificial intelligence, and its implications for human resources and workplace enhancement.
In keeping with GAIA tradition, the conference commenced with a pre-conference dinner graciously hosted by Lyra Financial Wealth at the co-founder’s stunning residence in northern Stockholm. This gathering provided an opportunity for attendees to mingle, share stories from the past year since the Montreal conference, and experience Swedish hospitality.
Simon Brown, the retiring GAIA chair for the 2020-23 term, officially opened the conference. He then passed the baton to futurist Stefan Hyttfors, who delivered an engaging and enthusiastic speech titled “Time for Optimism.” Stefan discussed the accelerating pace of change and emphasized the need to cultivate a culture that challenges conventional wisdom. He declared that the digital transformation was complete, erasing the distinction between the real and virtual worlds. In this data-driven era, competition would revolve around opinions, emotions, and uniquely human attributes. This perspective urged attendees to embrace change while preserving the essence of human-to-human interactions in their profession.
Between sessions, attendees embraced the Swedish tradition of “fika,” enjoying delectable cakes and copious amounts of coffee.
All GAIA member firms are committed to future growth, with talent recruitment and retention being top priorities. The next session, hosted by J.D. Bruce, delved into measuring advisor capacity and leveraging that knowledge to plan for growth. J.D. explored advisor career paths, advisor levels, the interplay of capacity and compensation, and the construction of a future-proofed advisor capacity model.
The theme of futureproofing continued after lunch with an immersive workshop led by Spenser Segal of Actifi. Attendees explored strategies and tactics for revolutionizing their financial advisory practices. Spenser challenged participants to harness technology for non-human tasks, increasing the time dedicated to delivering value to clients. While this session raised more questions than answers, it firmly placed the use of artificial intelligence on the agenda for future board meetings, with a focus on enhancing the client-centred value proposition.
The first day concluded with a discussion on industry responses to climate change, featuring Elin Enfors-Kautsky, Ph.D., CEO, and founder of Prosperous Planet. This sobering session highlighted the multifaceted challenges posed by the Anthropocene epoch beyond climate change. Advisors considered how they could guide their clients toward investing in businesses and causes that support a brighter future for both current and future generations. While a serious topic, the takeaway was a shared understanding that there’s much work to be done, and complacency is not an option.
To lighten the mood, in the evening the group explored the aquatic side of Stockholm with an amphibious ocean bus ride, followed by further engaging conversations about the day’s events and general business matters.
Day Two of the conference focused on cultivating a culture within businesses, an essential aspect in light of the talent pressures within the financial services sector. Attendees were treated to a captivating 90-minute session by Neil Bage of Shaping Wealth, who discussed how to build a human-centric wealth culture. Neil introduced an original and impactful framework, emphasizing the power of storytelling and emotional intelligence in financial planning, supported by compelling evidence from the field of neuroscience. Practical strategies and thought-provoking reflection questions were provided to drive continuous growth.
Prior to the conference, all GAIA firms participated in a cultural survey of their businesses. The following session, hosted by Gail Harrison and Dr. Will Holden of Sewells, offered a deep dive into the survey results. The culture surveys provided insights into team members’ perceptions of their firms’ cultures. Gail presented ways to identify strengths and areas for improvement, fostering positive actions to enhance culture, engagement, and performance. Attendees were able to compare their results with other GAIA members, exchange best practices, and gain a deeper understanding of their own culture and how to drive positive change.
The day concluded with an open session where firms shared updates on their business metrics and sought assistance from the GAIA community on specific needs. This collaborative effort demonstrated the spirit of GAIA, with businesses from around the globe coming together to share knowledge and support each other.
The final day of the conference began with a fascinating presentation on how academics analyse investment patterns using social security number data. Professor Paolo Sodini of the Stockholm School of Economics shared his latest research on household portfolio diversification, portfolio rebalancing habits, and the impact of real estate and human capital
Dr. Daniel Susskind then addressed the future of professions, exploring two potential futures shaped by technology. He discussed a familiar future, where professions become more efficient but remain recognizable. He also presented a different future where new technologies reshape professions radically. This thought-provoking presentation highlighted the need for adaptation in the advisory industry to thrive in the evolving landscape.
The conference concluded with a question-and-answer deep dive into artificial intelligence with Oliver Edholm, CEO at Depict, and David Wickström, Co-founder at Skyqraft. Both speakers are pioneers in the AI space and provided the audience with an unfettered view of the benefits and challenges of what was dubbed ‘The Forth Revolution.’ While acknowledging AI’s immense potential benefits, the speakers also raised concerns about its exponential growth and the lag in government understanding. They agreed that action was urgently needed to navigate the evolving AI landscape, emphasising the importance of addressing the rapid advancement of AI and the need for guidelines and regulations.
In summary, the GAIA Annual Conference in Stockholm in 2023 was a dynamic event that explored the future of the financial advisory profession, emphasizing the need to adapt to changing circumstances while preserving human-centric values and principles. It served as a platform for knowledge sharing, collaboration, and exchanging ideas among GAIA member firms from around the world.
The conference came to a close with the symbolic passing of the chair responsibilities from Simon Brown of BpH Wealth in the UK to Brenda Bartlett of PWL Capital in Canada. Brenda took a moment to express her gratitude to several retiring GAIA executive members, with special acknowledgment to Simon. She commended him for his remarkable dedication and leadership during the challenging period of COVID-19, noting how he played a pivotal role in maintaining the cohesiveness of the organization.
Brenda also reflected on the achievements of the study tour in Germany and Sweden, as well as the successful conference itself. She then made an exciting announcement that garnered anticipation from attendees: the Global Association of Independent Advisors’ 2024 conference would be hosted in the picturesque landscape of New Zealand.